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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Growing Your Ecosystem

This post was contributed by Miranda Weston-Smith, who on 10 March was a guest speaker at an event hosted by the Transforming Institutions by Gendering contents and Gaining Equality in Research (TRIGGER) team – a research project in Birkbeck’s Department of Management.

biobeat-brandingAt a joint Birkbeck School of Science and TRIGGER event, Miranda Weston-Smith discussed her experiences in founding BioBeat together with opportunities for scientists and business graduates in bio-sciences. Miranda helps early stage biomedical businesses attract investment and develop their business strategies.

Miranda has worked with many entrepreneurs and is experienced in fundraising, business planning and technology transfer. She is a long standing Mentor for Cambridge Judge Business School’s Entrepreneurship Centre, contributes to the University of Cambridge Masters in Bioscience Enterprise course and is a member of the St John’s Innovation Centre Training Team.

Miranda studied Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge and has a Diploma from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

 

She brings experience as a Technology Manager at Cambridge Enterprise, where she assessed and marketed life science technologies, negotiated licences and spun-out companies. She was responsible for technology transfer at the University of Cambridge for the Cambridge-MIT Institute. In her five years at the seed capital firm, Cambridge Research and Innovation, she invested in early stage technologies. Miranda co-founded Cambridge Network with Hermann Hauser.

 

As a result of working with researchers, Miranda founded and runs BioBeat, a programme to inspire the next wave of bio-entrepreneurs and business leaders. It is a way to engage with successful women entrepreneurs and she explained that in her experience women adopt different strategies to issues such as working in teams, risks, and raising finance. Doctor Helen Lee, Director of Research, Department of Haematology, University of Cambridge and Founder, Diagnostics for the Real World, and Dr Jane Osbourn, Vice President Research and Development, MedImmune and Head of Site MedImmune Cambridge were hugely important catalysts for BioBeat getting underway and for the first Bio Beat conference in 2013, with an all-female panel.

Introducing the Cambridge bio cluster

Miranda introduced the Cambridge bio cluster that involved a range of organisations involved in medicines, R&D Support, clinical diagnostics and consumer health. Many of the companies involved in these areas have connections with Cambridge University. Those involved in medicines may have direct intellectual property (IP) relationships with University. For others, the relationships may be more indirect through networking between individuals and groups.

Miranda discussed the differences between the Cambridge biocluster of 2010 and of 2015. Lines are much tighter and investment has significantly increased through a range of funders. For example, Axol Bioscience after setting out to obtain £600,000 through a crowdfunding campaign, managed to bring in £1 million.

On advice for entrepreneurs, Miranda stressed that it is Important to find out where strengths of a company lie. The company needs to find where it sits in the market – where its customers are – and then funding can speed-up. For example, one company set out to exploit exhalation technology through non-invasive equipment that was developed as a veterinary product for horses and other animals. However, having discovered that managing severe breathing attacks such as asthma costs the NHS over £1 billion per year, the company is now developing the technology for human patients. The approval procedure, finances and returns are completely different in these two sectors.

Another aspect stressed by Miranda is linking-up the product and the market with the financial details. Investors are really interested in the two aspects of market and finance as well as the product, so providing projections of three-year cash-flows can be very important. Investors will be seeking creativity in potential problem-solving from an early stage.

Q&A

Miranda then took questions in a lively session during which most delegates to the seminar participated by asking specific questions or joining in the discussion that ensued.

The first question related to the institutional anchors that underpin the bio-science cluster. Miranda said that Cambridge University provided local industry links and was there as a strong, constant presence. The corporates that are present are a mainstay that can provide sponsorship as well as international connections and perspectives. BioBeat is also a way of opening up fresh energies and a way of encouraging people to do more.

In answer to later questions about the university’s role, Miranda confirmed that the institution does not usually seek absolute control of enterprises, but tries to support incubate, and accelerate ideas. Cambridge University’s IP policy is that of retention of the first right to file patent applications; but copyright rests with the researchers. This means that there are many ways to exploit the ideas and not just go through the University. In addition, Cambridge Enterprises puts in seed money, but this is generally done in a low key way. Generally the University sees itself as an enabler and incubator.

A series of questions and some discussion followed about how to get involved in networking from a student business perspective, rather than as a scientific researcher. Miranda suggested that the first thing to do is to just try it after scoping-out what events are going on. Miranda candidly admitted that when she first started, she didn’t really understand what networking was all about and that you have to learn on the job. Porosity and being interested in what others are doing are important. Also, if you go out with one or two colleagues, it is important not just to stand together; just go up to people and start talking to them.

