As we celebrate the success of Empact Ventures’ 2021 Super Connect for Good competition in partnership with Hays, we catch up with Pre-Seed Challenge Partner and Judge, Jimmy Cockerton, UK Strategy Manager, Microsoft.
Hays and Empact Ventures’ 2021 Super Connect for Good was a resounding success. The virtual final, which took place in November, saw the regional winners go head-to-head by pitching live for the Super Connect for Good 2021 Overall Champion. We spoke to Pre-Seed Challenge Partner and Judge, Jimmy Cockerton, UK Strategy Manager, Microsoft.
Cockerton participated as a judge in the pre-seed stage of Empact Ventures’ 2021 Super Connect for Good competition in partnership with Hays. This stage comprises companies that are generally pre-revenue and pre-funding, meaning they are in the early stages of creating their business, and finding their products place in the market. Cockerton added “this is probably one of the most exciting times to be looking at a company and probably one of the hardest times to be running a company as well, as this is just before you get major traction, major investment and major growth.”
What’s happening in the world of startups
Drawing on his experience, Cockerton reflects on some of the trends that he’s seen in the sector. The first is that governments are battling to attract investment and starting matching investment funding across the UK.
Cockerton added that “I’m seeing more of a levelling up agenda coming into play, with more money going to entrepreneurs, not just within London.”
Another trend that Cockerton has seen is that startups are finding it easier to access capital. He said that “there seems to be a lot of capital in the market at the minute so startups are getting into a position where they’re starting to be able to pick who they want to take their investment from rather than just taking investments from anywhere.”
The final trend that Cockerton mentioned is the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and sustainable positions that startups and Venture Capitalist (VC) investors are taking. Startups are needing to be more sustainable and want to understand the social impact that they have. In addition, VCs want to be able to understand the ESG footprint of the portfolio they own. Cockerton mentioned: “I think that’s going to start to have a bigger impact on attracting startups to a VC, but also attracting funding into a VC as well. Caring about how sustainable it is and how social impact is delivered is becoming far more valuable.”
The makings of a great startup
“You need to know what problem you’re solving and what opportunity you’re creating,” says Cockerton. Understanding how to operate with a level of structure in a chaotic environment is very important for all startups. Cockerton added that as an early stage startup, it does not want to be building out lots of operational functions, because it’s not where its time and money is best spent, but it does still need to operate with some kind of structure.
Cockerton advises startups to have milestones that they can work towards and that it’s essential to understand the KPIs that they are working towards to grow their business. “This is not just growing in terms of revenue, it’s growth in terms of meeting the key milestones needed to drive the business forwards” he added.
The second piece of advice that Cockerton provided is that a startup needs to understand how to access its client base. Startups must partner with businesses that can provide access to new and different clients.
His final advice is that startups need to implement a governance structure . “Whilst startups don’t need to put a governance structure in place until a later stage, they still need to know what they are going to need and what they are going to need to build out.” Top priorities include understanding the businesses cost base and the head count that they will need to be building the business.
The Super Connect for Good 2021 competition
Cockerton stated that there were some really good companies that presented in the pre-seed stage. He said: “I think the judges were surprised. I think the companies that we thought would likely show up with a less matured pitch wowed us.” Univarsity, who was the winner in the pre-seed category, provided Cockerton with one of the best pitches that he has seen at other events. “It knew its business and market, and pitched with great confidence.”
The great thing about the pre-seed category is that the judges get to see some really good ideas. Cockerton explained, “it’s always interesting, because at pre-seed you often get people that present to you rather than a pitch.” He added: “they present you the business plan and every idea they’ve got for the business and what it could ever be.” At the pre-seed stage, startups need to clarify what the business is and where they plan to land. By presenting these idea’s investors will have a better idea of a startup and will be more open to investing.
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About Jimmy Cockerton, UK Strategy Manager, Microsoft
Jimmy Cockerton is the Business Strategy Manager at Microsoft focussed on growth and go-to market strategies across the UK business. He works across sales, marketing and social impact teams with a focus on start-ups, sustainability, ESG, skilling, data & AI operating across public sector, commercial and the SME market.
Cockerton leads the Microsoft AI start-up accelerator focussed on engaging, educating and connecting start-ups through a six-month programme of growth. Scaling with partners (VC, GSI, incubators) and helping create connections to Microsoft customers.
Cockerton also supports and mentors various startups and is an angel investor.