London Startups: Getting Attention in a Noisy Space

There is a sublime energy in London. Young people from all over the world are relocating, re-envisioning, and redefining industries with better technology and vast networks of resources. Investment in technology startups in London surpassed £437 million ($617 million) during just the first quarter of 2015 and is expected to have topped £1 billion ($1.4 billion) for the year, according to London & Partners. There is no doubt that London is one of the best places in the world to gain traction for the next wave of "I-can't-believe-I-ever-lived-without..." companies.

For entrepreneurs hungry for support, London is also home to countless talented mentors and coaches. Multiple events are held every day in Canary Wharf, the City, and Camden that connect seasoned veterans with a new class of change-makers. Speed dating, network matchmaking, and other conversation starters are open to just about anyone, anywhere looking to make the Uber for some other industry. Even the UK government has launched a database with more than 7,500 mentors for entrepreneurs and small businesses on mentorsme.co.uk.

The space to create has, itself, emerged as an up-and-coming industry for startups in the capital. Co-working and co-living spaces like Second Home and Huckletree have transformed edgier parts of East London into modern salons and vibrant ecosystems for diverse cohorts of doers and dreamers.

Undoubtedly, synergy is created (and hopefully captured!) through the unique web that defines London startup culture. The problem with this agglomeration, however, is that it is easy to get lost. It is easy to lose identity and get caught up in the ebbs and flows of risky experiments and flashy trends. The noise is deafening.

Attracting the right mix of mentors, entrepreneurs, and resources for startups is difficult in cities like London and San Francisco, where everyone is doing half a dozen things "on the side." The Hult Prize, which has always operated in a very specific niche, has very explicit goals and identity that have allowed it to become the world's largest student competition.

Founded in 2009, the Hult Prize offers a $1 million prize to one team of social entrepreneurs each year, solving some of the world's toughest social challenges. In partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, the Hult Prize announces a single challenge each year and hosts competitive events and a business accelerator before awarding funding in New York City with President Bill Clinton. More than 25,000 entrepreneurs have applied and participated in the 2016 cycle, and more than 500 coaches and executives have supported their journey through mentoring and feedback sessions.

The Hult Prize vision has gained the attention of London heavy-hitters such as: James Robey, Maila Reeves, Steve Andrews, Richard Broyd, Duncan Cheatle, Payal Dalal, Jon-Andreas Solberg, Jim Kraft, Alisha Miranda, Muna Webhe, Carolina Arriagada-Peters, Jan Grasty, Sam Mendelson, and Alex Lin, who all served as jury members in the London Regional Finals on March 12. This panel of diverse experts - from banking and healthcare, energy and consulting - bring together the exact blend of experience critical to finding and funding some of the most innovative startups in the world.

The idea that businesses should be serving, first and foremost, people is not new. The Hult Prize, though, has pushed entrepreneurs further by demanding they serve the world's most vulnerable people with sustainable, scalable solutions. Developing opportunities to serve previously overlooked consumers with affordable, accessible technology, goods, and services is revolutionizing what globalization will look like during the course of the next decade. Rather than merely off-shoring call centers and manufacturing jobs, entrepreneurs who see the true potential in emerging economies will have the chance to find profit and impact.

This dual imperative - to both make a difference for those in need and earn returns for shareholders - is inspiring creativity of millennial entrepreneurs in London and around the world. Focusing on finding meaning (not just free snacks and foosball tables) has allowed the Hult Prize to cut through the clickbait and attract top talent and support.

As the tumultuous, polymorphous startup culture continues to develop in London, entrepreneurs and their supporters would all do well to remember what happens to those who try to be everything to everyone: they fail to become anything to anyone. As the volume gets turned up all around you, be sure that the message you're pushing is the one you want to be shouting if everyone else falls silent.