In the discussion it was mentioned that potential entrepreneurs could attend interesting networking events. Such events are regularly attended by service providers, head-hunters, institutions and sometimes investors. In London, One Nucleus holds regular events. Miranda confirmed the value of attending them.

Asked about how the Cambridge bio-cluster compared with others in Europe, Miranda suggested that one of ways is to look at companies that are moving into the area, such as   Ilumina. Microsoft has its European R&D office in Cambridge. Astra Zeneca (AZ) already has various laboratories around Cambridge, but eventually some 1600 – 2000 people will move in to their new building. The impact on the cluster will be for example, there will be opportunities for sub-contracting work and for early stage collaborative projects.

Finally, on the subject of how Miranda saw the cluster evolving, she said she expected Cambridge University to continue to spin-out biotech companies, and with spin-outs from other companies, the cluster will grow further. Spin-outs will also come from Barbaham Institute and Addenbrookes Hospital and from companies such Illumina.

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Gender Equality in Entrepreneurship Policy: Looking to the Future

This post was contributed by members of the Transforming Institutions by Gendering contents and Gaining Equality in Research (TRIGGER) team – a research project in Birkbeck’s Department of Management – following a workshop which they led at Dundalk Institute of Technology, Dundalk, Ireland on Thursday, October 22

Women at conference (pic credit: Ignite New Zealand under CC via Flickr.com)

Women at conference (pic credit: Ignite New Zealand under CC via Flickr.com)

The international panel at Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT), Ireland, was asked to reflect on the differences in the challenges that women entrepreneurs face compared to their male counterparts. Their responses would then shape their views as to whether the panel thought that different policies are needed to support them.

Professor Colette Henry, a member of the TRIGGER team and Head of Department of Business at DKIT introduced the panel. Professor Helen Lawton Smith – as the Birkbeck lead of the TRIGGER project – chaired the session, and began by asking the panellists to share their own perspectives and experiences of women’s enterprise policy. The panel brought together perspectives from both research and practice.

The panellists were:

  • Ms Sarita Johnston, Enterprise Ireland
  • Professor Barbara Orser, University of Ottawa, Canada
  • Professor Bill O’Gorman, Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland
  • Professor Lene Foss, UiT – The Arctic University of Norway
  • Ms Roseann Kelly, Women in Business Northern Ireland

Structural and contextual challenges

In response to the question of the different challenges faced by men and women entrepreneurs, Lene Foss suggested that women face both structural and contextual challenges. Roseann Kelly identified these as a difference in the kinds of networks they have as well as the existence of fewer role models. Lene Foss further highlighted the dual role that women play as both mothers and entrepreneurs, as well as national differences in women’s propensity to become entrepreneurs. In Norway for example, immigrant women are more likely to be entrepreneurs than Norwegian women.

On the question of whether support for improved networking opportunities for women was an appropriate policy response, Bill O’Gorman cited his recent experiences of women’s attitudes towards women-only networks. He gave an example from his own work where his team at Waterford had set up three networks in Ireland and Wales: male only, mixed and female only. Surprisingly, while women initially were reluctant to join women only-networks because they realised that gender diversity is important and a women-only network would segregate them from men, the women-only network appeared to perform best. While the other two networks folded, the women-only one continued and still exists.

Sarita Johnson, Manager of Female Entrepreneurship for Enterprise Ireland, cited research that has led to Enterprise Ireland to support women-only programmes including networks. This demonstrated that the challenges facing women entrepreneurs are different, specifically with regard to attitude towards risk-taking and raising finance. For example, Enterprise Ireland invests in 100 high potential start-ups (HPSUs) per year. The specific targeting of women has meant that the number of women entrepreneurs in this category being awarded grants has risen from 7% to 18%. She also found that women-only networks tend to perform best – for example, in raising export sales.

Need for better understanding of gender differences

Dundalk Institute of Technology (pic credit banlon1964 under CC via Flickr.com)

Dundalk Institute of Technology (pic credit banlon1964 under CC via Flickr.com)

Barbara Orser highlighted that it is not just social capital that contributes to women only-networks performing better – it is also technology adoption and financial capital. There needs to be better understanding of gender differences, for example, with regard to levels of confidence, in order to develop better policy. Three aspects were identified as important: women’s social circles; social capital in the form of information gathering networks, and fear of failure.

Roseann Kelly suggested that women are sometimes reluctant to benefit from women-only initiatives and prefer not to be labelled as ‘women entrepreneurs.’ This is a marketing issue – exemplar women are there by right and should celebrate their success. They should play by their own rules and not those set by men. Moreover, women should not have the equivalent of ‘old boys’ networks, because women are better at inclusivity than men.

