When a start-up meets a multinational: What’s it like being a start-up in residence at Dell?

We caught up with the inaugural winners of the computing firm’s accelerator programme to find out how the start-up and corporate world have “come together for mutual benefit”…

In March this year Dell announced the two winners of its inaugural ‘Start-up in Residence’ competition; a scheme offering two high potential start-ups office space for up to two years and support “to accelerate growth”.

After a ‘competitive pitch’ to a panel of judges, pre-launch smart email filtering service Fantoo bagged the first prize; winning two year’s residency at the global computing firm’s Bracknell headquarters.

iNovar, a mobile analytics start-up established in 2011, took the second prize with a year’s office space, with both companies given a package of support including IT and technology equipment “chosen via an agreed wish list” alongside mentoring, and access to key “in-house” customers.

Part of its recently launched UK Centre for Entrepreneurs initiative, the winning start-ups were also awarded membership on the panel of Dell’s new UK Entrepreneur Advisory Council, and membership to its mentoring network the Founder’s Club.

Described as “helping to remove the burdens of the costly investments start-ups often have to make” by Dell UK managing director Tim Griffin, we popped by Dell’s headquarters six months on to find out how both start-ups had settled in.

Sharing an office next to Dell’s main reception area, the tech start-ups have access to Tech City mainstays – a foosball table and hot desks – matched by corporate perks which includes internal meetings with high-profile clients, networking opportunities, and an added bonus; discounted Starbucks.

Touring the office, we spoke with the start-up entrepreneurs about their experiences and progress, with Griffin on hand to provide more information about the scheme and its aims:

Why did you launch the “Start-up In Residence” scheme? What are the goals of the programme?

Tim Griffin: “The scheme is our UK ingredient to the Centre of Entrepreneurs. It brings together passionate people and also reflects our entrepreneurial spirit; Dell is owned by its founder which is quite a rarity these days.

“We’re all about thinking globally, acting locally. […] We like to encourage new ideas which engage people. […] We’re piloting this scheme as best practice and it’s a good shop window for what we do here and reflects our entrepreneurial spirt and enterprise activity.

“As part of the scheme, iNovar and Fantoo participate in advisory council meetings which really helps to review what we do in this space. They share their experiences and we can learn and expand upon that.

“Businesses gain momentum by being in the programme – like a snowball effect.”

[Directed to Fantoo and iNovar] How have you benefitted from being involved in the programme?

Fantoo founder Jordan Fantaay: “It has helped us to have continuity – we’ve just been awarded the government’s TSB SMART Award for £100,000 which Dell helped us to secure by providing video equipment and testimonials. Businesses have a 2% success rate of securing this grant so it’s a really big deal.

“We’re now looking to raise funding but we’ve got more routes to market now through Dell.”

iNovar founder David Monks: “Being part of Dell has given us a home, I used to work remotely or from home so it gives a more professional image.

“[We’ve] benefitted from introductions with lots of people from Dell. Just recently I met with the CIO for Dell EMEA, and we’ve met with people from Dublin. We’ve identified 12 projects in total through Dell. It has definitely raised our profile.

“In Dublin we’ve been speaking to a lot of people internally and we’ve been working together for mutual benefit and it works.”

Fantaay: “I agree, it’s given us a lot more visibility in the corporate world.”

Has your experience so far differed from what you expected? How would you rate the level of support you’ve received from Dell?

Monks: “The starting blocks were harder but it’s been a case of dealing with speed bumps when they arrive.”

Dell PR Melanie Derome interjects: “There has been some ups and downs with getting started and issues with infrastructure but that’s to be expected as it’s the first year.”

Monks: “Being here, everyone’s really focused on innovation. In my first ever role, I joined a company which had an innovation team and my first job was to disband the team because innovation should be part and process of everyone’s job!”

Would you recommend the scheme to other fast-growth potential businesses?

Monks: “Definitely. Where else would you get the opportunity to deal with a multi-national corporation?!

“Dell’s made the largest indirect investment in us.”

Fantaay: “Yes. This goes beyond actual capital investment.

“Put it this way I will want to handcuff myself to this office when my time is up to go! I’ve got used to being here and having that sense of support – it’s a business network in itself.”

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