“Birkbeck has so many resources when it comes to study skills and I have been able to pass those skills on to my boys.”

Last month, we bought three current part-time Birkbeck students who are also parents together to talk about how they made the step into studying and how they’re managing studying while looking after their children under lockdown.

In this blog, We’ll hear what Liliana (Accounting and Management FDA), Fentezia (Film and Media BA) and Mohamed (Applied Psychology CertHE) have to say about how they’re managing juggling studying and childcare in this challenging time.

If you’re a parent thinking about studying, email us at getstarted@bbk.ac.uk for information and advice about starting a university course. Now, over to Liliana, Fentezia and Mohamed!

Mother and daughter home schooling

Thank you for agreeing to share your thoughts with us about studying while parenting. We know it must be a busy time! So, tell us a little bit about why you decided to come to Birkbeck and what you enjoy about your course?

Fentezia: I decided to come to Birkbeck due to the great reputation it had, and flexibility of learning in the evenings. I enjoy my course because a lot of the lecturers are already established in the film and media industry and you get a lot of insight in it through them. The students are also mature and most are returning to education and some have families so you have a lot in common with them.

Liliana: I first heard about Birkbeck at a family event in a university, I thought it was what I was looking for and the part-time option made it easier to make the decision to study for a degree as I thought to myself ‘How can I juggle having two children a part-time job and studying!’

Birkbeck has so many resources when it comes to study skills and I have been able to pass those skills on to my boys. Learning together and being able to find the answers to topics have made me more confident as a parent when helping my children with homework.

Mohamed: Studying Applied Psychology has really given me an insight into why people do the things they do. I enjoy the course because I get to learn more about people. This was really important to me coming from Sierra Leone, it helped me understand the conflict in my own country and why people act the way they do. I’ve also enjoyed the child development parts of my course where I’ve learnt more about how children grow and learn.

How do you normally juggle childcare and studying when you’re attending on campus lectures?

Fentezia: Luckily, I have family that can help and being part-time, I only study two nights a week. While my children are in school, I also take the time to do assignments.

Mohamed: Usually it’s no problem at all. As the classes are in the evening, I can look after the baby during the day (my son is only 19 months old) and swap with his mum in the evening. Sometimes it’s a challenge to do the academic work before class, but I manage to fit it around my other commitments.

Lilliana: I am very lucky because I have supportive parents that help look after my children in the evenings when I have classes. My dad is at home when my children get home from school and stays with them until I get home, he even cooks meals for us! When I study at home, I try to do it when they are at school or I will dedicate a Sunday morning to studying, I think it’s important for them to see my studying.

How are you finding parenting and studying during lockdown?

Liliana: In lockdown my time management skills have been put to the test, I’m working from home and have a collaborate session (a live workshop with other students and the lecturer) on a Tuesday evening, but I make sure I have a long break before I sit down to study. I try to study while they are getting on with schoolwork as I find this is the time when we are all studying which helps us focus. I don’t try to do a full school day with them, rather we are task-orientated and decide how long each task should take and allocate times – however, we also allow room for flexibility.

I give them at least three tasks on most days and it could be anything from getting a piece of homework done to vacuuming their room, this gives them a sense of accomplishment for the day. I have focused on teaching them essential skills like cooking and looking after themselves, I like to think I am preparing them for university life in the future. I also find time to go out for walks – this could be on my own or with my boys, it gives you clarity and a break from staying at home.

Fentezia: It has been challenging as I have taken on the role as governess without the patience of Mary Poppins! However, it has been nice to spend time with my children and see their progress. Sometimes I study while they do their learning, but it’s usually at night when they have gone to bed.

Parenting is harder because we have to do the domestic chores as well as home school and answer a million questions from our children, whilst also being followed around the house.

Mohamed: Staying at home has been good because it means I’ve got to spend more time with my son, but it has been hard because I can only really work when he is sleeping. Even when his mum is there, it’s difficult because there are lots of distractions.

Do you have any tips for other students who are also trying to juggle studying and parenting at the moment?

Fentezia: I would recommend PE with Joe Wicks he is now like a TV family member; the sports sessions help the kids burn excess energy. Home learning should be done in the morning when their minds are fresh and get them to read in the afternoon to give you a bit of (quiet) time to do some work.

Don’t forget to rest and eat well so that you have the energy to do your own work at night. Try not to get too stressed, stick to a good routine and set a bedtime for the kids.

I’m also Birkbeck’s Student Parents & Carers Officer, so if you are a student who is also a parent, email studentsunion@bbk.ac.uk to find out more.

Liliana: Take breaks and do activities together such as cooking and playing board games, it’s also important to do sports with your children; this could be a bike ride around London or just around the park.