When the Panel were asked how a hypothetical one million euros might be best spent to support women’s entrepreneurship, Sarita Johnston from Enterprise Ireland said that a programme which would give financial support to women entrepreneurs would offer the quickest and most tangible benefits. Blended support in the form of networking, accelerator programmes and role models is the best approach for supporting start-ups. Access to capital pulls through the development of other skills. Bill O’Gorman thought the money being spent on Ireland’s action plan for jobs is effective, and an emphasis on female entrepreneurship would yield benefits.

Roseann Kelly pointed out that Women in Business Northern Ireland has no public funding for enterprise support and has to be self-sustaining. Public funding would give a boost to their programmes. Barbara Orser suggested that public monies in Canada could be spent on encouraging more women to become entrepreneurs. A specific population that might benefit from funding is women university students; these are under-represented in Ireland’s women entrepreneurs.

Impacting on the entrepreneurial culture

The challenge for the TRIGGER team at Birkbeck is to build on the insights gained from academics’ and practitioners’ experiences to make an impact on the entrepreneurial culture within the college. This means encouraging more female students, as well as professional and academic staff, to share the lessons of the differences in challenges they face with other communities. This panel event shows that there is much to be gained by sharing perspectives from within different institutional and national contexts.

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Business Planning Workshop

This post was contributed by Nick Eisner, an alumnus of Birkbeck’s Postgraduate Certificate in Journalism.

The submission deadline for the Santander Entrepreneurship Award is 7 March, (no excuse, no appeal). Top prize for the best postgraduate business plan is £20,000. The undergraduate top prize is £5,000.

As an introduction and preparation for the competition Birkbeck Enterprise Hub (BEH) hosted its Business Planning Workshop on Saturday 22 February between 10am and 4.30pm: six-plus concentrated hours on preparing a business plan – a map to show potential investors and others, including yourself, the budding entrepreneur, how you will take your idea from an ethereal notion in your head to a working business.

The workshop attracted a wide range of people with many imaginative ideas, including a new way of combining online and off-line shopping, improved communication over the internet, and a high-protein cereal for sports enthusiasts and weight trainers.

Not everyone was intending to submit a plan for this year’s awards, but everyone in the room had a vision and a sense of purpose. The workshop may have taken place on a sunny Saturday, but the buzz of energy and promise that pervaded room MAL415 was very different from a regular sleepy weekend atmosphere.

BEH’s resident entrepreneur Andrew Atter led the workshop and engaged his audience in an overview of the stages in preparing the business plan.

An air of competitive co-operation added further spice to the day. Attendees shared experiences of developing their ideas, while remaining wary of revealing too much.

The form that participants were asked to sign when they entered the room crystallised this balance of support, sharing, competition and discretion: participants had to agree not to abuse any information they gathered from each other during the workshop.

As well as Andrew’s PowerPoint presentation through the day, the session included group work among the participants and a presentation by one gallant volunteer of his business plan – or at least the parts of it that he felt safe in presenting to an audience at this point.
Afterwards he told me he found the experience a great exercise in presentation and a useful source of feedback from the group.

Breaks for coffee and lunch, which included the famous Birkbeck sandwich selection (my favourite is coronation chicken), gave participants the chance to discuss the wider aspects of entrepreneurship.

BEH executive director Ibrahim Maiga was optimistic about Britain’s entrepreneurial promise, which he saw as second only to that of the United States, but he was much less enthusiastic about the UK’s primary and secondary education.

He felt the UK could provide a good platform for research and development, but largely relies on foreigners for the skills to carry out that research, as well as fill the financial roles on which the country still relies so heavily for revenue.

Not only does the UK rely on visitors for these skills, but it’s unenlightened approach to immigration makes it even more difficult to attract the people it needs.

The UK’s stance on immigration may be a response to many of its people feeling threatened by competition for jobs from visitors, but that does not stop the policy from being a self-inflicted wound that the country’s economy can ill afford, especially at a time when that economy needs to diversify away from an overreliance on financial
services that themselves depend heavily on foreign institutions with UK bases.

Surely there is a better way to support people born in the UK: not to set up barriers to importing skills that the country needs, but to sustain an improvement of primary and secondary education so that more of those skills can come from UK citizens.

After lunch it was back to the workshop, which provided a lot for its participants to take in, and quite a gentle introduction to a development process that must grow increasingly competitive and challenging in subsequent stages.

After the official session, with the energy of true budding entrepreneurs, several participants stayed on to discuss ideas and opportunities further.

As well as the insights into business planning and development, perhaps one of the day’s most valuable offerings was the chance for participants to share a can-do sense of imaginative energy and possibility.

There are further details and dates of the Santander Entrepreneurship Award and other Birkbeck Enterprise Hub events on their website.

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