Birkbeck’s day out with the London Venture Crawl

Jenna Davies leads the extracurricular Enterprise activities at Birkbeck and recently took a group of students on the London Venture Crawl, an event aimed at connecting them with businesses and experts.

Wednesday 14 March saw a group of entrepreneurial students from Birkbeck join an event that was unlike any other; six double-decker buses, nine London Universities and over 200 students made up the London Venture Crawl and celebrated everything the city offers to budding entrepreneurs.

Birkbeck teamed up with University of the Arts and the University of East London and transported students to a range of enterprising spaces around the capital to inspire them to pursue their start-up ventures, meet successful entrepreneurs along the way and ultimately check out a snapshot of what London offers on the start-up scene.

The day started bright and early with students ready for the first stop of the day at Campus London, a Google space in Shoreditch. Hearing from Creative Entrepreneurs, an innovative community of creative individuals, the group woke up and boarded the double decker bus that was to be their mode of transport for the day.

On board, they were greeted by serial social entrepreneur Benjamin Western, Co-Founder of Gaggle and indiGO Volunteers to pump them up for the rest of the journey.

The second stop was at Amazon Fashion, catering nicely for the group as they got an insight into the impressive warehouse where all of Amazon’s fashion items go for checking, photographing and packing. A panel discussion with the top operators gave a glimpse into life at the leading online retailer.

Third stop of the day took the group to Grant Thornton, after hearing from their Head of Growth Finance, Sarah Abrahams. Lunch was served and the students met Crate Brewery Founder Tom Seaton who shared his story starting up Hackney’s well-known venue.

The venture continued on to Hello Fresh, the extremely impressive and relatively new organisation that saw its revenues grow from €2.3m in 2012 to €304m in 2015 – here the students met some of the key players at their London hub and toured the quirky space.

The penultimate stop for the group was Innovation Warehouse, a co-working space and community for digital high-growth start-ups. The students were able to hear from the founder Ami Shpiro along with some of the entrepreneurs within the community.

The final stop brought all six buses together where students from across the nine universities to could network over a pizza and beverage while hearing from the inspiring Lawrence Kemball-Cook, founder and CEO of Pavegen, as well as take part in the cross-bus pitching competition. Birkbeck stormed through to the final, with Business Innovation student Bobette Kenge rounding off the day on a high and ending what was an extremely eventful, inspiring event for everyone involved.

Birkbeck Business & French student Jennifer said: “The Plexal building was fantastic, the talk at Grant Thornton with the Founder of Crate Brewery was great and gave an insight into the different types of investments, investors and how it all works, and Amazon Fashion was heaven to me! I would love to come to a similar event again and meet more people.”

This was an incredible opportunity for our students to network with a huge range of fellow London students, plus receive invaluable advice from the speakers throughout the day. The energetic atmosphere lasted right to the end of the day and was fantastic to see.

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Fixing the economy: rebuilding macroeconomics

First year BSc Economics student Lydia Evans provides a recap of an event organised by Birkbeck’s Economics + Finance Society, at which Dr Angus Armstrong introduced the new research network he directs.

The story is infamous: the Queen visits the London School of Economics and asks why no one saw the recent global financial crisis coming. Angus Armstrong believes that it’s not that people didn’t see a catastrophe on the horizon, “it’s that the institutions almost didn’t want to listen to them”. Raghuram Rajan, Joseph Stiglitz and others attempted to warn the world that a seismic shock was going to take place. The main question is how have we moved forward? Armstrong thinks that the financial world has not, it continues to choose willful ignorance. He directs a new network that wants to re-evaluate the entrenched economic models and the collective consciousness of those who use them.