Take time for yourself and do something you enjoy like reading a book or watching your favourite series. It’s okay to ask for help – email your teachers.

Mohamed: It’s important to find space to be alone and to have some quiet. Make arrangements with your partner to have that space.

Make sure that you reach out to get support, for example, charities or services at the university. Try your best, look for support, go to school but it can be a challenge sometimes!

Further information: 

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“I cannot stress enough how important it is to get women a seat at the table.”

Winner of Best Business Idea at this year’s Pioneer Awards, Hetty Bonney-Mercer shares how she plans to empower women in Ghana with her business, FemInStyle Africa.

Picture of Hetty Bonner Mercer

A great business idea begins when someone identifies a problem that needs solving. Sometimes, these are problems you never knew you had, as the buyers of products like these will testify.

In Hetty Bonney-Mercer’s case, however, the business idea came from a problem she found impossible to ignore. Taking home the Best Business Idea prize at this year’s Pioneer awards, it looks like the judging panel agreed.

FemInStyle Africa is a magazine for women, by women, encouraging them to live their lives to their full potential. The idea for the magazine came from a desire to present an alternative narrative for women in Ghana.

As Hetty explains, “I first had the idea when I was part of a group of women whose gender activism took Ghana by storm in 2017.” The group wanted to flip the script on toxic gender narratives, but they weren’t able to do so without resistance: “The more politicised we became, the more backlash we received. Despite being a population with an equal gender split, the idea of women occupying media spaces was unacceptable.

“In Ghana, the traditional view that the role of women is to keep the home still persists. Just 13% of national politicians are female, and when a woman is given a platform on events such as International Women’s Day, it is always a certain type of narrative being pushed; that keeping a home and a husband is the most important thing, no matter what a woman has achieved. On International Menstrual Hygiene Day, the topic was discussed by an all-male panel!

“My co-founder and I realised that we needed to create a space where we could amplify the voices and experiences of women exclusively. We wanted to change a narrative that is harming future generations of girls.”

Hetty had been working on the early stages of her business idea when she saw an email from Birkbeck about the Pioneer programme.

“I thought that this was the opportunity I needed to develop the business. I sent it to my co-founder and she encouraged me to go for it.

“I gained so much from the programme: I made some really great friends and received incredible support from the speakers and fellow students. It was amazing to be in a room filled with so much passion: everyone there had a problem to solve. Coming from a background in Politics and International Relations, I learned the practicalities of running a business from some amazing female entrepreneurs who spoke on the programme.”

The FemInStyle Africa magazine website is currently under construction and will feature five columns: politics, gender activism, working women, financial advice and travel and style. The target readership is women aged 16-45, although Hetty wants the magazine to be read as widely as possible: “We want sixteen-year-olds to read the politics column or our profile of working women and see women who they’ll aspire to be like. For more mature readers, we want them to read something and see their own experience and values reflected. We want young people to see the possibilities of what could be, despite the societal pressures around them.”

The online magazine is a starting point, but Hetty’s vision for FemInStyle Africa extends much further. “We’ve set ourselves a six-month deadline to produce the magazine in print as well. In Ghana, data is a matter of class. Not everyone can afford to be online. We’re hoping to make the magazine free to reach as many people as we can.”

There are also plans in place to establish a mentoring programme alongside the magazine, providing further opportunities to empower young Ghanaian women. It is a project close to Hetty’s heart: “I cannot stress enough how important it is to get women a seat at the table. We want women to come on this journey with us and see that their futures are not pre-determined.”

Further Information:

 

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The Use of the ‘Useless’: Exploring the Story of Classics at Birkbeck, 1963 – 2003

Jonny Matfin, a PhD candidate of Birkbeck Knowledge, discusses the contemporary development of Classics at Birkbeck. This blog is part of the 200th-anniversary series, marking the founding of the College which we will celebrate in 2023.

The outside of Birkbeck College

Birkbeck College, copyright Birkbeck History Collection.

In a series of compelling critiques of recent government policy on higher education in Britain, the academic Stefan Collini mounts a conceptual defence of the university; through exploring the question of what universities are for, Collini concludes that higher education institutions – that is, places like Birkbeck – ‘embody an alternative set of values’. Such values, it is argued, have been debased by decades of political drives towards managerialism and marketisation – they are not easily captured by audits and reports.

Within this context, the academic subject of classics is key. As Collini observes, Latin and Greek university studies have had a long journey, ‘from being a preparation for clerical or political office, through the centuries in which they served to hallmark a gentleman, and on to their current standing as favoured example of a “useless” subject.’ Ironically, it is this very – inaccurate – verdict that makes classics so vital to historical understanding of changes to British universities since the 1960s: if, as Collini suggests, our higher education system has been seen by others around the world as a canary in the mine, then classics has been – so to speak – the canary’s canary.

