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Ignite Founders’ Challenge

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Ignite Founders' Challenge.

The Ignite Founders’ Challenge: your passport to the world-renowned Cambridge ecosystem.

Are you a founder or co-founder with an early-stage idea who is ready to take up the challenge of translating your idea into reality with the support of the knowledge, expertise, and infrastructure of the unique Cambridge entrepreneurial ecosystem? Or have you created a new venture and would benefit from investing in the challenge to gain some fresh perspectives and advice from coaches and speakers drawn from this ecosystem?

The Cambridge ecosystem is renowned for enabling innovation and entrepreneurship. It has helped the development of world-changing ideas like the jet engine, the Raspberry Pi, the webcam and a host of others. This same ecosystem continues to produce innovation and is the home of hugely successful companies such as DeepmindArmDarktrace and Improbable.

We are now backing the next generation of ambitious entrepreneurs who are looking to get their venture successfully off the ground.


Deadline: 26 September 2021

Apply for the Challenge

Programme overview

The Ignite Founders’ Challenge is a specially designed four-week online programme for early-stage startups that consists of workshops and coaching sessions. It will challenge and support you to explore the potential in your idea and develop a clear plan of action. It will also give you the opportunity to connect with fellow entrepreneurs drawn from a wide variety of different backgrounds and build important networks.

The programme consists of a series of eight online half-day sessions and will take place over a month, on Mondays and Fridays.

The Mondays Injection sessions will consist of seminars and workshops covering specific topics, delivered by academics and practitioners. These are followed by Friday Reflection sessions, facilitated by experienced business coaches. Reflection sessions will run in small groups of six to seven people supported by a lead coach to help you apply the learning from the seminars and workshops to your idea and to benefit from sharing your thinking with your fellow participants.

Throughout the programme, there will be plenty of opportunities to practice your pitching, develop your pitch deck and receive feedback on your venture.

This unique online format will enable you to develop your idea and build momentum over an extended period, surrounded and supported by peers, experts and experienced coaches, right at the centre of the Cambridge ecosystem.

Key dates

Programme dates: 11 October–5 November 2021 (on Mondays and Fridays part-time, online)

  • Identifying the trends and influences impacting on this market and why it is important to have then on your radar
  • Current competitor analysis
  • Identifying possible new entrants
  • Current and emerging customers
  • Assessing the size of the market
  • Identifying the value your idea or new venture can create for this market
  • Your differentiation from the competition
  • Crafting your value proposition
  • Your customers or customer segments
  • Intellectual property
  • Developing a mission statement
  • Business models and business model innovations
  • Prototyping and mapping the user experience
  • Marketing – delivering your idea to the marketplace
  • The Financials
  • Resource audit
  • Who do you need in your internal and external team?
  • Assigning roles and developing a company culture and core values
  • Identifying who you must motivate and influence
  • Telling your story to different stakeholders
  • Developing a pitch deck

Completion of the Ignite Founders’ Challenge

By the end of the programme, you will have:

  • a clear and validated value proposition via the coaching sessions
  • a business model that you can develop and experiment with
  • indepth insight into your customers and markets and how to gain traction with them
  • a process to help you with your prototyping and understanding the user experience
  • tools and techniques to help you develop your mission statement and consider becoming a mission led company
  • insights into your entrepreneurial motivation and how this can help you build your team
  • a great network
  • achievable and clear action plans for your next steps.

On completion of the Ignite Founders’ Challenge, you will receive an official certificate of attendance from Cambridge Judge Business School.

You will receive a 20% discount for attending the Ignite programme in Cambridge in July 2022 and you will also have the opportunity to pitch for a place on our prestigious Accelerate Cambridge programme.

Eligibility criteria

This programme is suitable for you if you have the following:

  • A valid innovative idea and have started working on it.
  • A commitment to attend all sessions of the programme.
  • A passion and drive and will benefit from workshops and support from coaches, and access to the Cambridge ecosystem.

