Culture and tourism becomes destination for entrepreneurs in Techstars Startup Weekend

The latest edition of a global programme that helps entrepreneurs create a startup business in just 54 hours is getting cultural for its return to the University of Plymouth in March.

The Techstars Startup Weekend has been running since 2019 as part of the iMayflower project and has acted as a springboard for several new companies as well as helping to forge countless connections across the city.

Hosted by the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business’ enterprise initiative, The Bridge, the fifth edition will focus on finding bold and innovative ideas that will make Plymouth a prime tourism and cultural destination for 2023.

Prior to the pandemic, Condé Nast Traveller magazine picked Britain's Ocean City as one of the top ten places to travel, and it is estimated that Plymouth’s culture and tourism industry accounts for nearly £70 million of economic output per year, with 365 businesses classed as arts, entertainment and recreation. Plymouth has also recently been recognised as one of the top ten cities in the UK to launch a business.

“Culture and tourism are vitally important to the economies of Plymouth and the broader South West,” 

said Professor Chris Bennewith, Interim Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business. 

“From the Barbican to The Box, Dartmoor to Drake’s Island, we have iconic centres of tourism and culture here, which in turn provides great opportunities for business and for those students who graduate ready to launch their careers in these sectors. The pandemic has, of course, posed an existential threat to tourism and culture, but with restrictions lifted, there is renewed optimism for the future and that’s why this Techstars Weekend is perfectly timed to build upon that momentum.”

The event, which runs from Friday 11 March to Sunday 13 March also marks a return to an in-person event, after the organisers switched to an online format due to the pandemic.

The format for the three-day event will see ideas pitched and teams formed around those suggestions that garner the most support on the first evening together. Mentoring sessions and workshops will help refine the idea into a business proposition on day two, before the event concludes with pitching to a panel of businesses experts.

Among the judges who’ll be taking part are Amanda Lumley, Executive Director of Destination Plymouth; and Hannah Harris, CEO of Plymouth Culture. On the mentoring side, Jessica Holliland, of the Plymouth Social Enterprise Network; and Gavin Jones. Managing Director of digital creative agency Elixel, will be lending their expertise. And the weekend will be hosted by the internationally-renowned coach, educator and speaker Roger Osorio.

Rupert Lorraine, Development and Partnership Manager (Creative Economy), said: 

“We are really excited to be bringing people together again, in person, for this very special occasion. Techstars Startup Weekends are always alive with energy and enthusiasm, and this year - as we start to see the groundswell of optimism and confidence returning to the tourism and culture market - we’re expecting this to be our biggest and best event to date, and a truly unique experience for all of our participants, mentors and judges. It’s entirely possible that the ideas developed over the course of the weekend will be taken forward as real businesses; creating a legacy that will be enjoyed by visitors to our city for years to come.”

The Techstars Startup Weekends are run by the University’s enterprise initiative, The Bridge, in partnership with Google for Startups, and is part of the iMayflower Project. iMayflower is supported by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport through the Cultural Development Fund which is administered by Arts Council England.

Previous winners have included a social enterprise supporting young girls’ mental health through physical and emotional literacy campaigns, a mindful photography app aimed at parents, and an ‘AirBnB’-style operation using yachts.