Margaret Thatcher at Birkbeck Open Day in 1973

Margaret Thatcher at Birkbeck’s 150th Anniversary Open Day in 1973. Image courtesy of the Birkbeck History Collection.

Birkbeck, like most universities and colleges across Britain, experienced two major periods of change from 1963-2003: the expansion – in response to a booming population – of the 1960s and 1970s, and the moves towards managerialism and marketisation – widely, but not solely, associated with the Conservative Thatcher Government – of the 1980s and 1990s. Classics was one of a number of ‘smaller’ subjects which came under increasing scrutiny within higher education institutions during policy pushes connected to the second of these significant shifts.

Crisis point was reached in 1985 when a government body, the University Grants Committee, launched an inquiry into Latin and Greek teaching and research in UK universities. A subsequent report by the UGC recommended the closure of a number of classics departments nationwide – including that of Birkbeck, forcing its merger with King’s College by 1989-90. Critically, the government audit failed to take account of the unique part-time tuition provided by Birkbeck’s Department of Classics – an academic lifeline for working students wanting to pursue the discipline.

This then, is the crux: if examining the recent history of academic classics in Britain can help us to explore the question of what universities are for, studying the development of the discipline at Birkbeck from 1963-2003 can help us to break new ground – to understand what an institution like this college, providing exceptional part-time tuition, is for. In short, this aspect of the story of the “useless” is extremely useful in a historical sense. Moreover, the revival of Latin and Greek at Birkbeck through a Department of History, Classics and Archaeology – and its continued evening tuition in both disciplines, is no small reason for institutional pride in the present.

Further reading:

Stefan Collini, What Are Universities For? (London; New York: Penguin, 2012).

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The Family Learning Series

Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement team and Brittney Chere and Jessica Massonnié from Birkbeck’s Centre for the Brain and Cognitive Development, have launched a virtual Family Learning Series for parents and children. The series of videos, ‘The Brain Explained’, are short lessons accompanied by fun activities for impactful family learning.

In February, the Access and Engagement Team along with Jessica Massonnié and Brittney Chere from Birkbeck’s Centre for the Brain and Cognitive Development delivered a workshop for children and parents at Stratford library. Over 10 families joined us for an hour of activities which included making your own neurons and building a brain hat.

With more family workshops planned for the Easter holidays and as Covid-19 shut all public venues, we began thinking about how we could bring our family learning programme online – and this is the result!

Below you’ll find four videos led by Brittney Chere focusing on the brain and including activities that you and your child/children can do at home. These activities are best suited for primary school aged children (Year’s 4-6) and we hope that they can play a role in any home schooling you are doing with your children right now.

The Brain, Explained: Part 1

Now you’re ready to get going- watch this video to start learning about the brain!

Activity 1 resource: Trace the Brain (1)

The Brain, Explained: Part 2

 

Activity 2 resource: Brain Hats

The Brain, Explained: Part 3

Activity 3 resource: ChatterBox instructions and activity ChatterBox.

 

The Brain Explained: Part 4

Activity 4 resource: Brain Game Instructions, Brain Game Board, Brain Game Neurons.

Where can I find other learning resources?

If this has sparked your interest as a parent in psychology or the brain, why not take a look at the Centre for the Brain’s virtual coffee mornings where you can hear from researchers about their research. Other Birkbeck events can be found on our events page.

If your child wants to find out more about the brain or how the body works; check out this University of Washington resource which has lots of great activities including these fun experiments you can do at home! This website also has some great science resources.

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“With the right support structure all things are possible.”

Gaining professional experience with the support of Birkbeck Careers service, making friends from all over the worldtravelling around the UK and Europe… Namibian alumna Omagano Kankondi, Head of Solution Mapping at the Accelerator Lab under United Nations Development (UNDP) talks about her experience at Birkbeck. 

Omagano Kankondi

Can you tell us about your background?  

I am originally from Okahao which is in the northern part of Namibia, I currently live in the capital city Windhoek.  In 2005, I started my tertiary education in Cape Town at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, and I was there till 2011. During my time there I obtained a National Diploma in 3D Design, a Bachelor of Technology in Product Design and a Master’s in Design focusing on Socially Responsible Design. I graduated from my Masters in 2012 and four years later started on the MSc in Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management. 

Why did you decide to study at Birkbeck?

It was always my intention to get a qualification that was business-centred because I felt as a designer who had the intention of going out on my own in the future, I really needed it. In 2012 I started working for the Ministry of Trade and Industry in Namibia as a Design Consultant, focusing on product development for SMEs. Working here, sparked my curiosity for business studies. Initially, I had wanted to pursue an MBA but after much contemplation, I realised an MBA was not the route I wanted to take.  

