Stephen Douglas




United States


Public Administration


Jan 2016 - Sep 2017

By Stephen Douglas

The Oxford EMBA’s dead. Long live our Oxford EMBA

Last Friday we celebrated the approaching end of our Executive MBA in Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre.

On Sunday, I told the following story on LinkedIn (connect with me). Within hours it had accumulated over a thousand views:

On Monday my Executive MBA Entrepreneurship Project partner (see my posts on Six secrets to success for a brilliant Oxford entrepreneurship project pitch part i and part ii ) and I travelled up to Teeside University.

We went to a meeting hosted by the UK Government’s initiative to support companies and projects involved in finding uses for processed satellite data: North East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence (HatTip: Nafeesa Dajda for connecting us to the very welcoming Graeme Miller).

Our project, much evolved since we handed it in as part of our Oxford EMBA course requirements, is about using satellite imagery to help farmers increase their yields. We wanted to meet Teeside University’s machine learning group to explore building partnerships for future projects.

On Tuesday, together with our project’s financial adviser, we visited the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre and the Satellite Applications Catapult at Harwell Science and Innovation Park, Oxfordshire for a number of meetings with potential project funders. HatTip to: Sociometric Super Star – Super Connector, our Strategy and Innovation teacher/coach, Dr Marc Ventresca who introduced us to many of the folks there, including Oxford University’s Senior Innovation Fellow, Simon Jackman, Nafeesa Dajda, Edmond Boulle, and Mark Jarman and also thanks to Saïd Business School alum, Ashish Srivastava, for introducing us to Dr Sue O’ Hare at the European Space Agency’s Business Incubation Centre.

Then, on Wednesday, I had the pleasure of delivering our class’s actual Thank-You card to the Saïd Business School’s Executive Wing’s Pyramid Room staff members. It was fantastic to be able to tell our Pyramid Room colleagues that 48 hours after posting the story, 3500+ LinkedIn members from all around the world had already learned of how their hard work has facilitated thousands of brilliant conversations between our classmates over the past two years.

In fact, my Entrepreneurship Project partner first told me, over a meal, in the Pyramid Room of her vision of building a sustainable future for farmers everywhere using satellite imagery.

As recounted here, I knew immediately then and there that this was the kind of entrepreneurship project and project partner I had come to Oxford to find. The project has changed a lot since that conversation over that meal. Yet, barely a day goes by when one of us, or the two further classmates who have joined us since then, make a discovery which will help us bring it closer to fruition.

As the world’s population increases and arable land decreases, unless we increase yields by a multiple similar to that which followed the mechanisation of agriculture and in the twentieth century by the advent of the Green Revolution, we’ll have trouble feeding the world.

We believe our project can make a considerable impact on solving this problem.

Among all of the courses which we all did during our Oxford University’s Executive MBA, the most helpful for these purposes was Strategy and Innovation (see my blogs about it: What’s the adjacent possible and What’s inevitable about innovation part ii).

We’re trying to configure a constellation of an array of relatively recently developed and fast evolving technologies (satellites, optics, radio communication, computer networks, mobile phones, …) into producing an end product in a market which today does not yet exist.

So, where on earth would you start?

Our Strategy and Innovation module really helped me understand that this is a really typical situation for innovators to find themselves in.

Supply and Demand, according to traditional thinking, inevitably come into sync, when one invents something that people want.

However, Nobel laureate Alvin Roth’s work, encountered during this course, showed us that there is much that entrepreneurs can consciously do to provoke Supply and Demand to come into sync.

In the case of one piece of Roth’s work, there was considerable demand for suitable kidneys by prospective transplant patients. There was also a considerable supply of suitable kidneys. And yet, large numbers of people were still dying for want of a suitable kidney, meanwhile large numbers of suitable kidneys were going to waste.

Through various conscious strategies, many of which we have had the opportunity to master while at Oxford University Saïd Business School, Roth and his team showed how one can effect a constellation of in-themselves relatively small changes in behaviour, regulation, incentives, networks, etc that impact on the number of successful transplant operations.

Roth describes very clearly how he and his team composed into being a new system containing what Roth called “thickening ties” between suppliers and those demanding supply of kidneys.

Thus, he showed how one can create viable, sustainable markets through conscious, strategic, and iterative activity.

This work yielded a Nobel prize for Mr Roth, a market which survives to this day and many thousands of saved lives.

We believe we can do the same for our project, although, the Nobel Prize may prove elusive!!!

That said, my project partner was officially elected “Classmate Most Likely to Win a Nobel Prize” by our graduating Oxford University Executive MBA class.

So who actually knows what the future holds!!!

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