Maria Springer is a Skoll Scholar and Oxford MBA student for 2015-16. Here, she tells us about her inspirations, and why her business aims will be drafted on a grand scale.
I started cultivating my entrepreneurial tendencies when I was seven: selling homemade fudge, used toys, my old clothes, and persimmons from the tree in our backyard. I cared about making my own money so that I didn’t have to ask anyone else for it. Now I care about much more.
I’ve spent the majority of my adult life doing work to address inequality of opportunity. I came to Oxford because I want to strengthen my skills and my network. And I already adore my classmates; they are nationals of over 55 countries, including Kazakhstan, Trinidad & Tobago, France, Pakistan, Ecuador, New Zealand and Zimbabwe.
This year, I want to start building another enterprise that can attract capital, become commercially viable, and deliver an inherently social product or service in markets globally. One of my inspirations is a man who is fanatic about systems and processes, and how they impact the world. During his 2012 Caltech Commencement Address in Los Angeles (my hometown), Elon Musk talked about what he did once PayPal was acquired.
“I thought well, what are some of the other problems that are likely to most affect the future of humanity? Not from the perspective, ‘what’s the best way to make money,’ which is okay, but, it was really ‘what do I think is going to most affect the future of humanity.’”
It is evident that systems change requires fierce ambition. For this reason I have become obsessive about scale; some obsessions are healthy, right? During my second week at Saïd, twenty of my peers and I gathered for a fireside chat for aspiring female entrepreneurs. A question was posed – what would you do if you could not fail? The following week I met with a classmate I met that night. We made a list of all the topics that we’re most passionate about – education, racial and gender equality, criminal justice, poverty, food, homelessness, and energy. We agreed to (1) spend the next term researching how business could impact each of these areas and (2) not limit our vision and ambition.
If we have the privilege of being able to do build a global business, we should. Of course I sometimes feel ridiculous thinking I could build something as important or meaningful as Elon Musk. But why not try?
Recently, I was at a formal Sunday brunch at St. Bennet’s College and sat next to a professor of philosophy and religion. He asked about my future plans and when I explained my desire to start a global business, he responded in a cautionary tone, “Remember that small is beautiful.” Of course it is, and things always start out small. But I am choosing a different path. At Saïd Business School, my peers see me for who I want to be. Everyone around me is reinventing themselves and with so many entrepreneurial classmates, no idea is too big. Or are people still being polite? I hope it’s the former.
I wouldn’t be the only graduate of Saïd Business School to go on to start a business that could potentially affect the future of humanity. I’m lucky that many of my peers and Saïd alumni have paved the way for me. At the end of the day, I don’t care if my next venture fails, or if I look ludicrous, or god forbid, crazy. I am forever grateful for this confidence because if I could spend the rest of my life solving the world’s most critical problems, while also earning a decent income that could support a family, I would be even more fulfilled and excited by life than I already am.