In this series of Scholar Blogs, our four Skoll Scholars for 2014-15 tell us what shaped their journey toward doing an MBA, and give their first impressions of how it feels to be starting their MBA course at Saïd Business School.
Nikhil Nair comes to oxford with over 6 years of experience in the solar industry. He spent three years working at the social enterprise SELCO Solar, and he holds a degree in Business Management from Christ University, India.
Thomas Lawrence asked the class: “Do you think everyone is special?”
Almost all of us put up our hands and said yes. Then he made a simple but powerful statement: “Although everyone may be special, not everyone is valuable”.
In the past few weeks since my arrival in this city, I have established that there are several truly special people at Oxford. Let me share an incidence of meeting one such person.
One evening, the MBA class gathered for wine at the Oxford Museum of Natural History, where I struck up a conversation with Joel and Caryn. Joel was telling me that he planned to try his hand at rowing. Caryn also said she intended to row, not just for her college, but also for the University team. Since rowing is big at Oxford, making it to the University team is extremely competitive. So I stopped and said to Caryn, “Rowing for the University can be extremely competitive I hear. Have you rowed before, and do you have any experience in competitive rowing?” That’s when she said that she has been part of the US Olympic rowing team for the last three times, at London, Bejing and Athens! My jaw dropped. I was bursting with questions: what was it like to be at the Olympics? How does it feel to represent the country? Did you win? And why in this world would you need an MBA?
Unfortunately I was unable to pick up my dropped-jaw and ask her these questions at the time, but I hope to do so in the course of the year. I at least found an answer to one of the questions through her Wikipedia page: yes she won – a gold at London and Beijing, and a silver at Athens. Caryn to me is a special person. And although my other classmates may not be Olympians, I have realized if you listen, each of them are special through their stories and life experiences.
But do I only want such special people and special experiences? Thomas’ theory in class is helping me differentiate between being special and being valuable. To make the most of this year, I will also need to engage with people and events that are not just special, but extremely valuable to my personal and professional life.
How do I find out what is valuable to me? If I had Aladdin’s magic lamp, I would ask the genie to create for me a list of all the valuable people and events that I could ever experience. But when I think again, perhaps it’s better that this genie doesn’t exist, as the experience of engaging and deciding whether things are special or valuable or both, is the true joy of this one year at Oxford.
Interesting events are happening all the time, such as: a talk by Eric Schmidt from Google, an event by the Smith school on GDP & Businesses, Harry Potter enthusiasts playing Quidditch (yes, this is an actual sport at Oxford), or the former Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Gillani speaking about leadership in his country.
While juggling between readings for Strategy class, OBN meetings and late-night BOP parties, I continue to look for events/people that are special and valuable. So that when people ask me about my experience at SBS, I will be able to use the same phrase I have heard from several alumni: “It was the best year of my life!”
All eyes in the crowd widened in awe as Professor Coussios introduced the two companies he founded during his time in Oxford. The fist of the two, OrganOx Ltd, founded in 2008, has developed a novel normothermic perfusion device for improved liver preservation prior to transplantation through to first-in-man trials and first sales. Following this success, In 2014, Coussios co-founded OxSonics Ltd, which is developing a new generation of ultrasound-based medical devices for drug delivery and minimally invasive surgery.
Following this fascinating summary of his entrepreneurial success in the field of biomedical science, Professor Coussios moved on quickly and took a universal approach to the advice he offered. He engaged directly and effectively with the diverse audience by breaking down what he believed were some of the tools necessary to build any type of business.
COUSSIOS TOP 5’s FOR ENTREPRENEURS
Professor Coussios’ explained 5 key questions that everyone thinking of embarking on an entrepreneurial business venture should ask themselves:
Do I have a great idea?
Am I passionate about translating this idea?
Can I handle uncertainty?
Am I investable ?
Can I assemble a great team?
Professor Coussios concluded this lecture on an inspiring note. Quoting Jeff Bezos on the essence of the entrepreneurial character, he said: “I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying.”
To hear all of Professor Coussios’s top tips, watch his full lecture here.