When I came across this programme at Birkbeck I believed it would suit me perfectly. The MSc in Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management had the right balance of business focus and innovation, so I was even more pleased when I was awarded a Chevening scholarship.   

How was studying at Birkbeck?

I found the staff to be friendly and approachable, whenever I approached a staff member with a query or problem, they always offered their full assistance.  This was the case for staff on all levels.   

I made a really good set of friends. We were a diverse bunch, a small United Nations. We started off as a study group and soon we were planning epic trips together, I think our most memorable trip was to the Austrian Alps. My very patient friend Kevin tried to teach me how to ski for the very first time but despite his best efforts, I couldn’t quite get the hang of it. We all still stay in touch via our WhatsApp group and we check in every now and then.  

I didn’t officially join any social clubs, but I did attend a couple of activities organised by the International Students forum. One such activity was a tour to Houses of Parliament which I thoroughly enjoyed.  

When I started writing my dissertation, I thought it would be the right time to look for work experience because my schedule was way more flexible, but I was not making any headway. I reached out to the Birkbeck Futures and one of the staff members helped me review my CV and gave me guidance on how to improve it. I eventually secured a job at Good Innovation London. 

How was it living in the UK?

 When I moved to Cape Town it was my first time moving away from home. At that time I really wanted to live in halls of residence but was unable to get a place, so when I moved to London, I decided that I would live in halls for the experience. I got a place in Connaught Hall right next to campus which was so convenient and cost-effective for me. I loved the experience and I got to make great friends in halls (Hi Russel, Isaiah, Hanako and Shezard!) but I must admit sharing bathrooms was an interesting experience I do not need to relive.   

My London experience was amazing, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.  I made sure to get to know London; going to art shows, concerts (please tell Adele she still owes me a concert from that time in 2016), joining my brunch club in various parts of London to try out Instagramworthy dishes and chilled hangouts with friends from the African diaspora. I think my initial challenge was getting used to the pace of the work at Birkbeck but I eventually got the hang of it  my main challenge turned out to be the lack of sun! I come from one of the sunniest places in the world so this was a tough adjustment. One of the things I enjoyed and miss the most about London is the variety in Every. Single. Thing!!  

London living showed me that with the right support structure all things are possible. I think one of the ways I have changed is that my level of tenacity has been boosted, ‘try just one more time’ has become a self-cheer and part of my way of doing things.  

What have you done since graduating from Birkbeck? 

I am currently employed as the Head of Solution Mapping at the Accelerator Lab under United Nations Development (UNDP) in Namibia. The accelerator Labs are the UNDP’s new service offering that works with people, governments, and the private sector to reimagine development for the 21st century. Together with the Head of Experimentation and Head of Exploration our main objective at the #AccLabNam is to support the UNDP Country Office in addressing wicked complex challenges in Namibia. At the lab we hope to create people-centred solutions “where today’s moonshots1 become tomorrow’s breakthroughs. 

I landed a job which combines my social responsibility and design background and innovation at the United Nations Development Programme, which was on my vision board as a dream employer. 

My journey has been a little unusual, I started as an industrial designer but now work in development. The one thing that has remained consistent is that at the heart of it all, my work has always been about people so if you would like to keep people at the centre of your workmy advice would be, as cliché as it might sound, remember why you started and how it can contribute to the big picture of not leaving anyone behind.  

What advice would you give other people thinking of studying at Birkbeck?

Do it! You will have the best time, challenging at times and in times like that you can pop over to The George Birkbeck bar. 
😊  

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Why businesses fail: Financial management

Welcome to the Why businesses fail series. This is the final instalment of the series that delves into the reasons for businesses failing and offering solutions. This series was launched by Lucy Robinson of Birkbeck Futures and Ghazala Zia from Windsor Swan. In this blog, they share why financial planning should be high on the list of priorities for new businesses and start ups.  

Lucy Robinson is the Employability Consultant for Business and Enterprise at Birkbeck Futures. She runs the Pioneer programme for aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs and hosts an enterprise series on the #FuturesPodcast.

Ghazala Zia is a Venture Capital Advisor at Windsor Swan, a boutique London business advisory firm. She has an extensive legal background and currently specialises in advising start-ups of all stages on funding, strategy and business analysis.

Young businesses often prioritise hiring team members to focus on technology and sales. Obviously, these are very significant elements of the start-up, but neglecting the management of finances is a common reason businesses might fail.

A very common reason for a business failing is running out of money. Frequently, entrepreneurs will burn through cash to the brink and then be left with two to three months’ worth of cash, which is really unattractive to investors. This comes back to investors wanting to secure a return on investment and showing poor financial management makes you high-risk. Instead, having eight to twelve months’ worth of cash indicates that you’ve got time to grow your business and doesn’t come off as desperate.