Rebuilding Macroeconomics, a network of economists and academics, are attempting research that is disruptive, not immune to failure but genuinely independent to ask uncomfortable questions. The key to the efficacy of this research is how it is sourced. The network’s blueprint is set out as three tributaries: Discovery Meetings, Research Hubs, and Pilot Projects. Discovery Meetings are notable for their inclusivity. They seek to attract people from all backgrounds to discuss the most important macroeconomic questions. These discussions lead to fresh insights and methodologies to be examined by policy-makers and scholars in the Research Hubs. The most promising ideas turn into pilot projects. The network is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and hosted by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

Does the UK really need such reformatory research? He finds something “profoundly wrong” when a country as rich as the UK requires food banks to feed some of its population. Government debt is 90% of GDP. The Bank of England is only able to claim pyrrhic victories. It may hit its inflation target but other economic measures are in turmoil. Mark Carney has himself confessed that 95% of the movement in interest rates is determined by international events.  Current interest rates may not be what the UK actually needs them to be. Armstrong feels that the established institutions are reliant upon Knut Wicksell’s Rocking Horse. Whatever the instability, the assumption is that the status quo will always return. This is no longer the reality and nothing has been done about it. The failure is intellectual, not regulatory, and economists must be brave enough to confront the zeitgeist.

When Armstrong returned from study in America and expressed his wish to research financial crises, he was told that these were a problem only for the developing world. He mentions a new paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, considering how those who disagree with the mainstream in Economics are labelled dilettantes. Is the discipline consumed by an ill-conceived adherence to orthodoxy? Not all new ideas are worthy but it’s difficult to ignore a belligerent spirit against outliers. Whatever the future holds, Armstrong is not alone in arguing that the existing economic paradigm must urgently be confronted.

Further information

 

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Knowledge without borders

Baroness Bakewell, President of Birkbeck, addresses the College’s newest graduates as she congratulates them on their achievements during Graduation Week.

In her speech, she emphasises that the upheavals of a changing world and the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union should not be allowed to stand in the way of knowledge-sharing and education, and how our new graduates can help to break down borders.

It is always a great pleasure to be with you here and offer my congratulations to you on your success. This is a day you will always remember; a watershed in your lives, your careers, that will have a lasting influence on how you live your future life – where you go, what you do and. most importantly, what satisfaction it brings you.

When I look out across a sea of faces and listen to your names, I am impressed by the range and diversity of our graduates. As for your names – you may notice that I try to catch the first name of each of you as I meet you as you cross the platform. That’s because each of you matters individually to Birkbeck. It’s not always easy; I can’t always get it right. There are some names that are not familiar to my own background in the north of England. But even as I hesitate in my wish to get it right, I take pleasure in knowing what a global reach Birkbeck has. I am always delighted to speak with those of you from places across the world. Birkbeck embraces you within its academic fold. And that goes too for my fellow Europeans.

Indeed, I want to say something more about this sense of belonging and the barriers that inhibit it. These are troubled times, when matters of identity – who you are and where you came from – are increasingly used to define and, indeed, restrict what you can do, where you can work and where you can make your home. The whole of Europe – and indeed the larger world – has a long history of men who drew lines on maps and made laws giving power to those lines. We are the inheritors of those maps, and we both thrive and suffer because of them. Not just in Europe but across the Middle East, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the Americas  – tribes of mankind have settled and developed, have lived within those lines and traded across them. They are the nation states we have today.

I, the people on this platform and all of you enjoy crossing those lines.  As a young student long ago I remember being woken in the night on the train south by a man in uniform demanding my passport and shouting:  “We are now crossing into Switzerland.” I was thrilled. At the first station I got out to buy fresh Swiss coffee and cakes. It was all so new. I had grown up in a country at war so, of course, only the servicemen of our armed forces got to travel abroad. France, Belgium, Holland and beyond were all occupied by the Germans. I got my first taste of crossing a frontier when I went to France at the age of 16.

I offer these personal reminiscences to show just how much times have changed. And then something important happened: the foundations of what we today call the European Union were created. And something happened in our family, too. Something I had never seen before: my father wept. He wept with joy that never, never again would there be war on the continent of Europe such as he had seen twice in his lifetime: the First World War with its death toll of 17 million. And the Second World War, including the war in the Pacific, with over 50 million dead.

