Leicester isn’t widely known for its start-up scene, but one person has been trying to change that. Ben Ravilious founded web and design agency UltimateWeb in 2002, with business partner Ian Scotland. After a few years situated in a business unit next to a pub on the outskirts of Leicester, they wanted more exciting projects, and so moved into the Leicester Creative Business Depot at the heart of the city’s cultural centre. This was their first step in the right direction.
Leicester has two universities, one of which focuses on creative technologies. Despite this, in recent years there had been a lack of community-led innovation in the city and no real startup scene.
Two years ago, Ben saw this start to change when events started popping up questioning why, and how, this could be changed. However, they were often run by the universities or the city council and no movement was coming from the community itself.
In December 2012, Ben started reading ‘Startup Communities’ by Brad Feld and adopted it as his manual. The concept of building a community of likeminded people that could help each other out, rather than sell to each other, was something that struck him as something relevant to Leicester, to his company, and also to the personal things he was trying to achieve.
At around the same, Ben met a lecturer from Leicester University who wanted to create an audience polling system using mobile phones, to collect votes from his students in class.
“As they say, the rest is history and we created Participoll together, which is now a completely separate company. It was a perfect example of how meeting someone outside of my normal circle of contacts could be really valuable. It really spurred me on to get the startup movement going in Leicester and to look for more opportunities.”
A plugin to PowerPoint, Participoll collects votes through web enabled devices and adds the results into the presentation in real-time. The software is easy to use and requires no additional software, ensuring easy and rapid adoption by users who may not be particularly tech savvy.
Like many others before it, Participoll was created as a solution to a problem. Ben was lucky in that the initial audience (lecturers), presented the problem to him and he had a community at Leicester University ready to test the product.
After it’s first sale in December 2013, Participoll incorporated as a company and has now officially launched. Its initial target market is education professionals. This is the stage where Ben in his ‘UltimateWeb hat’, would normally hand the product over to the client; however with this project he feels that it is only just beginning:
“You can now buy the product on a monthly basis and this is what we’re trying to promote. We need to get more and more people using the product and build a community around it. It’s a really hard thing to do and I’m still learning how to do that aspect of it. It’s easy to build a product, but getting it known is a very hard thing to do. But it’s very rewarding learning about it.”
Whilst some products struggle to get noticed, Participoll had its first major showcasing at the BETT Show 2014, where one of the speakers signed up to use the plugin in their presentation. This was completely unplanned and the speaker was unknown to the Participoll team, but it could not have been more fortunate, as they could have potentially spent hundreds of pounds to exhibit at the conference.
It has been a slow process, and one that has required a lot of juggling alongside running a busy web agency, but it’s a process which every startup can relate to. By creating Leicester Tech Startups shortly after his Brad Feld epiphany, and through organising regular meetups in Leicester, Ben initiated a thriving community which supported him on his first startup journey.
Leicester Tech Startups now attracts a wide range of attendees including entrepreneurs, academics, students, investors, and those looking to bring their creative ideas to life. Events, community groups, resources and services, are constantly being created and led by other people in the community. In Autumn 2013, Launch48 had its first Weekend Accelerator in Leicester and is set to return again in November 2014.
With Leicester now officially on the tech startup map, Ben has achieved everything, and more, he started out to do.