2024-02-21
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Life at Cleo

Cleo Hosts an AI Launch Weekend

We hosted 60 aspiring founders at our Shoreditch HQ for an AI Launch Weekend with Phase One.

An image of AI Launch Weekend Judges at Cleo HQ
IN THIS ARTICLE:

In January, we hosted Phase One’s AI Launch Weekend at Cleo HQ in Shoreditch, London. 

We housed 60 aspiring founders as they took the first steps to launching their AI startups. 

Want to hear how it went? We got you. 

Friday 

Usually on a Friday afternoon, our office is deathly quiet as we finish at 4:30pm on Fridays–longer weekend anyone?

Not this Friday! 

People started pouring into the office late on Friday afternoon, with all kinds of travel stories. We had people fly in from Bulgaria and Italy, as well as people from all over the UK. 

First thing on the agenda was a big warm welcome. The Phase One team outlined what people could expect from the weekend. I’m not quite sure how it descended into so much chaos, but the introduction session ended with two conga lines of 30+ people, and somehow this also involved multiple games of rock, paper, scissors? Don’t ask. 

Once everyone was well acquainted, it was time for the initial idea pitches. Some people arrived at the launch weekend with an idea for an AI startup already, while others came with the sole purpose of helping others to realize their ideas. 

Each person with an idea had 60 seconds to pitch what they wanted to build over the weekend and outline the skill set that they were looking for in team mates. For most people, this was the first time they’d ever outlined their idea to a group of people. It was a chaotic hour, but people showed such passion when pitching their embryonic ideas. 

The ideas varied hugely, with one common theme: AI. There were pitches for AI assistants to help with visa processing, AI generated forms to save financial advisors heaps of time, and even an AI-powered planning tool for vineyard owners. Niche. We love it.  

Next, everyone voted for their favourite ideas, in order to create a shortlist of ideas that would be worked on over the weekend. This worked seamlessly, and the group were left with a list of 12-15 ideas. People then decided which ideas they wanted to work on over the weekend, and formed teams of 3-6 people.

The teams ended up with a range of expertise, from consultants to analysts, to financial advisors and data scientists. It was great to see how quickly the teams bonded as they launched into planning almost immediately. Helped by some delicious refreshments in the form of bao and beers (an elite combination), our teams were set and on their way. 

Cleo HQ

Saturday

The day started early, with the coffee machine active from 8am. Most people had a leisurely start, with plenty of breakfast goodies to fuel our brains for the day.

The energy in the room on Saturday morning was warm and collaborative. Proposals were bouncing around as teams began to flesh out their initial ideas. There were flipcharts galore, and calls with potential users happening in every available meeting booth. 

Saturday also saw us welcome our mentors, who dropped in to offer teams an alternative perspective on their ideas. Mentors had a wealth of experience between them, from ex-founders offering 0-1 insights, to cloud consultants. One of our mentors even brought their little one along, meaning our youngest participant of the weekend was 3 years old! 

The day was split up with a really insightful talk from Gerald, who delivered a presentation on customer discovery. This session got teams thinking about their ideal customer base and how they could truly tailor their product offering to customer needs. 

Into the afternoon, teams started to build out their MVPs. AI Models were deployed, prototypes were designed and a few teams even produced a working product! 

Saturday evening rolled around quickly, with gyoza and katsu curry keeping the teams fuelled late into the night. We expected to have our beer fridge raided, but it seemed the teams were far too focussed–instead preferring 80+ cans of diet coke. Nice. 

The last people departing around 11:30pm–the Cleo office has never seen such excitement over a weekend!

A team hard at work

Sunday

Unsurprisingly, teams rolled in a little later following the late Saturday night. The energy in the office had shifted, with teams very much heads down, concentrating on nailing down their pitches for later in the day.

The A/V equipment was rolled in mid-morning, building the excitement for later in the day. Over the course of a few hours, the office space was transformed from living-room vibes to a professional panel event. 

Around lunchtime, each team had the opportunity to present their work-in-progress pitches to a panel of mentors. This was a great opportunity for mentors to help the teams with cutting, adding, and emphasizing points within their pitches before the judges arrived. Oh, and they were kept strictly to time, which kept teams on their toes! It’s safe to say the mentors were impressed with how much progress teams had made in such a short space of time.

Sunday afternoon saw the arrival of both the judges and over 100 tacos. I’m unsure which the teams were more excited about 👀

The tacos were consumed at desks, as teams continued to fine-tune their pitches while the Phase One team made the finishing touches to the presentation area. 

A full office for the pitches

By 4pm the stage was set. The Phase One team took to the stage once again, to highlight the 60-hour journey that teams had been on to get to the point of pitching. We saw a video of the weekend, which had been impressively edited together just an hour before. You can check it out here. 

There was applause galore for the organisers, for the judges and of course, for the teams.Then, the pitches began. Teams had  10 minutes for their pitch and 5 minutes to field questions from the judges, meaning the presentations were punchy and informative. 

Once all teams had pitched, the judges took to a meeting room to deliberate. They had scoring criteria around the ideas and market fit. Our Group Product Manager, Matt, was one of the judges. As an ex-founder, he’s an expert in all things new ventures.

While the judges deliberated, teams nervously hung around in the kitchen, enjoying some well-earned drinks. After a little while, everyone came back to the stage for the winners to be revealed. 

The Winners

🥇 MigrateMe: A conversational AI Assistant that provides deeply personal immigration advice to empower people to live and work where they want.

🥈 Magpie: Personalised shopping for Pre-loved designer clothes, powered by AI.

🥉 CareMatch: A bed booking platform with accurate care capacity and logistics to source local care workers. 

Prizes included the chance to join Antler’s next cohort, access to Nvidia’s Inception Programme, heaps of free credits for various platforms and a bunch of mentoring sessions with some incredible people.

The hard work was over, and the celebrations could begin. So many pizzas arrived in the office, and the beer fridges were (finally) raided. We heard that the celebrations continued late into Sunday evening, which must be the sign of a good weekend! 

Over the course of 60 hours, friendships and working relationships were built, and people left Cleo HQ with with enriched networks. We can’t wait to see the next steps for each of the teams. 

If you’re interested in getting involved in a launch weekend, you can check out Phase One’s LinkedIn for updates. 

If you’re interested in future events hosted by Cleo, join our Meetup group.

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