Here’s how to make a great Conception X application
If you have an existing start-up and business plan or pitch deck, you’re ready to go.If you’re coming to this for the first time, you’re also ready to go.
The Conception X application is designed to be accessible and straightforward. It’s specifically designed for PhD researchers and takes about 20 minutes to complete.
(In the event you’d like to structure your thoughts a bit more, you can use the Sequoia Business Plan template. Set a timer for 30–60 minutes and work through each section in 5–10 minutes. This stage is completely optional to help you think through your idea. We won’t ask for a copy of it, nor do we accept it as part of the application.)
1. Previous business experience
Candidate experience varies widely. Many candidates have spent their careers predominantly on academic work and research. Some candidates have worked with corporates, small businesses and start-ups.
This is where you get to tell us about previous start-up work, hackathons, research competitions, other accelerators and volunteer projects. Previous experience also includes leadership and management roles, whether that was helping write and win a grant proposal, project management, sports teams and work in the non-profit sector.
The key here is to highlight experiences that showcase entrepreneurial traits and ambition. Describe the organisations you’ve worked with, your role(s), and specific achievements.
2. Your idea, project or existing start-up company
• Ideas. Ideas often start with applying research work as a new product, service, or process. The idea can be something completely new, or a better version of something that exists already. Idea propositions often come from “what if” statements: What if my research could do this for people? What if I automated this part of my work? What if I could make this faster, easier, cheaper, or better?
• Projects. Projects are generally things that you or your team have built and/or tested, even at the smallest scale. Projects often take the shape of thesis work, core elements or pieces of deep technology. Projects can be algorithms, code, executable demonstrations, physical components or products, and process innovations. Projects may or may not have business plans already developed.
• Start-ups. If you’re already working on a start-up business, this is the elevator pitch. Briefly describe a snapshot of the business. The company, product, target customers, and unique selling point. You’ll have time later to go into a bit more detail on each individual area.
Briefly describe the problem you solve. Problem statements can be big and broad, or specific customer pain points. The key here is connecting what you’re working on to a real problem that people experience.
One of the challenges of deep-tech is that at times it creates new solutions without starting from a specific problem. If you’re clear on a solution or opportunity, and don’t necessarily see an immediate problem, it may help to think of what products or services your solution competes against. What would your product or service replace? And then consider what problem customers are solving when they purchase the existing product or service.
Briefly describe your actual or potential audience, users, or customers. This may be more general and less specific. You may have a specific customer in mind, or you may be thinking of a community or group of people. Your answer may be consumers, businesses, governments, or other start-ups. Don’t worry too much about getting this right now. One of the first things we do in the Conception X programme is create customer profiles and personas to test.
If you’re already working on a start-up, this can be a description of your existing users and/or customers. If you have customer segments, please briefly describe those here.
If you’re working on an idea, the solution is what it looks like when it’s made real. One point of guidance is a quote by Jeff Raskin from Apple: “As far as the customer is concerned, the interface is the product.” What would you like to build, and how will people use it?
If you’re working on a project or a start-up company, this will usually be a description of what you’re building, or have already built. Describe what you have today. You can then expand on that by outlining what a future iteration of the product looks like.
Bonus points if you want to answer the question: “How big can this be?”
What are you doing that is new and different? Please only share what you are comfortable sharing here. There is no need to share the specifics of unprotected or proprietary research.
Innovations can be groundbreaking new technologies, or simple evolutions to existing products or processes that represent large opportunities at scale. The key is succinctly describing what you’re doing that is new or different, and why that is important.
6. What stage is your idea/project/startup at?
The stage questions create a snapshot of where you are in terms of developing your idea, project or start-up. There are no right answers here. This is meant to accurately reflect where you are today.
The point of Conception X is moving your work at least one stage forward. From research to an idea, and idea to a project, or a project to a start-up. If you have a start-up, then you most likely want to scale it.
Your technology stage
• Research — you’re coming straight from the lab and haven’t built anything specific.
• Proof of Concept — You’ve built something that’s not quite fully working yet
• Lab prototype — You’ve built something that works and you can use
• Functional product / demonstrator — You’ve built something other people can use
• Early adopter — You’ve built something and are testing it with users and customers
• Scaling customers — You have users using a largely unmodified version of a product
The rest of the stage questions are self-explanatory descriptives. Again, we’re not suggesting you run out and register a limited company today. If you have one, please provide the details. If not, there’s plenty of time on the Conception X programme to do that.
7. Industry Challenges
Conception X offers the opportunity to work with leading companies to both work on problems that they specify, as well as showcase your team, research and start-up company.
Conception X Industry Challenges are very popular events with cohorts. The challenges are open to everyone on the programme. These are opportunities to work with leading businesses on the application of research and technologies.
For project and start-up teams, these are great connections with commercial leaders to help define your products and launch customer trials.
Expressions of interest in Industry Challenges at the application stage are not binding. What we’re looking for here is what industries and corporate partners interest you.
8. Why do you want to join?
We love reading answers to these questions. There are many reasons people want to join Conception X. Here are a few of them from previous years.
• “Collaborate with industry leaders to see how my research can be commercialised”
• “I am an engineer, and I want to understand more of business and finance”
• “I’m a PhD, and I want to work with other PhDs who also want to build start-ups.”
• “I know how to build things. I want to learn how to turn things into products.”
• “My goal is to run my own business.”
• “Previous participants said the mentoring and coaching is excellent”
• “The programme has an exceptional track record for PhD researchers”
• “We have a product and want to raise investment”
N.B. These are snippets from previous applications. People answer in single lines, bullet points, and paragraphs.
9. Next Steps
In the last five years, employment in the European technology sector grew 1143%. Collectively, the UK, the European Union and each European country see the technology sector as one of the key growth drivers of the economy. They’re putting huge volumes of money behind making that happen.
Whether you are interested in building your own company or learning more about building new products, there’s never been a better time to get involved.
This story was written by Nicholas Russell, Entrepreneur in Residence at Conception X.