This week, as part of our series of interviews with the Varsity Pitch categories' sponsors, we're delighted to introduce you Timothy Barnes, Founder of the Rain Gods. The Rain Gods is this year's sponsor of Digital and Technical category and we're pleased to reveal Timothy's motivations to encourage and support student-led businesses in their entrepreneurial journey.
How have start-ups and young entrepreneurs influenced or shaped your business?
I have worked with start ups most of my working life, from being a VC investor, setting up a university entrepreneurship centre to my current work running an incubator for start ups in Westminster. It’s always struck me as being the most creative thing you can do in business. I started my working life as a management consultant for a big, global firm, but realised early on that I really wanted to work around start ups where I could see new products and services coming to market that solved real problems. My own new business is called the Rain Gods and we support the development of new companies that use digital technologies to improve government and the delivery of public services. One of our projects is the Rain Cloud Victoria, a start up incubator and co-working space that is the first in the world that is dedicated to government and civil society tech companies, a sector known as CivTech. Hopefully, we will see some student-led companies coming along that will transform this new sector!
What are you looking for in an ideal application to the competition as part of the 'Digital and Technical Category’?
A well defined problem with evidence that there are people out there who will pay to have that problem taken away. Too many start ups are not the right fit for the problem they are looking to solve. You need to be able to identify something that is causing enough pain that a potential customer will pay you to have that problem taken away. It’s vital that you can convince us that the problem is real and that your customers see your product or service as the solution they are looking for. If it happens to solve a problem in the public sector, then that will be even better!
Which industries or trends do you expect to see featured in applications this year?
I hope we will move away from the trend of the last few years where we have seen things that already existed turned into apps. Would be wonderful to see people put forward ideas for things that are genuinely new and not just a new channel for something that’s already quite common. You want to see an idea that is new and exciting, certainly, but not something that is just following a trend or copying something that has already been successful with no real understanding of why that model should apply. People saying we will be the Google/ Uber/ AirBnB/ DeepMind for some industry are probably missing the point of what made those companies great in the first place. Young entrepreneurs should want to be ambitious, they should want to change the world… I hope to see some people with the desire to do that and the clarity of vision that says, “…and it starts with this…”. BioBean did that in Varsity Pitch 2013 and have since gone on to raise millions in VC funding. It’s a great sign of things to come.
Why did you choose to get involved in the Varsity Pitch Competition?
I have worked with student-led businesses for nearly twenty years and I love to see the enthusiasm, the risk taking and the originality that they can provide. It’s like hunting for anything of value, most of the time you see the same old things but just occasionally there is a blast of something new with amazing real potential and you think, “Yup. That’s why I do this.”