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Hugh Courtney

Degree:

EMBA

Location:

United Kingdom

Industry:

Finance

Year:

Sep 2017 - May 2019

By Hugh Courtney

Through the wardrobe: A trip into Oxford’s Startup Narnia

Oxford served as a fantastical influence for the writing of a number of literary giants, not least of which was C S Lewis. Walking around Oxford and taking in some of its wonderful sights (on and off the beaten track) it is not hard to see where C S Lewis found the inspiration for a rich world full of mythical beasts such as ethereal stags, talking Lions, and of course unicorns. Some sixty years later nothing has changed, Oxford is still the birthplace of unicorns. The definition may be somewhat different in 2017 but one characteristic of unicorns remains true whether in the fantastical context or the metaphorical context, they are very much out of the ordinary.

At the beginning of 2017 Oxford was lauded as having produced more US$1 billion startup founders than any other institution in Europe. Immersing myself in the startup scene in Oxford, it is clear why. Firstly there is a culture which drives constant innovation, rewarding solutions to wicked problems with yet more challenges and questions. Secondly there is a huge effort on the part of the University to support and develop entrepreneurs regardless of study area or level of qualification. The recent opening official of the Oxford Foundry (by one Tim Cook no less), a co working space and accelerator for businesses founded across the University’s various constituencies (current students, alumni, faculty, etc) is case in point.

I recently attended the #startedinoxford demo night, held in the Weston library. It was a showcase of new businesses founded in Oxford (not merely the university), characterised by the diversity of businesses and approaches but also the diversity of the attendees. The evening was a chance for attendees to get up close and personal with founders and ask them any burning questions. The attendees then had the bonus of being able to ‘invest’ in their favourite startups with some #startedinoxford cash (disappointingly not on block chain!). My favourites were:

  • Pinboard – a platform to connect a tutor in any subject you can think of with someone looking to gain a new skill or knowledge;
  • Growfiniti – a lending business focussed on executive and private education funding (and founded by two EMBA Alumni!);
  • Adelie Health – a smart epipen lid for people living with diabetes to manage their insulin levels better;
  • Opsydia – a laser technology company which can internally mark a variety of different high value items including diamonds;
  • Prolific – a market research firm with a novel approach to getting cost effective first hand feedback from a variety of particiapnts around the world; and
  • iLeader – an app enabled platform to improve management development and leadership training (also spearheaded by an SBS alumni and current EMBA candidate).

Unfortunately none of my favourites won (that honour was fittingly bestowed on Greater Change, an excellent app for the way people donate their excess change), but it was a close fought race!

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