And off they went, the laureates of our third This is IT award: the four students behind the Amigrow anti-bullying app. They hopped on a plane to Silicon Valley for the coaching trip they won. It was a memorable fortnight full of interesting meetings, conversations and priceless pointers by top entrepreneurs.
Networking American style
For Amigrow’s coaching trip we enlisted the services of Bernard Slede, a French entrepreneur with many years of experience helping start-ups and companies grow networks in Silicon Valley and translating them into a revenue model. Nadia Burke (Amigrow): “Bernard Slede gave us the trip of a lifetime. He had set up meetings with very interesting people, which made for extremely relevant discussions.” Mathys Awouters (Amigrow): “He also gave us strategic tips on how best to present ourselves: not as students but as the developers of an application with conversational artificial intelligence - which is entirely true, of course, but in general we tend to be a bit more modest. That was lesson No. 1 in America.”
One of the people Mathys Awouters, Nadia Burke, Kem Maria Kay and Abiola Omolola Ogundiran met in San Francisco was William McCoy, CEO of non-profit No Bully. He is the man behind the most successful anti-bullying campaign ever. Abiola: “He told us his organisation puts an end to bullying by bringing bullies into contact with bullied children. It was immensely interesting to listen to his insights.” “Our network expanded tremendously on this trip”, says Kem. “We even have contact with schools in the US and Australia where we could test run our app.”
The 7 lessons Amigrow brought back to Belgium
1. Personalise your pitch
“When pitching your product to potential investors you should tweak it with every new presentation. Take care to emphasise how well your product dovetails with the goals of the investor in front of you.” (David Russo, senior director of Planned Giving, Christian Charities)
2. Marketing and development go hand in hand
A successful company simultaneously works on solid marketing and the development of a good product. That’s why we hope to win the Gen Z award of VOKA Limburg shortly because this cash prize would really kickstart our developing activities!
3. Stay purpose-driven
Many of the people we talked to advised to “keep the anti-bullying app purpose-driven instead of money-driven”. This has strengthened our resolve to stay non-profit after all. We now realise there’s no such thing as a ‘wrong’ choice in that regard.
4. Poll your target group and test your product
“Talk to as many potential users as you can before starting the actual work on your application. Testing and improving your app over and over is also important.” (Philip Dudchuck, Chief Technical Officer and co-founder of Replika)
Preetha Ram, who developed an AI app for secondary school students, remarked that the more fun gaming elements the app contained, the more popular it would be amongst children. So we have to take this into account with every single step.
6. Take it as far as you can
The app could do so much more than what we originally envisioned. For instance, it could give users a daily tip on how to deal with bullying, or collect important data on how children feel at school. We are looking to see what is feasible but we have to start with the basics.
7. Don’t leave anything to chance
Many of our discussion partners reacted enthusiastically to our anti-bullying app for children but there were also - and rightly so - critical comments that raised issues relating to the privacy of personal data, contact with parents, the legal side of things, ... all aspects that we factor in now.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to Amon and the partners of This is IT for giving us this unique opportunity. We came back with a suitcase filled with motivation and inspiration”, Amigrow concludes. Christophe VanDriessche (Amon): “And that is exactly why we organise the This is IT competition: motivating young tech lovers and showing how fascinating our world can be. Best of luck, Amigrow, we’ll be monitoring your progress!”
We would also like to thank all our partners who helped make this initiative a reality: Unilin, UCB, Telenet, TVH, Belfius, Datanews.
Keep following Amon because we’ll be back soon with an update on the revamped This is IT competition!