Alastair Cameron is the Derry-based co-founder of @iamstartacus, a company which informs, inspires and connects startups and entrepreneurs. He is also Head of Startup Programmes at Digital DNA HQ, and he and the Startacus team recently organised BIG IDEAS, an in-person and live-streamed business event as part of Derry and Strabane Enterprise Week 2022.
Originally from Suffolk, Alastair moved to the North West in 2004 and worked in recruitment before redundancy led to a change of career path. A champion of the startup community, he was previously named as one of the UK’s game-changing entrepreneurs in the Sunday Times Maserati 100 list.
How did Startacus come about?
Startacus aims to make startup life easier, better and more connected. We do that by reporting on the startup news that matters, by partnering with brands and organisations that also care about startups, and by organising, arranging and hosting events, startup programmes, pitch competitions, and networking socials that bring all those good people together.
The Startacus concept was actually born out of redundancy. I had been working for Reed Recruitment in London and as they were expanding rapidly and my wife is from Derry, I put together a business plan for them to open a service office in the city. They agreed and I moved to Derry in 2004, eventually opening a city-centre office and growing a team of 5 staff. However, the economic recession of 2007-8 and a company restructure led to us unfortunately being made redundant.
In the final week of work, myself and Leigh, my Reed colleague and Startacus co-founder, got out a whiteboard and started brainstorming. There was some trial and error along the way, but we eventually came up with the concept of Startacus. Now, looking back, redundancy was actually a blessing if I’m honest.
How has Startacus evolved over the years?
As we’ve grown in the startup space, we’ve created more and more ‘offline’, physical events – from mini-conferences to pitch competitions. In the past few months, we’ve been working on a number of different projects – Enterprise Week, Exporting Founders, a programme helping early-stage founders understand more about cross-border and international sales and growth, and an exciting STEM project with the NI Science Festival. We’re also collaborating with Derry’s Revolve Comics to teach school children about local tech champions through the visual medium of comics.
There are typically no charges or fees for startups to work with us and that, I think, is where our true value lies.
We’re really interested in supporting entrepreneurs, linking them to people, joining the dots. The thing that’s often most challenging for business founders is knowing what support is actually available to them, finding the time to do something about it and building the right network. That’s where we can help and by partnering with brands and organisations that can enable us to help support founders on their journey.
Tell us about your involvement in Enterprise Week; what do you think it achieves?
As a city which is relatively small in terms of size, I think we have the potential and inherent desire to show real ambition. I think that’s what we deliver well at Enterprise Week. It allows people to think really bravely about what they would really like to do, to listen, learn, be creative and come up with good ideas for businesses.
How has Covid impacted the startup space?
There aren’t many positive things about Covid of course. However, just as remote working has opened up opportunities to work from home, and work across different time zones, the same applies to startups. Even though we did occasionally use Zoom etc before all this, there was definitely more of an obligation to be in certain places and meet people in-person much more. Now, you don’t have to get on a plane or a bus, you don’t have to travel to Belfast or Dublin – there are fewer barriers. So, I think in that sense, it’s given equality to people and for that reason the entrepreneurial scene should become more diverse.
In-person meetings are still hugely important though. To win business, you need to have that trust with someone, and I think that a face-to-face meeting helps to build that trust. I just think that 80% of the stuff you have to perhaps do before that – the Skypes, the Zooms, the calls, the Google Hangouts – all that can happen online.
What’s the best thing about living in Derry?
Once people visit Derry, they generally always want to come back – which tells you a lot about a place really. Ultimately, I think the people make this place. As a whole, the people here are so welcoming, outward-looking and inherently caring. I think there’s still an opportunity to be further ahead in terms of equality and inclusion, sustainability and environment and become a leader in those things. You don’t need to be a big city to be leaders in change. I think that’s where Derry has a unique opportunity because of the passion of the people here and the history they’ve been through.
And of course there’s the quality of life. I love the beaches – I wish I could say I’m a surfer, but I’m not! As a family, myself and my wife and three kids love being out and about. I think that’s one of the things lockdown has taught us: how much we should value where we live.