In the beginning, having access to someone who performs a CFO-type function could be the difference between succeeding and failing. This doesn’t have to be a full-time team member if that’s not feasible, as this is a function that can be outsourced fairly easily. Essentially, this is someone to discuss how you allocate your costs, draw up your financial model, and manage your finances day-to-day for the business. Think about this before you receive funding, as they can also help you plan ahead. Showing investors that you’ve taken this initiative is also a big plus in terms of your trustworthiness.

The misconception is often that we don’t need to hire a CFO or shouldn’t spend money on this, as an accountant can perform the same function. Whilst accountants are great at what they do, their role is more about looking backwards than forwards. In essence, planning ahead financially isn’t exactly their purpose. When looking at the finances for your start-up, it’s speculative and forward-looking – largely making educated guesses. So, you need someone with this skill set, which is more likely to be a financial specialist who’s worked in start-ups before.

Read more from the Why Businesses Fail series:

 

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How my MA work placement helped me kick start my career in the Arts

Birkbeck alumna, Florencia Nannetti de Bella who studied MA History of Art at Birkbeck details how she started her career in the arts, from work placements to freelancing, to now starting a full-time role while working remotely.

Florencia Nannetti de Bella

Florencia Nannetti de Bella

On Monday 20 April, I started a new job as Community and Visitor Engagement Officer at the Museum of Cambridge. This has been, as you can imagine, a very unusual experience, given the circumstances. However, I could not be more thrilled about undertaking this post for many reasons, and I want to tell you about it.

First of all, let me tell you a bit more about how I got here. In 2017, I enrolled on a full-time History of Art MA course at Birkbeck. I had undertaken several courses in Arts Education and Visual Arts before, but this course at Birkbeck compelled me for a particular reason: it offered the opportunity to do a work placement at a cultural institution for 3 months.

At least in my case, I discovered quite quickly that breaking into the arts and culture sector could be difficult without enough experience. And although I had worked extensively as a freelance art facilitator in galleries and schools, it felt like I needed something more solid. So I figured that doing a work placement as part of my studies was a good place to start.

While enrolled on the Work Placement module, I had sessions with the tutor Sarah Thomas and the rest of the students to reflect on my practice. This is not something you usually get to do when you are working or doing a placement outside university, and it added so much to the experience. To have been able to discuss what you’re doing, the challenges you’re facing and the things you learn, added a whole new level of knowledge. In this case, it helped me become a reflective professional, and therefore improve my performance.

I had it very clear in my mind what I wanted to do for my placement: I wanted to be part of an Education Team. There were many more placements related to curation, but I was lucky to find one with the Creative Learning Team at Alexandra Palace.

Anna Gordon, from the Careers Advice Team, was brilliant at helping me with my application and interview. If you haven’t heard of the team, I would recommend you look them up and get in touch with them. In preparation for the work placement, Anna not only provided some great sessions on how to prepare your CV and cover letter, but she also provided 1 to 1 sessions. She carefully went through the application pack with me, and helped me tweak my CV accordingly. She gave me homework on this, for us to review together, and then helped me prepare for my interview.

One of the things that have impacted me the most from these sessions has been how she taught me how to approach an application. And most importantly, she helped me understand the skills that I have that I can offer to employers. This was so empowering and gave me more confidence to apply for the jobs that I really wanted.

I would certainly take this particular time to get in touch with the Birkbeck Careers Advice Team and work on your CV and cover letter. What better time to tackle it? Many new remote posts are appearing, so you might also want to consider that as an option.

It was a tricky time, when I was working, studying, and doing the placement at the same time. It was not easy, but was absolutely do-able. You will have to be extremely organised, planning ahead was key to navigating that period successfully.

The placement lasted three months, and it was great. My manager at Alexandra Palace, Isobel Aptaker, would take me to all her meetings, let me see how she went about doing certain tasks, answer my questions, and discuss challenges of the role, and of working at this venue in particular and others she had worked at. It was very useful, because I could get a real sense of how things are done, and the dynamics of the job. It also gave me a chance to really put to the test whether this was something I wanted as a career or not. A work placement can be a great way to discover if something you thought you liked, is actually what you want. Don’t regret it if you discover it is not.

Increasingly, I would have more and more tasks with a good degree of responsibility within the Ally Pally Learning team, which was good to test my skills and learn new ones. You don’t need to know it all when you undertake a placement, and it is good if your manager can give you challenging tasks that will help you grow, and build your knowledge. This is something you should discuss with the manager and your tutor. After all, you need to make it work for you.

After I graduated, I continued doing freelance work, and kept an eye open for other opportunities. My freelance experience has also been invaluable to expand my skills set and grow my professional network after the placement.

