In the true spirit of South West collaboration, TechSPARK and Entrepreneurial Spark Bristol teamed up with three of the tech scene’s most up and coming entrepreneurs this month, to share their journeys with 50 local tech and digital startup enthusiasts.

Including all the ups and downs, impressive highs and unglamorous lows, contagious determination and, of course, some of the best advice from entrepreneur to fellow entrepreneur, founders Gareth Williams from crowd-sourced compute power startup YellowDog, Dianne Douglas from safety training VR startup Vigiles Group and Brian Allen from undersea mapping company Rovco, provided an uncompromising glimpse into the reality of startup life.

Always keen to share great insight from the tech community, we caught the highlights and summarised them for those who missed out on the action.

“Take risks, believe in yourself and manage your energy not just your time”


diane-douglas-vigiles-group-entrepreneurial-sparkKicking off the entrepreneurial journeys was Diane Douglas (pictured right), founder of Vigiles Group that’s building augmented reality training apps to help students to better understand the importance of fire safety.

Diane told us how her passion for the business was motivated by her daughter’s experience being disrupted by constant fire alarms and small fires whilst studying at university. And, in a feat of true determination, Diane carried on building the app despite being diagnosed with cancer halfway through her participation in Entrepreneurial Spark Bristol’s incubator programme.

Wanting to make a difference to people’s lives is Diane’s purpose and motivation. She overcame her fear of pitching and dealing with the complexities of running a startup with the help of the Entrepreneurial Spark programme and gives this advice: “Take risks, believe in yourself and manage your energy not just your time”.

“The best people to start a business with are co-workers and colleagues”


Next up Brian Allen, founder of Rovco Subsea (pictured below left) – the startup that’s changing the face of subsea surveys with remote robotics that capture underwater structures and renders them in 3D.

brian-allen-rovcoFull of stories, Brian put the audience into the shoes of his 10-year-old self, inspired by earning pocket money helping out his father, a scuba diving instructor. This true entrepreneurial spirit went through quite a few businesses of varying success rates before finding the experience and network to help his current startup, Rovco, start to really succeed. From building an e-commerce store to attempting second-hand car sales, he’s been there and (nearly) done it all.

One of the biggest lessons for Brian, however, was in his first ever business which was run with family and friends. Quickly finding they did not share his entrepreneurial vision for the business, conflict ensued and the business was closed.

He told the audience: “Pay attention to your cash flow, never set up with friends or family and always make sure you do something you’re really passionate about.

“The best people to start a business with are co-workers and colleagues, as you already have a hierarchical and professional relationship. This also means you can solicit support from your family and friends at the end of a stressful day.”

“Problem-solving as an entrepreneur is everything”


Adding to the discussion, Gareth explained that it’s also never a good idea to split ownership of a business in half as no one has ultimate control over big decisions leading to important ones being left to stagnate – or worse, to conflict over the direction of the business.

gareth-williams-yellowdogFinally, Gareth (pictured right), founder of  Yellowdog – a crowdsourced supercomputer – shared his tongue in cheek ‘8 reasons not to start your own business’. Focussing on some of the harsher truths behind running a business from the point of startup to scale-up, he took the audience through some of the biggest things to consider but somehow simultaneously sold the joys of each of these to seal the deal.

“Find a way to decompress and deal with the pressure and stress”


“Don’t start a business if you don’t like problem-solving”, he explains. “Problem-solving as an entrepreneur is everything.”

Gareth told us the importance of making sure the problem your business is trying to solve is both time-critical and pervasive. In his case, 3D rendering was a huge issue across the industry and someone needed to solve this in order for the industry to remain afloat amidst increasing power demands.

Further highlights in Gareth’s journey include the thrill of his first sell, despite admitting to having known nothing about sales, succeeding at crowdfunding £150k when faced with the reality of not being able to fund through more traditional methods, and ultimately taking a risk in leaving his secure job to set up the business which he explains “was terrifying but also amazing”.

“Surround yourself with experts”


Leaving the audience with sound advice, he said: “Don’t be an entrepreneur if you like sleep! But do find a way to decompress and deal with the pressure and stress”. For Gareth, this includes cycling, support from his family… and a few beers.

Following the final speaker, all three gave their short but sweet piece of advice to the next generation of tech entrepreneurs. Gareth said: “Do it!” Diane told us: “Make sure to spend time validating your idea.” Brian added: “Surround yourself with experts.”

Thanks to everyone who came along to this latest collaborative brekkie. Ensure you don’t miss the next one by signing up the TechSPARK Bristol and BathSPARK meetup groups. You can also follow both on Twitter here: @TechSPARKuk and @ESparkGlobal. Find out about other tech events on the TechSPARK events calendar.