He cried for himself and for his children: they would inherit a safer, more coherent Europe. And so it came about.

But wars did happen, and barriers took on a new significance. In the Middle East, and across Africa, people fled their homelands, crossed legal lines between countries to seek refuge from conflict or to seek a better life for themselves. They crossed frontiers in their millions and, in so doing, changed not only their own lives but the lives of those from whom they sought asylum. One of the outcomes of these shifts has created the world we have today: a world at odds with itself, finding it hard to formulate new rules by which to live – and, incidentally, defying the precepts of many of the world’s great religions which is always to “welcome the stranger”; make him welcome within your gates. People have increasingly become dogmatic, hostile, uneasy about their lives and their homelands.

But there is another – and, I believe, more powerful – impulse at work in the world: and we here today can be part of it. Knowledge is universal. The discoveries of science, medicine, social welfare, anthropology, literature, cultural studies are shared by scholars and institutes of learning around the world. It is crossing lines. It knows no boundaries.   The wisdom of study, the richness of shared understanding, the value of scholarship is something we are taking part in, simply by being here today.

Your remit extends around the world and your future careers will reach into many countries and communities. What we have in common is stronger than what divides us; stronger than the lines on the map; and we are here today to celebrate that shared outlook. Congratulations again to you all.

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Bitcoin: Future or Fad?

First year BSc Economics student Lydia Evans provides a recap of an event organized by Birkbeck’s Economics + Finance Society, at which Financial Times journalist Isabella Kaminska discussed the future of Bitcoin.

What does Bitcoin mean to you?

To some, it epitomises the promise of the free market ­-  perhaps even, if one ‘mined’ it early enough, a path to becoming a millionaire. To others, it is reminiscent of Tulip Mania or the South Sea Bubble. The valuation graphs are eerily similar both in curve and timeline.

The Financial Times (FT) was started to help investors make informed decisions. Many were often victims of the Penny press. It was most germane to listen to what the FT’s Isabella Kaminska (FT Alphaville) thinks about the most popular cryptocurrency and its underlying technology, Blockchain.

Kaminska thinks that Bitcoin has been good for engaging previously uninterested parties in banking and finance. The evolution of its ecosystem also highlights the importance of harnessing the ever-expanding abilities of technology. This is as far as Bitcoin can be considered ‘on the money’.

She said that most of us have had a form of digital currency for ages, ever since we first signed up to a bank; the very basic concept of Bitcoin is not, therefore, a new one. However, unlike the technological advancement in traditional banks, she believes that Bitcoin might take us backwards.

We have no idea as to the actual asset structure or as to where it is being invested. But if capital has to be reinvested to create value, where is Bitcoin being invested?  Similarly, although Bitcoin appears to promise a dissolution of typical dealer/broker relationships, they are still very much in place.

Details regarding any potential intermediary from an established, regulated institution are readily available. There is rarely transparency when it comes to those associated with a Bitcoin Exchange. Kaminska’s research into the companies that sell and process Bitcoin showed that the vetting process is astoundingly lax.

Another claim is that it is free and easy. Kaminska thinks Bitcoin is still not user-friendly for the general public. The increasing costs could even lead to it becoming a luxury lifestyle product. Maybe, she jokingly suggested, one that could be featured in magazines such as ‘How to Spend It’.

Regulation will be the catalyst of all its future developments. It could even dismantle key principles of the whole project. This leads to a crucial question: Does Bitcoin serve a purpose or is it a solution looking for a purpose?

Perhaps Blockchain offers a solution. It has provided a means to mass collaboration that is hard, if not impossible, to get with traditional banks. But this depends upon who is collaborating and for what reasons. Due diligence is not an option in this very closed world – you are only as strong as the weakest member.

Kaminska opines that volatility undermines a currency’s usefulness. This can be demonstrated by examining any chart documenting the cryptocurrency’s history. She sees Bitcoin as a utopia for those disillusioned by, or unwilling to participate with, the mainstream banking system. Utopia is rarely what it seems.

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