Building a Business is a nine-week lecture series designed to teach the fundamentals of developing a business. To watch past lectures or find out what’s up next, click here.
Next in our series of blogs from this year’s Skoll Scholars is a post from Austin Harris. Austin is the founder of Inkomoko, a Rwanda-based business accelerator for high-potential SMEs.
“I began my career working in finance, working first with a startup M&A and then a major bank. I appreciated the skills I gained, yet rarely felt a strong connection with the impact of my work. Throughout my career I have taken time to travel and volunteer in the developing world, witnessing hardships of many and the positive transformations that can be yielded by socially minded businesses.
In the beginning of 2010, I transitioned from traditional finance into microfinance, hoping to apply my work experience to financial services in areas of need. I worked in Bangladesh and then Rwanda, witnessing first-hand the transformational effect of lending and the notable growth in borrowers’ lives. In contrast to my former jobs, I felt proud of my contribution to a product that provided beneficial change.
Over my life, a variety of entrepreneurial projects have captivated and inspired me, continually building a desire to create a socially beneficial and sustainable business. In January 2012, I started Inkomoko, an accelerator firm in Rwanda that has been providing the necessary consulting, capacity building, and financing services for SMEs that are creating innovative products and services. The companies we are supporting are helping to expand and strengthen the Rwandan economy, and will serve as a model for others who are planning their own entrepreneurial ventures.
I am inspired most by providing growth to the developing world through the private sector in a way that can be both viable in business and impactful to the public. I believe supporting innovation through business will broaden industries as well as supply new career opportunities. I trust that original goods and services can benefit the people of a country as well as address many of the developing world’s pressing issues. My hope is to deliver the means for entrepreneurs to build constructive businesses. I also hope to be a conduit for investment in SMEs to help grow these businesses and broaden the areas they serve. This often overlooked sector is large in scale and has the ability to benefit all socioeconomic levels. With support and guidance, these SMEs can be a driving force in self-driven development.
A hurdle I strive to help overcome in the investment of SMEs is reducing the unknowns and strengthening the connection of the business to the outside world. By consulting for these companies, providing mentors who can report on company progress, and establishing a track record through our own financing, we develop a wealth of information and establish a history with SMEs. The intimate level of due diligence reduces the unknown factors in financing companies of this size and at this stage in development. It also opens up alternate forms of financing to reduce necessary collateral and provide affordable support with flexibility. Through our accelerator track, we can provide greater reassurance on the strength of the SME’s business and present a more comprehensive picture, giving investors greater understanding of viable SMEs and their prospects in the developing world.
My experience at Saïd will provide me greater understanding of financial services and business operations so I can expand the benefits of supporting and actively guiding SMEs. Saïd will deepen my knowledge and strengthen my ability to both improve my own business and advance other socially-minded businesses. In addition, the Skoll Foundation connects me to a wealth of knowledge and a supportive community. The Foundation will offer exposure to the successes and difficulties of others in similarly-minded tracks, and a learning opportunity that can be applied to my own venture. The combination of Saïd and Skoll will provide the support and guidance for me that I strive to extend to the businesses in Africa. “
Continuing our series of scholar blogs, here’s a post from Nicolás Argüello , another of our Skoll Scholars for 2013-14.
Nicolás is co-founder and director of Mentores Solidarios, an education-focused nonprofit in Nicaragua that provides full scholarships, one-to-one mentorship, leadership training, job skills, and college transition assistance to over 300 impoverished yet academically exceptional students.
“Starting a business as an MBA student has many advantages. You get free, top-quality advice and mentoring from expert professors and accomplished classmates. Class projects can be used to develop your idea and refine your business plan. You can analyze strategy frameworks and financing schemes in terms of how they can best be applied to your business model. And since you’ve already decided to forgo a salary for the program’s duration (a deterrent to many aspiring entrepreneurs), you might as well invest your free time in developing your business instead of participating in career-related clubs, events and workshops—a massive time-sink for most MBA students.
However, not all MBA programs are the same. The degree to which business schools support entrepreneurs varies considerably. Whereas some schools offer few entrepreneurship-related opportunities, others have robust entrepreneurship programs. Yet, even in this latter category, there are top-performers that are in a league of their own. Such is the case for the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford.