The venture can be in any country, sector and focused on any idea or market.

This programme is not for you if you are already trading or have already received a third-party investment. If you received a non-dilutive funding (grants, loans, etc) from the Government or another organisation you can join the programme.


Cost per individual: £750

Cost per founding team of two: £1,200 

Cambridge Judge Business School alumni are eligible for a 20% discount. University of Cambridge students, alumni and partner organisations are eligible for a 10% discount.

There is limited BBSRC funding available to researchers/postdocs from Cambridge University (eligibility criteria apply). Please contact us for more details. 

Please book a call with the Ignite team to discuss how best we can support your application and the opportunities available.

Book a call with the Ignite team


Dr Keivan Aghasi

Research Associate

Before joining Cambridge Judge Business School, Dr Aghasi held a research fellow position at University of Sussex, where he joined Intrapreneurship Hub, a collaborative research initiative between the School of Business, Management and Economics at the University of Sussex, Renmin University of China, and SDA Bocconi School of Management in Italy. Hub provides a platform to share the latest research findings and offers industry partners customised research projects, confidential analyses and metrics to assess corporate entrepreneurial performance. In his position, he developed a survey aiming at understanding how established companies adopt and apply different mechanisms such as startup programmes (accelerators and incubators), corporate venturing, and acquisition to support innovation, and growth, and instigate self-renewal.

Dr Aghasi obtained his PhD from a double degree programme funded under the Erasmus Mundus programme by the European Commission hosted at Politecnico di Milano, Italy, and the Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden, in 2016. In his thesis, he investigated the determinants behind the turnover of the acquired top managers in acquisition of small high-tech firms which are mainly entrepreneurial ventures. In addition, he worked at the European Commission and national funded projects related to understanding the challenges of growth for European entrepreneurial ventures as the driver of innovation in various sectors including high-tech, knowledge intensive, and cultural creative industries.

Keivan is a research associate at the Entrepreneurship Centre. He received his PhDs from Politecnico di Milano (Italy) and Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden). His areas of research revolve around unravelling and alleviating the challenges of growth and transformation of startups into viable businesses as well as measuring the impact of structured support programmes (e.g. accelerators and incubators) in the startup ecosystem. Keivan has participated and been consulted in several European Commission and national funded projects related to understanding the challenges of growth for SMEs as the driver of innovation in various sectors including high-tech, knowledge intensive, and cultural creative industries.

Babita Devi


Babita Devi is a coach and entrepreneur with nearly 30 years’ experience in marketing, strategy, and business development. Babita started her career in Enterprise Resource Planning where she successfully built pipeline through clearly defined strategies with measurable outcomes. She quickly progressed into management in her early 20s and then went on to work for the world’s largest optics company. As part of the European Marketing team, her role encompassed brand strategy, communications development, and implementation planning.

In 2004, Babita emigrated to Australia and set up bStrategic. Whilst in Australia, Babita’s work ranged from developing strategies for the launch of a major Civic Centre to raising investment for a major art complex.

Babita now resides in the UK where bStrategic has been operating since 2006. Clients have included the University of Birmingham where Babita was responsible for a complete overhaul of all commercial services offered by the university and successful implementation of a program that led to a direct increase in bookings. Other clients include Opus5K (clinical monitoring software) where Babita was responsible for identifying opportunities for commercialisation in the NHS. Babita has also worked extensively in the licensing industry during her time at Amscan International, where she advised on marketing and mentored the marketing team. Her role transitioned into Head of Strategy and quickly grew license revenues through product and market development in EMEA. She also set up a technology company in 2015, where she created an app to improve communication between communities, has lectured on entrepreneurial marketing at Anglia Ruskin University and Lincoln University Business School and has co-authored a book aimed at female entrepreneurs.

