28 February 2017 - 12:46 pm

From Engineer to Entrepreneur Pt 1

2 years ago I was a budding chemical engineering student who thought that ‘I’ll just sell it’ was a perfectly valid business model and who had no idea how to code. So, I thought you might be interested to hear the story of how I progressed through one engineering academy and two Startup Weekends to emerge as the proud creator of a computer automation product.

Let’s start with the academy – in 2014, I became one of 18 members of the Sheffield Engineering Leadership Academy (SELA to you and me) which aims to inspire future leaders in engineering. As part of the SELA programme we were challenged to deliver a peer-to-peer learning bootcamp to inspire the next generation of SELA members who were to enter into SELA the following year.

The only slight problem was that we had no money, no experience and no idea what we were doing… great!

However, I saw this as an opportunity to get my first experience of actually earning money through some entrepreneurial action, and so with equal measures of enthusiasm and naivety, I volunteered myself to lead the fundraising team.

For the first two months we did really quite badly in trying to start our own business creating novelty bottle lamps. As anyone who has dipped their toe into business will know, this is the high effort, low return route.

For the following six months, we did slightly better in realising that attracting sponsors and applying for grants was a much less risky way to secure funding for our soon-to-be inspirational bootcamp.

Unfortunately, it’s also really hard and despite throwing all we had at it for months on end, we still hadn’t raised even a quarter of the money we needed to deliver the bootcamp which was now only a couple of months away.

So, I did what any sane person would do and went on holiday to Italy to sip cocktails in the resigned knowledge that our fundraising had failed…

(I actually did, here’s proof).


But as it turned out, we hadn’t failed at all – in that week whilst I was away, one of our grant applications came through successfully, giving us nearly twice the amount we initially needed to run the bootcamp!

Here we all are at the bootcamp engaging in some well-funded peer-to-peer learning:



This was my first experience of actually going out and raising money solely on my own (and my team’s) initiative. This year-long project showed me that anyone can do it, even if you don’t have any idea what you’re doing, with a fair amount of effort and some persistence, it can be done!

Although I had never seen myself as even vaguely entrepreneurial before, this experience made me realise that I did have the ability to go out and earn money.

This gave me the confidence to enter my first Startup Weekend which I’ll cover in Part 2!

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  • About the author

    Robin Hartley

    Robin Hartley

    Hi, my name is Robin, I’m a chemical engineer by discipline but at heart I’m an enthusiastic maker, dabbler in tech and hopefully one day I’ll also be a full-blown entrepreneur. I’ve had an exciting ride with University of Sheffield Enterprise, having taking part in two Startup Weekends and even winning one of them! I’ve been involved in a couple of startups such as OverHear who created the official app for Tramlines Festival 2015, and I’m now working towards crowdfunding my own tech product – The Amazing Shortcut Keypad. I’ve by no means done and seen it all, (I’m still figuring it out) but I aim to share my lessons and experiences along the way in the hope that they will be useful. Please feel free to get in touch and apart from that, happy reading!