In my opinion, the Business School provides exceptional support to students that want to start a new business. The Entrepreneurship Centre offers skill-building programs such as ‘Building a Business’ and the ‘Lean LaunchPad’. The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship provides access to leading social innovation research, a vast network of social entrepreneurs across the world, and expert mentoring. The SBS Seed Fund helps entrepreneurs with great ideas to launch their businesses by providing early stage venture capital and considerable post-investment business support. The Entrepreneurship Project, part of the MBA program, allows you to work with classmates to develop a business plan and pitch it at an investor forum. You can then use the eight-week Strategic Consulting Project, also part of the MBA curriculum, to do market research and further develop your venture. The list goes on. All of these initiatives come together to create a truly remarkable ecosystem for entrepreneurs. And as an added bonus that not many other schools can claim, many of the world’s leading experts (in all kinds of academic subjects) are minutes away. Whether you want to start an off-grid solar energy distributor, a game-based learning startup or a financial services company (to name a few of the businesses that Oxford MBA graduates have recently launched), chances are you’ll find the support you need.
I came to Oxford to start a social enterprise and I cannot imagine a better place to do so. Staff at the Skoll Centre have been incredibly supportive and inspiring. They’ve put me in touch with other social entrepreneurs, given me great ideas (as well as much-appreciated critical feedback), and offered me working space, whiteboards, and all the post-its I need to brainstorm ideas and lay the foundations for my business. When I came to Oxford, I knew that I wanted to start a business, but I didn’t have a concrete idea. All I knew was that I wanted to return to Nicaragua and do something in the field of education. Thanks largely to all the support I’ve been given, I now have a very clear idea for a social enterprise: a technical school to provide job skills to unemployed youth in Nicaragua.
The new academic year is well underway, and we are excited to welcome the new intake of MBA students – including the new crop of Skoll Scholars for 2013-14!
Over the next few weeks we’ll be publishing blog posts from each of our Skoll Scholars, and hearing more about their ideas, passions and the impact they want to have on the world, now and in the future.
” I’m CK Raine. I’m passionate about developing online programs that change the way people think and behave, particularly focusing on health. I’m interested in understanding why people do stuff (often stuff that isn’t that good for you in the long term) and how you can incentivise them to change. Over the past five years, my work has focused on one particular health issue in the world – misuse of alcohol.
Misuse of alcohol is responsible for 4% of all deaths globally (around 2.5million – more than AIDS or tuberculosis) and costs governments tens of billions each and every year. Yet, like most non-communicable diseases, rarely do entrepreneurs look for consumer-focused solutions to them. The problem is that “non-policy” solutions often lack the necessary evidence, don’t have a commercial market and are terminably unscalable. I think there is a huge opportunity to use technology to create scalable solutions to issues like this.
My team in Australia has built an NGO called Hello Sunday Morning. Over the past four years we have built a simple three month program to help individuals go through a process of change around the way they drink as well as use their story (through blogging) to recreate the culture around them. Our overall participant base now sits at 17,000 people, over 50% of whom drink at very hazardous levels. As you can see from the graph below that measures the audit score (alcohol consumption test) of people in our program vs other treatment services – we get a significantly higher amount of people who drink hazardously and want to change. These are people who either don’t want to, don’t have access to or don’t know how to get help from traditional services, yet they want to change! This is the power of technology, not just in alcohol – but for all behaviour change in society.
AUDIT Score distribution of HSM and Australian general population
So where are we going? Changing the way the world uses alcohol is a HUGE opportunity. If we look at the annual social costs of alcohol (Over £ 20 billion in the UK, $AUD 36 billion in Australia and $US 200 billion in the United States), if we can reduce the costs by just 1% through changing a few hundred thousand people – we will have been successful.
My post-MBA goal is to continue to build Hello Sunday Morning as a program while also seeking large-scale investment from governments and individuals to build a technology company that takes the best in behaviour change programs in the world and use investment to scale them to the point that any individual in the world has an opportunity to change the way they drink, when they are ready.”