Last July, I got a very nice position as the Education and Training coordinator for a team of energy advisers, at an environmental charity. The experience from my work placement, which I spoke about during my interview, was key to getting this role. On this topic, I would recommend you keep a log of every new job or placement: it will help you keep track of everything you learn and do, so then it’s easier for you to give examples of your skills.

Starting a job in lockdown: why it has been good in many ways

In March this year, I came across this lovely post from the Museum of Cambridge, and just before the quarantine started, I managed to attend my interview. Consequently I was offered the role, which I accepted. The week right after, the country went into lockdown. However, Cambridge City Council, who is funding my position and the projects I will deliver, and the museum, were very keen for me to undertake the post remotely.

Albeit unusual, this has had a lot of positive benefits. Firstly, I could tackle my induction in a record time! I went through a lot of online training modules and documents that usually take a bit longer to go through, as you normally have to do other things around it if you are on site. In addition, since all of our cultural and engagement offer has to be re-arranged to fit the current circumstances, I have had to spend a good deal of time figuring the alternatives out. This is certainly testing and improving my planning skills and my creativity. I have to find alternatives, adapt activities, think of new ways to continue to build community through collections with all these new challenges we are facing. On the down side, I cannot familiarise myself with the collection and the building. However, this is bringing me closer to the wonderful team of volunteers and the Collections team, whom I rely upon to understand the museum’s dynamics.

Something that has always interested me is work within the arts and culture sector, and social issues, which in my opinion, have to involve engaging with local communities. One of the things that worried me the most about a lockdown, was that the voices of those communities, especially minorities, might go unheard again, and that we might lose the sense of connectedness between us. In this new job, I have the chance to try and stop that from happening.

It didn’t happen from one day to the other, but with patience, dedication, and the help of the very talented professionals I have mentioned, I was able to find the job I really wanted.

FURTHER INFORMATION
Birkbeck School of Arts
Birkbeck Futures

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Why Businesses Fail: Business Plans & Financial Models

Welcome to the Why businesses fail series. This is the fourth of five blogs that delve into the reasons for businesses failing and offering solutions. This series was launched by Lucy Robinson of Birkbeck Futures and Ghazala Zia from Windsor Swan. In this blog, they share why having a carefully considered business plan is essential to the success of your business.  

Lucy Robinson is the Employability Consultant for Business and Enterprise at Birkbeck Futures. She runs the Pioneer programme for aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs and hosts an enterprise series on the #FuturesPodcast.

Ghazala Zia is a Venture Capital Advisor at Windsor Swan, a boutique London business advisory firm. She has an extensive legal background, and currently specialises in advising start-ups of all stages on funding, strategy and business analysis.

We all know the importance of a decent pitch deck when it comes to presenting a business idea to investors, but ultimately, they’ll be looking at the detail behind the pitch when making their decisions. Once you’ve started your business and got a few customers, you should be looking at your business plan and preparing it for an investor. This seems early but is the right time because that’s how long it takes to prepare for investment.

Investors might not ask for a business plan straight away, often they’ll request to see this after a few meetings. Entrepreneurs often wait until they’re explicitly asked before creating a business plan, which isn’t setting yourself up for success.

In reality, a business plan is a living, breathing document, not just something you rustle up on request for the purpose of your funding application to an investor. Showing an investor, a rushed, poorly considered, or insufficiently detailed business plan won’t fill them with confidence.

A detailed and carefully considered business plan isn’t just important for impressing investors – it’s one of the most important tools in your arsenal as an entrepreneur, and when used correctly it can be incredibly valuable for planning ahead, making decisions and staying on track.

The business plan should work for the life cycle of the business, which is approximately 3-5 years. Consider the milestones you’ll reach and issues you’ll face within this timeframe. It should be a professionally written document that you and your team refer to time and time again, meaning that everyone is literally on the same page. It’s not static, and should be amended as you go along. This allows you the flexibility to adapt to new circumstances and continue planning ahead.

As well as your business plan, you also need a detailed, well-evidenced and realistic financial model. The first question to answer here is that of why your business needs funding in the first place. Where are you hoping the business will go in the next 3-5 years? What specifically will the funding be spent on? How have you arrived at these costs? How will the meeting of these needs lead to more growth and profit? Specificity is needed here, as investors awarding significant amounts of money will want to know exactly where that money is going, and how it contributes to their return on investment.

You also should be proportionate and realistic about the amount of funding you ask for. There’s no exact rule about how much funding to request, as it ultimately comes down to your planning, but you shouldn’t expect to waltz out of your first investment meeting with one million pounds. It’s speculative at the early stages, but you can come up with a good financial model that’s relevant to the type of investor you’re approaching if you take the time to look at the detail of your business. Seeking the guidance of a financial advisor is a good step to take here, as they’ll know the right questions to ask you.