Babita is an advisor to several organisations in technology, medtech and games. As an independent consultant, Babita supports personal and business development, to scale up high potential, innovative start-ups and SMEs through Accelerate, Oxford Innovation and more widely across the UK, through Barclays Eagle Labs. Babita is part of several networks focused on supporting female founders and entrepreneurs and is a connector, bringing together strategic partners and supporting and growing networks of innovators, thinkers and change makers.

Andrew Hatcher

Mentor in Residence, Entrepreneurship Centre

Managing Director, Applied Knowledge Network

Andrew has a long history of identifying, developing and managing innovation within corporate environments and notably created and implemented an innovation management system while working for Reuters, the European media group. His career at Reuters culminated in a role as CEO of an Asian-based Internet trading corporate spin-out in Singapore which he took through initial VC funding and on to a trade sale.

He has been involved in the creation and development of a series of companies including Investing for Good, Working Knowledge and The Mapp and is involved as a non-executive director at several growing technology companies.

With a personal corporate history that includes journalism, software development, project management, marketing and strategic sales. Andrew draws on a wealth of experience in all aspects of business management gained through working internationally, predominantly in the US and UK.

Andrew is an accomplished author including, Inventuring – why big companies must think small (McGraw Hill, 2003), Services (Kogan Page 2013), Marketing Metrics (CMP 2015), Innovation in Marketing (CMP 2016), Marketing Strategy (CMP 2016) and Contemporary Challenges (CMP 2017). These books reflect Andrew’s extensive experience in the areas of business start-up and in the specialist area of innovation management, marketing and corporate venturing.

He is currently Head of Practice and a Mentor in Residence at Cambridge Judge Business School.

Sarah Hewett

Finance Business Partner at Abcam PLC

Sarah is a finance professional who loves helping entrepreneurs to understand their finances and make their businesses grow. She has worked with small and medium sized organisations, with corporate finance roles at Innocent Drinks, an FMCG company, and Abcam, an AIM- and NASDAQ-listed life science business based in Cambridge.

She has partnered with diverse business functions, from research, manufacturing and logistics, to digital and sales. Sarah has also found time to work as a finance trainer and coach for start-ups. She’s particularly passionate about social enterprise and opportunities for business to be run both for profit and for good, and spent two years growing her own social enterprise, which she successfully sold in 2017.

Anthony (Tony) Harris

Accelerate Cambridge Coach, Cambridge Judge Business School

Anthony (Tony) Harris is a business angel, entrepreneur, technologist, and thirty-year tech-industry veteran. He co-founded Software 2000/Software Imaging in 1989 and the company’s OEM software revolutionised colour desktop inkjet and digital copier printing worldwide. After exiting in 2007 he completed an MA at the University of Oxford and an MA(Res) and has recently completed his PhD at the University of Cambridge.

Tony’s areas of business expertise cover intellectual property, corporate finance, development team structure and management, and international export. He is a Cambridge Angel, a member of Cambridge Capital Group and Henley Business Angels, and sits on the Investor Committee for Oxford Capital Partners. In terms of charitable/unremunerated work he is the honorary Treasurer of Regent’s Park College (Oxford), sits on the finance committee of Kellogg College (Oxford), and is the Registered Treasurer of the Liberal Democrats (National Party), a non-executive unremunerated role, focusing on finance and compliance.

In his spare time, Tony enjoys skiing, cycling, and is a keen private pilot of helicopters and light aircraft including floatplanes. He is also a National Rowing Umpire.

Paul Bourne

Fellow in Creative Engagement, Cambridge Judge Business School

Paul works in creative engagement in three key sectors; as a professional theatre director, as a University teacher and as a consultant & coach in creative communication, storytelling and presenting.

In Executive Education and teaching of entrepreneurship, his key areas of interest are working alongside artists exploring creativity in the workplace, enterprise thinking, collaborative working, communication impact and transformational leadership.

He has most recently worked with a wide variety of retained clients focusing on two key areas: cultural shift with the Dubai Stock Exchange (DIFC), Liverpool Football Club, NIKE and Sberbank (Russia), and communication impact programmes for management and staff with Fairtrade, United States Armed Forces and McLaren Formula One Racing.

