Mixed feelings about VOOM after the Semi-finals

Mixed feelings about VOOM after the Semi-finals

As you probably know, we competed in Virgin Media’s VOOM 2018 competition. Thanks to the support of our followers, robot combat community and a lot of facebook advertising, we were in the top 40!

So off I went yesterday on the 5-hour drive to Manchester to pitch to the panel of judges. Firstly, I’d like to compliment Virgin on how well organised the event was – literally clockwork! The representatives were truly a reflection of Sir Richard Branson’s high standards and a credit to Virgin. I know some semi-finalists saw the day as a waste, but I had a great time networking and I think the experience helped me to grow as a person. I’ve been working hard at getting better in front of a camera this year and this was great practice for sure!

Imagine the excitement when I read in the morning that one of the judges was head of Crowdfunder UK – one of our funding partners. We wouldn’t have a centre if it wasn’t for the crowdfunder website. Then I hear that another judge is Suw Charman-Anderson – one of the most dedicated campaigners for Women in STEM in the country – I couldn’t believe my luck! We’re great at getting girls into STEM!

The Pitch
I was surprisingly calm leading up to the pitch, much to the surprise of the Virgin Media team, plus myself and only started to feel the adrenaline when it started. Looking back at the video, I did make some mistakes and I’m annoyed at myself for that, but on the whole, the pitch was quite good I guess.

The “grill” afterwards (not filmed) was a walk in the park and I received some valuable advice on how to grow the business, so thank you to the judges. Onwards for the 5-hour drive home…

Now let me make this clear – I did not really expect to go through to the final. Looking at some of the pitches leading up to the event, there are some amazing things going on. However, there were some projects that I felt we could definitely finish ahead of if there was a leaderboard at the end. My target was basically top 5 rather than top 3.

90 minutes short of home, I decide to stretch my legs for a bit and await the finalist announcements. Again, not expecting to get through, but interested to see who beat us.

A tweet comes out “Judges are pitching their favourites”. I zoom in on the picture of Suw and can make out the word ‘Science’ on the sign behind her… what? I knew it probably wasn’t us, so squinting I made out it was Junior Einsteins.

And that was when my heart sank…

I was prepared to be beaten, but it turns out I’d written them off in my head somehow. They weren’t ‘top 5’ – we were. Even then in that moment, I knew that Suw (Women in STEM organisation founder) would be pitching hard in the corner of Tracey-Jane the founder of Junior Einsteins – I mean she is literally a Woman in STEM! Somehow I knew right then that they were going through.

Now let me just say that I am truly delighted that a fellow STEM organisation has made it to the final, in fact I’m prepared for the rush of science party bookings we’re sure to get, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve let you down.

Even our most loyal supporters would forgive me for not getting through, but seeing a Science party organiser beat us is a hard one to explain. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself, or not giving them enough credit, but let me explain my rationale…

My rationale
We also do children’s fun science parties, plus ones themed on robot combat, cosmetics, pop stars (using the green screen), dinosaurs and soon planetarium parties – we even have a party configurator on the website so you can mix and match the perfect party! The science party concept isn’t new either, there are providers all over the country doing it, but some of our parties are unique due to us having the only premises of its kind in the UK.

The only thing I could console myself with was perhaps her growth plans are mind-blowing. So this morning I listen to Tracy’s pitch… oh damn that didn’t help either! Junior Einsteins are going to start offering franchises – that is the pitch. I’m aware of at least 6 successful Science party franchises in the UK. I mean ‘Mad Marc’ from Sublime Science failed to get into the final last year and they’re huge in this field! You may recognise him from Dragon’s Den.

Were there concerns over our growth potential perhaps? We can scale up the shop, our e-commerce activity, open the planetarium, expand the centre, open new centres (including smaller ‘pop-ups’, we’re launching our new product in June (already have international rights enquiries) and of course will now be opening our new after-school clubs.

Put me out of my misery
Please judges, observers, anybody – please help me understand how we got beaten here…

Am I barking up the wrong tree? Is the centre not a project worth supporting?

Support STEM, support Junior Einsteins
I wasn’t expecting to get through to the finals, so having a STEM organisation get through is a nice bonus and someone to cheer on for the greater good of our field. I’ll be cheering Tracy on tomorrow, but I need to look at myself to improve greatly over coming months so this doesn’t happen again.

EDIT: They’ve only gone and won it!
Just imagine what that would have done for our education centre and how many people (of all ages) that would have helped. I’m gutted! We won’t enter Voom next year as their politics obviously wouldn’t allow two similar winners in a row, so here ends our Voom journey. Thank you for your support everyone – we’ll find another way of making this happen, watch this space!

5 thoughts on “Mixed feelings about VOOM after the Semi-finals

  1. Anna Thompson

    Well done Chris. We watched the stream and you presented very well – should have gone through

  2. Let’s be real here – the thing you don’t have that they do is, BOOBS!
    #womeninstem stick together

  3. I think I’d feel the same if I was you.
    What were they thinking?
    Stay strong, keep going and why don’t you offer a franchise too just to stick out to them!

  4. Jamie Richards

    The whole competition was a fix, so this doesn’t surprise me. Loads of examples of fake votes (including Junior Einsteins!) and even entries switching categories to get through and Virgin just ignored it. An Irish company was always going to win it – they arranged for them to have TV interviews, a press photoshoot at their HQ and constantly promoted them on social media. Virgin clearly had a motive here. Very unfair, but something else more genuine will come along for you

  5. Jeremy Watson

    Without totally understanding what you are doing, I congratulate you on what you have created. I’ve just looked at your website and read your report and all I want to say is, Just remember it’s the runners up that try harder. Good luck – Jeremy

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