When it comes to your business plan and financial model, sit down and spend a lot of time on these. This is why investors often prefer to back entrepreneurs who’ve already tried and failed, because they know the steps to take and the questions to ask themselves.

Read more from the Why Businesses Fail series:

 

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Pioneer Programme 2020: Meet the Finalists 

Meet the entrepreneurs in the running for the Best Business Pitch and Best Business Idea awards. Winners will be announced at a virtual ceremony in June. 

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As the government, businesses and individuals adapt to a “new normal” in the wake of COVID-19, the case for innovative thinking in the workplace has never been clearer. With this in mind, we’re delighted to introduce this year’s Pioneer Programme finalists.

Pioneer is an extra-curricular course for Birkbeck students looking to develop the knowledge and skills to excel as an entrepreneur. Over seven Saturday sessions, participants learn from a range of entrepreneurs, industry experts and each other to build the skills needed to develop their business idea or scale up an existing business. 

Representing the best entrepreneurial minds in Birkbeck, the finalists are in with a chance of winning either the Best Business Pitch or Best Business Idea award, each worth a £1000 cash prize to support their business, along with a bespoke package of mentoring, coaching and promotion. 

Participants’ achievements will be celebrated at a virtual awards ceremony on Thursday 18 June, with a panel of five independent judges, themselves entrepreneurs and industry leaders in start-ups and innovation. 

Meet the Finalists

Jody Halstead

Jody Halstead
MSc Management with Business Strategy and the Environment
Business: Circular Surrey 

My business, Circular Surrey, is a platform for local business leaders who want to transition to a low carbon circular economy. 

Research shows that more localised solutions are needed in order to make the shift to a low carbon circular economy. Alongside this, business owners and leaders often don’t have the resources to fully apply their time and need some additional support. 

The Purpose of Circular Surrey is to provide clear and tangible support for local businesses to enable them to shift to more sustainable business models and practices whilst continuing to power Surrey’s economy.

 

Alexander Flint Mitchell

Alexander Flint Mitchell 
MSc Business Innovation (specialising in Entrepreneurship) 
Business: Blind Cupid 

Blind Cupid is for people who want lasting love and are frustrated by the time and money wasted dating incompatible people. Blind Cupid offers fast, fail-safe matchmaking. Unlike eHarmony and Hinge, our product matches users with people who share the same values and fundamental way of thinking via a never-before-used science. This creates a fast-track to lasting love. Far from the superficiality of Tinder, profile compatibility is scored and bios are seen before a user chooses which of their matches to reveal photos to. This leads to better dating decision-making. 

You can take Blind Cupid’s ‘Sense of Life’ Questionnaire today and get a very informative report about who you fundamentally are as a person.

I am currently fundraising for Blind Cupid and the product should be on the market within the next three months. 

 

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James Shepherd 
MSc Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropsychology 
Business: Smart Therapy Tools  

Smart Therapy Tools aims to modernise psychological therapy treatment by providing both therapists and service users with an interactive and engaging smart phone app.  

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a therapy based on a structured understanding of how mental health issues maintain themselves, is at the forefront of modern mental health treatments and the NHS alone aims to treat over 1.5 million people a year with this approach. To improve the experience of this therapy, I have developed a prototype smartphone app which brings important techniques away from static pen and paper approaches into a more engaging and dynamic domain.

In the future, I aim to put data science at the heart of the app by using statistical modelling to learn from user inputs. As the app is used more often, more information from the heart of the service user/therapist collaboration can be utilised to help understand the complexity of mental health problems and inform new treatments.

 

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Kevin Tsai 
MSc Innovation and Entrepreneurship 
Business: Anywhere Bear 

Anywhere Bear is a vision born from my passion for travelling. However, I have come to realise how damaging air travel is for the environment – even a short haul flight from London to Edinburgh contributes more CO2 to the atmosphere then an individual’s average annual emissions. 

My wife and I recently took a holiday around Italy without flying and we loved the experience of travelling around by train.  We then looked at other holidays around Europe but found it difficult to plan without flying. There is no one go-to site that we trust and find easy to use for our needs, hence the decision to pursue the idea of a travel platform specialising in helping holiday makers to plan and book their holiday around Europe without flying. We want to build a fun and engaged community of people who will enjoy sharing their travel stories and be able to challenge and inspire their network to join them as they go flight free.  

Due to COVID-19we’ve had to rethink our strategy, as we foresee travel being impacted by this pandemic.  We’re now going to be providing travel inspiration to places around the UK.  We plan to partner with eco-hotels and restaurants and build a platform to allow people to still enjoy their holidays with a minimal carbon footprint.  

