I attended the Project Sahara kick off meeting held at Sheffield Halam University last Saturday.
The concept was put together by Lee Strafford, Founder and ex-CEO of plus.net with the support from his fellow team mate Marco Potesta and Ian Spence, who Lee has worked with in the past. Having sold Plus.Net to BT and then getting the sack, Lee had plenty of time to think of what to do next. He also realised how stressed he has been in nurturing and growing plus.net since its incorporation, dealing with various stakeholders including Sarbanes Oxley compliance. As Lee said it, he does not want to run another company at the same speed, instead he is looking to diversify risk through working with number of startups. He was faced with two options, these being:
- Set-up a company that will nurture startups, raise funding and offer a technology platform on which the startups can build their web based products and services. This is no difference to running a medium size fast growth company.
- Do the same but with a community, diversifying the risk and creating opportunities for all involved. The preferred option.
So the intention of the kick off meeting was to explain the concept and decide on which of the above two options to take. I am happy to announce that agreement has been reached with Option 2. I and Imran Ali took upon us to spread the word into our startup communities through blogging and events. Three people took upon themselves to develop the community site. Lee is also looking for software architects to start conceptualising the technology platform. Everyone is a volunteer. Costs will be covered by Lee through an Administrative Vehicle that need setting up with legal frameworks drawn.
The community is currently split into three segments:
- Administrators – Lee, Marco and Ian
- Stakeholders (potential investors) – Ajaz Ahmed of Freeserve fame, Ed French of Rising Stars, Paul Cusack of ebuyer fame, Saul Klein of Seedcamp, OpenCoffeeClub and Index Ventures. There are others that I am not familiar with. Paul was there to provide support to Lee. Paul could also be speaking at the next NW StartUp 2.0 event.
- Affiliates – Volunteers that satisfy many needs of the community. I also call this bunch business enablers. There are lot more technical people in this pot at present than business people. I am hoping this ratio will balance over time.
In order for this to work, there need to be four types of inviduals:
- Entrepreneurs – people who are ready to commit to good commercial ideas.
- Investors – people who have or have access to necessary cash to realise commercial ideas.
- Business Enablers – those who can provide services to Entrepreneurs in terms of mentoring, business development, etc
- Administrators – people who manages the interactivity among the first three under a legal and commercial framework with full compliance in mind.
In terms of tangibles, there need to be:
- A community site for everyone to interact
- An idea bank
- A technology platform on which ideas can be reaslised with ease
Extract from Lee’s recent thread on Facebook:
Looking forward we now need to finalise the thinking / start taking action on the three components:-
 Community site for Web start-ups (idea development and deal making)
[a] who to engage to run and driving the community through participation [b] how to build the website
[c] how to interface to other community resources
 Web Business Incubator infrastructure (hands on help and mentoring)
[a] defining the relationships with leading universities in the north
[b] defining the relationships with the RDA
[c] establishing relationships with other incubators
 App Dev platform (web start-ups in a box)
[a] engaging with the architectural talent pool in order to design and spec
[b] Identify the methodology and resources to build it
So, if you want to be involved, start interacting through Facebook. If you need an introduction to Lee or anyone else, let me know through here or by e-mail.
Personally, I would love to run  but faced with significant time constraints. Unless time can be justified by financial reward. This may be against the voluntary nature of the project. Well there is nothing to loose by having a chat as this fits with the services ebdex provides.
This is only the start, if you want further insight to this exciting project, here is a list of publicly available documents:
Further information can be accessed through following sites: