Catching up with Harry McLaverty of WarwickTECH
Tell us about WarwickTECH – how did you get the idea to create it?
WarwickTECH was founded to bridge technical and business communities at Warwick University. Alex and I (co-founders) were both about to start our second year when we realized the need for such a platform. While I came from a venture capital background where technical expertise is required to assess the viability of potential portfolio companies, Alex had a hardware engineering background solving problems closely aligned with business objectives. Neither our degrees nor any campus-based organizations could tailor to our specific needs and we knew that there were many like us. We kicked off WarwickTECH’s first year by honing in on those technical and business communities through the launch of Warwick’s official hackathon and a fortnightly meetup for entrepreneurs, and haven’t looked back since. We’ve since been fortunate enough to work with the likes of Major League Hacking, MassChallenge, Google, Twitter, GitHub, Decoded, Improbable, Balderton Capital and TechDay.
How big is your team? Tell us what they do, their past experience, etc
Although we started off as a with just the two of us, we have seen our team size increase year on year. Our headcount varies depending on the time of year – through teaching terms (October to March) we typically have a headcount of around 10, but outside of this period the team size is reduced because don’t run events at that time. Also, apart from the co-founders, we are student-run and hence the members of the team graduate. We expect to have 11 people on our team by the end of next week, and 23 by the end of the calendar year. The team is composed of a board, leadership team, as well as dev, logistics, partnerships, and marketing teams. For the first time, we will be building up a creative team as well and potentially a teaching arm slightly further down the line. Although we bring many people on-board when they start university, our team already has had people with rich experiences with the likes of Doughty Hanson (SoundCloud investor), Sony, MassChallenge and Google, and some have already founded ventures of their own.
What are your biggest challenges?
As first-time founders, this is always a learning process for us – we kicked off with a vague idea of what we wanted to achieve but didn’t know how to go about doing it, and certainly didn’t have much credibility or market validation, let alone funding. Kicking off with organizing a hackathon without ever having attended one was stressful enough, but maintaining our rate of growth off the back of the success of that event has arguably been the most difficult thing ever since – we constantly have to break and rebuild our processes to achieve our goals. To add to the difficulty, attitudes of both students and recruiters have been that Warwick only works with corporates (we work with companies across all growth stages) and because we’re student-led, our turnover is very high. We’ve had to work tirelessly to minimize these issues and think we’ve made great progress!
What are your future plans?
Given that we were only founded in October 2014, it feels like we’ve achieved a lot already – but there’s plenty more to come! We’re really coming out of a testing phase and moving into a growth phase – we’ve worked hard to grow a community from scratch, build a strong network and to raise the university’s profile as a genuine tech hub.
Over the next year, I expect to improve our alumni engagement delivering value to our members who have now left university and to foster relationships with tech communities wherever our alumni head off to. I also expect to double down on our technical offering, bringing our members up to speed with the latest tech trends through campus-based events as well as a series of panels at The Shard in collaboration with our close partner, Warwick Business School.
Given just how pervasive technology is, we’ll be looking to build relationships with other departments and faculty and to help charities and other social impact organizations to solve problems that they face. Lastly, we expect to roll out a unique partnership model with venture funds to support them with deal flow from Warwick and to provide their portfolio companies with technical talent, and of course to work with the Startup League to participate in a series of conferences – both domestically and internationally. Looks to be a busy year ahead!
You were at TechDay London last year. How was your experience?
TechDay London was absolutely incredible, and a huge thanks has to go out to Suneet Shivaprasad for putting us in touch with Jasmine Hoffman, Sharon Lieberman and the rest of the TechDay team – thanks also to Kate Bronserud, Oli Campton and the team at WBS for making the pre-party at The Shard and our appearance at the main event possible!
For us, this was the first time we’d really defined ourselves as a potential player in London’s tech scene and made it clear that we’re not just a student society, but something entirely different. It was especially good for some of our newer team members to get exposure to some of the most promising startups, accelerators, and investors out there, as well as ample opportunities to build personal relationships and really make a name for themselves. We felt that the whole operation went exceptionally well and look forward to this year’s event!
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