His work as a master coach in EPIC Presentation and Pitching Skills has been utilised by Chief Executives and Board Members of Arctic Start Up, Universum, Novartis, Procter & Gamble, NIKE and Philip Morris. As well as being a Fellow at the University of Cambridge, Paul is a Professorial Fellow of the Moscow School of Management and the Stockholm School of Economics.

Paul Hughes

Paul Hughes, Chief Operating Officer, BIOS

Successfully founded leading technology business. Have advised numerous clients around the world, from start-ups through to multinationals. Have completed numerous corporate finance transactions. Worked for or advised a range of different technology businesses.

Specialties: Corporate finance, mergers & acquisition, fundraising, strategy development & implementation, transaction structuring and negotiation, advising shareholders, business and finance planning.

Stylianos (Stelios) Kavadias

Margaret Thatcher Professor of Enterprise Studies in Innovation & Growth


Charles Nixon

Entrepreneur in Marketing Knowledge

Entrepreneur in Marketing Knowledge. Charles has experience in the telecommunications, publishing, finance and education sectors, and has had hands-on involvement in the IT revolution from the first days of PCs. Charles established one of the UK’s first computerised marketing intelligence systems, co-founded a Fintech startup in the 1980s and then founded Cambridge Marketing College in 1991, growing it to a dominant position in its sector before retiring in 2016 to run a publishing venture and establish his Foundation.

Charles is on the Advisory Panel of Harvard Business Review, and is an advisor for Astia. Fellow of Royal Society of Arts and Chartered Marketer.

Charles has developed skills over 40 years in market research, marketing and business development. An author, creator and occasional presenter of the Marketing Review podcast, Charles has a degree in Modern History and Economics from Manchester University and an MBA from Warwick Business School.

Visit Charles’s LinkedIn profile

Visit Charles’s Amazon profile

Xann Schwinn

Full Stack Strategist


I am a Full Stack Strategist with the aim to change the way that people perceive and interact with brands. I work to proactively change how startups, non-profits and classical music ensembles can develop a more productive and positive experience for their consumer.

The convergence of choral music & experiential design has been at the heart of my work since 2011. There is something in music that is entirely enveloping. I strive to create new vehicles for audiences to interact with music. I want to be clear: classical music is not dead. It’s just time to adapt to a new kind of listening experience.

Contact us

For other enquiries about the Ignite Founders’ Challenge please contact:

[email protected]

Frequently asked questions

No. If you have a team, two members can participate on the discounted fee. We can place you in different coaching group so you will receive a more diverse coaching and feedback.

Successful applicants will be provided with the opportunity to attend a series of ‘injection’ and ‘reflection’ sessions which will be delivered and facilitated by our academics, experienced professionals, and industry experts with final pitches of selected ventures at the end of the programme.

The programme is accessible to anyone in the world and will take place in UK time zone. All you need is an internet connection.

No. The Ignite Founders’ Challenge is a programme run over four weeks, on Mondays and Fridays. You are expected to participate fully in all sessions of the programme.

If you are shortlisted by our programmes team you will be notified via email about the next stage. We aim to inform applicants of the outcome of the application within two weeks of applying.

There is limited BBSRC funding available to researchers/postdocs from the University of Cambridge (eligibility criteria apply). Please contact us for more details.

There are also many organisations that provide funding for this sort of programme, so it is worth searching locally and nationally for funding sources.

Refunds are not possible once you have accepted an offer to take part in the Ignite Founders’ Challenge.

Yes, you will receive a digital certificate from Cambridge Judge Business School.

Yes, there will be the opportunity for you to pitch for a place at our prestigious Accelerate Cambridge programme and we can provide you with information about many of the other programmes run by the Centre.

You can email our programmes team via [email protected]. We aim to respond to all queries within three working days.

Yes, you will only need to complete one application form and provide details of founders participating in the programme.