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Corkscrew x Exeter Student Startups

About 3 months ago, we were approached by Emily and Joe from the University of Exeter’s Student Startups Team with a proposal…

To give the well-known Startup Weekend event model a refresh. 

Having worked on bitesize projects together before, we already had a solid understanding of our shared synergy. And what’s more, Student Startups were wanting to challenge the status quo of Startup events so what better door to knock on than Corkscrew’s!

The typical model for weekend startup events is that “in just 54 hours participants experience the highs, the lows, fun and pressure that make up life in a startup”. The emphasis is on the startup hype, the need for speed and the buzz of hustling

Our goal was to build an event that would create and nurture the opportunity for transferable skills development, shifting the attention away from the outcome aka the shiny ‘investor ready’ pitch deck and instead refocus energy and attention to the process. The ideation, the testing, the evidence, the iterations, the development.


Because that’s where the true value and lessons lie. At its heart, learning is about truly understanding how and why the input affects the output of a project. If you simply look to judge a project by its outcome, then you are in danger of making brash assumptions and overlooking critical elements that may contribute to a more sustainable and stable result in the long run.

So how did we achieve it?

The goals from the outset of this project were to create an event that would… 

  • Deliver equal value to all participants, taking into account different learning styles and levels of understanding
  • To make clear the correlation between validating ideas + decision-making based on evidence and reduced risk of failure
  • To level the playing field for all participants through pre-event team formation and inclusion of problem-first ideation process
  • To provide opportunity for personal and professional development; creative confidence, design thinking, discussion, debating, empathy, communication, giving and receiving feedback, researching and validating.

What did the event look like?

 Following an explosive, quick-fire Rock, Paper, Scissor Tournament, the participants were directed to their team stations. 

Herein lay the first difference. We took the decision to form the teams ahead of the event rather than allowing self-formation. During the registration, participants were asked to submit information such as year of study and degree track as well as identifying personal skillsets ranging from but not limited to Future-Marie-Kondo and Tech Wizard to Fact Finder and Dreamer. We then used this information to form 10 teams (60 / 6) with as much diversity as possible. Beyond the diversity of experience, interests and skills we also wanted to use the event as an opportunity to simulate the reality of the workplace; working in strategically formed teams with people you may not be familiar with or even know at all.   

During the registration process, participants were also asked to submit three problems…

  1. One that you or someone you know has experienced in their daily life
  2. One that you have seen in your local environment or community
  3. One affecting people beyond your local community e.g. national or international

Why did we do this?

The typical format at weekend startup events is that all participants get the chance to pitch a business idea and group voting takes place to select the top ideas. The teams are then formed by participants self-selecting which idea they want to work on. 

Whilst on paper, this may seem like a simple and effective process, we believe that it skips over crucial steps of business idea development and also encourages a dynamic from the get-go that the individuals who’s ideas are selected are automatically in charge of leading the teams. On top of this, they also start the event with an unfair disadvantage and inevitably gain more from the event than their team mates through assuming the role of ‘founder’.

We wanted to change this in order to level the playing field for all attendees. This pushed us to build the program in a way that would allow all team members the chance to contribute and be heard throughout the weekend. We did this by winding the business idea development process back a few paces. Rather than start the weekend with a reel of 1 minute pitches, we gave each team 3 problems (you start to see the role that the ideas they submitted play) making sure that none of the teams had a problem that had been submitted by one of their members. Through a process of deconstructing and discussing the problems, we used this as the starting and focal point for ideation. Through visual and individual voting we were also able to ensure that all team members had their opinions heard and considered. 

The Friday evening concluded with all the teams having the beginnings of a business idea. When they returned on the Saturday, the focus was on validating their ideas – on the process of working out if their ideas could be translated into viable business models. And if having gathered data showing that they couldn’t, what changes and iterations they could make. The participants used the Corkscrew SEAMLESS canvas to test whether their ideas were/ had; Shareable, Economically Viable, Achievable, Market Opportunity, Legal, Environmentally Friendly, Social Impact and Sustainable/ Scalable.

On the Sunday we honed on the building out the business ideas through prototyping which in itself is a form of validation, also helping bring the ideas to life in a more tangible sense. The team’s were also tasked with the preparation of their final pitches that afternoon. With only 5 minutes per team, we stressed that the importance was to present the journey they had been on, what they had been able to validate and what stage their idea had reached. The teams didn’t fail to deliver and on Sunday afternoon we witnessed some amazing, passionate and confident presentations. 

With thanks to..

We were lucky to have an amazing team behind the facilitation and delivery of this event. On top of this, we welcomed mentors, who gave their time for free over the weekend to come and advise and guide the teams. Thank you to Tom Charman, Dave Walker, Nick Russill, Alexandra Rico-Lloyd, Jen Caust, Olya Petrakova, Greg Molecke, Dan Wiseman, David Solomides, Trevor Sharp, Matthew Roberts. 

Thank you to all the participants, mentors, catering and of course the HATCH team who made the weekend so fun and memorable – and also for being open to getting involved with this pilot. Despite all our planning, inevitably adjustments were made over the weekend as we brought this event to life for the first time!

It was a pleasure to work with the University of Exeter’s Student Startups team and we hope that HATCH 2019 marks the beginning of more collaboration to come!

To learn more about any aspect of the event or Startup Design process, please reach out to Cece on 

‘I wanted to send a huge thank you to you all at The Deck, The Student Start Up Team and The Corkscrew Team for such an interesting and informative weekend. I have gained lots of knowledge from each of you that will no doubt help me in pursuing my own business.’

Elly, HATCH 2019


Here at Corkscrew we love to celebrate Corkscrew Thinking across the globe. We’re looking for creative and courageous individuals, companies and educators and we want your help. If you think you’ve seen Corkscrew Thinking in action and would like to highlight the excellence then send us some details below. Please include as much information as possible such as web addresses, contact details and descriptions. If the Corkscrew Thinking in action you suggest is highlighted we’ll be sure to give you credit so leave your details too! 

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