I’m delighted to report that, following an intense weekend, our project came away with the IRISS award for technology based solutions to social isolation.
There will no doubt be better places to read about the weekend and projects involved, but here’s a breakdown of my experience, for anyone interested in the process:
SI Campers gather at the Informatics Forum in Edinburgh for introductions and alcohol
The weekend kicked off with the usual SI Camp ice-breaker of chatting to people before slapping labels on them.
This was a great opportunity to find out more about the different skills and backgrounds that people were bringing to the weekend, as well as to get a better idea of who was hoping to work on which projects.
The conversations, and beer, are in full flow
With the formalities out of the way, including a brief live link up with the South Korean SI Camp happening at the same time, most of us headed to a nearby beer garden to continue the conversations. I was delighted by the level of enthusiasm and excitement coming from everyone, and the fact that many people had come no small distance to be there.
A strong theme I got from several people was that the weekend would enable them to do something that their day job didn’t – to make a real difference to people’s lives. For me, this was a really powerful message and an encouraging sign of things to come.
@prettysimple: Just home from the #sicamped intro drinks, now for a few hours sleep before the real work begins! #sicamp
Coffee and croissants to fuel the day
With a few yawns from those of us who vacated the pub in the wee hours, the event got officially underway with a few instructions, some handy hints, and directions to our allotted rooms. Six teams in total – our team (Lend a Hand) attracting 8 keen individuals.
Meeting the team and hatching the plan
Once in our room (a lovely working space up on the 4th floor), a quick round-the-table gave everyone the chance to say who they were, what they did and why they liked the idea. I can safely say, in hindsight, that we had a great team:
- Catherine (@paisleysays) – my colleague and the person who came up with the idea
- Leah (@lockhartl) – another colleague, bringing web content and social media skills along with an endless supply of enthusiasm and positivity
- James B (@jarofgreen), Steve, James L (@jamestlove) and Neil (@enru) – our developers and designers. These guys would go on to do wonderful things
- Pete – a very laid-back serial entrepreneur and investor, on board to help us get our heads around the business model
- Later on we were joined by James P (@MrJamesPorteous, our 4th James!) and Kirsty. Both brought valuable new energy and James stuck with us until the end
Social Innovation decamp
As lovely and bright as the room was, it proved a little too noisy (a thin partition separating us and the next room) so we decamped to a quieter room.
Having access to two rooms proved useful, allowing the developers to later split off and work in peace whilst the other half of the team could conduct noisier discussions about user journeys, business models and such.
Shortly after, talk turned to our name. Lend a Hand was already in use in a number of contexts, and no decent URL was available for it. After a fair bit of discussion, we settled on Share Care Club. In hindsight we’d probably all agree it wasn’t the best, and is likely to change again, but we had domains to register and brands to build so we stuck with that.
We reconvened before lunch to report back on progress, and to hear from the developers about exactly what they thought would be achievable in the time. Everyone was happy, so we pushed ahead.
Mountains of pasta arrive as I make a mad dash for power
The lunch arrived to feed the masses, providing a much needed break and chance to hear from some of the other teams.
Before I could indulge, though, I had to hotfoot it down to a nearby PC shop to grab a new laptop cable – my previous one choosing the worst possible time to die on me (thanks User 2 for having a replacement in stock!).
A moving story from a remarkable man
When I returned, I joined some of the team members who were having a chat with Ralph – an 83 year old gent who had popped in to talk to some of the teams. He had a moving story to tell and his feedback on the potential impact of our idea was wonderful to hear.
Leah would later write about the interview on our project blog.
Some free legal advice
Whilst some of the team went off and talked to a few more potential service users, myself and Pete took up the kind offer from local lawyer Dug Campbell (@dugcampbell) of some free legal advice.
Thankfully, no major new issues were revealed, and it was a great chance to flesh out some of our concerns around liability, data protection, revenue streams etc.
Twitter nearly lets us down
Twitter proved a wonderful tool over the weekend, with campers using the #sicamp hashtag to communicate with the central team and post small updates and requests for help.
However, we nearly went hungry when our Twitter stream failed to inform us that dinner had arrived downstairs. Luckily, the massive amount of pizza that had been ordered meant there was more than enough for latecomers.
Into the night
As evening approached, people started to drift home for sleep or other commitments, and by about 9pm the building was significantly quieter.
My main problem at this point, though, was that the proxy server was caching an earlier version of my newly installed blog, and at one point I had to resort to working on my smartphone (not ideal for tired eyes).
A handy tip from SICamp organiser and all-round superhero Glen (@gmehn) got me back on track.
I resisted the lure of the pub, where a few weary but wired campers were heading, and instead headed home for a few more hours work, free from proxy issues.
@prettysimple: Right, that’s me wrapping up for the night. See you all again in a few hours! #sicamp
More coffee and croissants
Gathering downstairs for some caffeine and calories before the second day of hard work, I took the opportunity to chat to some of the other teams as well as some of the people who had been ‘floating’ from room to room offering their expertise in various areas.
Soon after heading upstairs, we were extremely grateful to benefit from a string of visitors popping in to give us advice on business models, our presentation, our branding and lots more.
Crunch time as the technical team deliver
We had set a deadline of midday for any coding to stop, as we knew that last minute fiddling is often a recipe for disaster. Shortly after 12, then, we gathered for a technical demonstration of the system.
James B showed us the system – logging on as a potential new ‘sharer’, adding his details, and requesting to join the ‘club’ of the person needing help. He then logged in as the admin, approved the request, and finally sent a test message: “I’ve run out of milk, could anyone get me some more?”.
We held our breaths as we anticipated the next bit… and sure enough, within a few seconds the message came through via SMS to the phones of some of our team.
This had been a major part of our planned pitch – to run a live demo with the mobile number of a member of the audience, and actually have the system send them a SMS, in real time.
We left the room very happy, with just less than 2 hours to pull together the final pitch and put the finishing touches to content and design.
Best laid plans
It had been our intention to come together again at 1pm for a dry run of the pitch. But 1pm came and went and various things weren’t quite ready.
In fact, as the 2pm deadline approached, the reality dawned on us that there would be no time to practice the pitch. Those brave souls stepping forward to present would be doing it unrehearsed.
And what a fantastic job they did
In fact, all presentations were excellent – in equal turns moving, relevant, clever and funny.
I didn’t envy the judges’ task in picking the winner, but when they returned with their verdicts we were delighted with the result. An award from IRISS for us, giving us access to some valuable support to take the idea forward.
Meanwhile, the intriguing concept behind foodradar.co.uk, along with evidence of strong potential to grow as a viable start-up, earned it the top prize of investment and support from several companies.
Following some celebration drinks and a last few excellent conversations down the pub, including some useful feedback from some of the judges, it was time to head home.
So that was my SI Camp. I look forward to being involved in future events. Check out www.sicamp.org for more info.
Update: There’s also a great write-up of the weekend by fellow team member and namesake, James P.
First photo courtesy of theps.net under the Creative Commons license.