Our plan is still at the ideation stage so watch this space as we reinvent the way people holiday!

 

Picture of Hetty Bonney-MercerHetty Bonney-Mercer 
BA Global Politics and International Relations 
Business: FemInStyle Africa 

In the near future, representation of women in Ghana’s politics will be higher, women in Africa will be more financially independent, women who have broken the glass ceiling in their respective fields will be the norm instead of the exception, solo female travel will be safer and gender activism will have reached new heights. 

Because in 2019, two gender activists decided that there weren’t enough publications in the country that really focused on amplifying women’s voices exclusively and in a positive way and decided to do something about it. 

FemInStyle Africa is a magazine for women by women which aims to encourage women to live their full potential. We have five columns dedicated to politics, gender activism, profiling working women, financial advice and travel and style: always written with women as the central focus. FemInStyle Africa aims to mobilise women to bring about lasting changes in the fight for gender equality. 

We are currently building our website, recruiting writers, and finalising our marketing plan with a view to launching in Q3 2020. We welcome you to be a part of our journey.

 

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Mukesh Bhatt 
PhD Law 
Business: inSTEAD – integrating Space Technologies into the lives of the Elderly and Disabled 

 The inSTEAD project wants to re-purpose, re-innovate and re-invigorate space technologies, which can be used to help the elderly and disabled. Over 700 astronauts in space and returning to Earth are supported by a multi-billion-dollar industry, prototyping and patenting health support and rehabilitation mechanisms. The astronauts suffer from the same health problems as the elderly and disabled on Earth, and yet solutions for the latter are priced beyond their reach. However, anything used by astronauts can also be used by the elderly and disabled because each is human. 

Encouraged by the Birkbeck Pioneer programme, the International Space University and the European Space Agency at its Noordwijk business incubation centre, inSTEAD (AbleSpace Paradigms) aims to translate the hardware and psychological technologies and methods used for astronauts into a form suitable for the support and rehabilitation of the elderly and disabled on Earth. 

The inSTEAD project includes in its mission both commercial and philanthropic aims and objectives for high social impact and making the best use of opportunities for collaboration with national space, technology and development agencies and initiatives. It requires a team of dedicated and impassioned personnel to help make it a success. If you wish to become involved please contact Mukesh. 

Further Information: 

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Why businesses fail: customer acquisition strategy

Welcome to the Why businesses fail series. This is the third of five blogs that delve into the reasons for businesses failing and offering solutions. This series was launched by Lucy Robinson of Birkbeck Futures and Ghazala Zia from Windsor Swan. In this blog, they share how you can narrow down your customer and find an effective marketing strategy to attract and retain them.  

Lucy Robinson is the Employability Consultant for Business and Enterprise at Birkbeck Futures. She runs the Pioneer programme for aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs and hosts an enterprise series on the #FuturesPodcast.

Ghazala Zia is a Venture Capital Advisor at Windsor Swan, a boutique London business advisory firm. She has an extensive legal background, and currently specialises in advising start-ups of all stages on funding, strategy and business analysis.

Once the product or service has been tested, it’s not enough to assume that it will speak for itself. Customers don’t come without being invited. It’s crucial to have a detailed customer acquisition strategy and a relevant, targeted marketing strategy alongside in order to succeed.

Firstly, define your customer. Not just ‘young women’ or ‘professional millennials’, but very specifically identified. Think about gender, age group, location, profession, and more. Similarly, your customer might not be an individual but a service provider themselves. You still need to be specific here. For example, if you want to sell to a university, who do you want to reach within the organisation? The students, the lectures, the staff? Knowing who your customers actually are is vital to the short- and long-term success of your start-up. Conducting market research tests on your intended audience is also a great way to measure if they actually want your product – often, you may be surprised by who your actual customers are.

At the early stages of a start-up, it’s wise to channel funds (even if they’re limited) into a solid marketing strategy. Test your consumer behaviour, determine advertising costs, and determine how many customers you’ll reach. Similarly, build up your brand reputation in order to garner recognition and ultimately, loyalty from your intended audience.

Customers show loyalty to authenticity, and your marketing should reflect a strong and consistent brand identity that is honest to the product itself. If you have a flashy marketing campaign but the product itself doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, you risk being slated online and by word of mouth. This is why the marketing strategy itself only holds up when the product does – which bring us back to the importance of understanding the problem you’re solving, and carrying out extensive testing on your intended audience.

Within your customer acquisition strategy, you should be familiar with certain metrics. How will you acquire your customers? What is your cost of acquisition? How much marketing do you need to spend to acquire one customer? How are you going to retain that customer?

Read about how to identify a need in the market and attract investors in the first two blogs of the series.

 

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