This Saturday morning I woke up to my alarm at 7:00 AM after it rang for almost a minute. With 4 hours of sleep, I turned it off and closed my eyes. Yet I didn’t go back to sleep, despite thinking to myself, “I have absolutely no reason to get up on a Saturday morning in this freezing weather and goto a conference in a city I’ve never been to with people I don’t know!” But it’s my subconscious that kept me from going back to sleep. I got up and took a shower as I really tried to justify to myself why I wanted to attend this conference. I really didn’t have an answer but I followed my instincts.
I had literally found out the night before around 11:00 PM that I had won a ticket to an entrepreneurship event called ‘Oxford Inspires’ by Oxford’s Saïd Business School. I won it by being one of the first people to reply to UCL Enterprise Society’s email. Who knew it pays to be attentive to your email? I had signed up for UCL Enterprise Society’s mailing list among many other clubs in an effort to become more extracurricularly involved within UCL. Earlier in the week I had gone on a cinema outing with the UCL Book Club to watch Cloud Atlas which recently came out in UK. So I’ve definitely been making progress in this effort. The UCLE officers were catching the 8:50 AM train to Oxford to attend the conference and offered to let me travel with them. I happily agreed to join them, but as you can tell, I was having serious doubts in the morning.
I met up with the officers from the society at Paddington Station where we would take a train to Oxford. After getting to know them better, I unsurprisingly learned that most of them were in my entrepreneurship course. One of the officers had a startup for a social clothing and styling platform that she was trying to get off the ground. She was having trouble finding a committed and motivated developer for the product. We talked about motivating developers, giving equity, having vesting periods, and the procedures for forming a company. Time flew by as we were engaged in conversation and we got to Oxford in about an hour. Saïd Business school was literally right across the train station so we walked right in. I hate generalizing, but I could immediately tell that I was in a room full of Oxford students. I registered for the conference, got a tag, and checked out the schedule to see what was in store for the day. There were two keynote talks and three master classes – where you picked one talk to attend out of three that were happening simultaneously.
The event kicked off with the first keynote talk from Simon Woodroffe, the founder of Yo! Company. He’s the guy behind the unconventional idea of serving raw fish on a conveyor belt, more commonly known as YO! Sushi. He also created the revolutionary hotel known as Yotel in 2007. Simon really captivated the audience with his fascinating stories and his passionate and animated way of story telling.
Throughout the day I heard talks from various speakers of successful companies and startups who conveyed their passion for entrepreneurship. One thing that the dean of the business school pointed out was that in his prime, entrepreneurship wasn’t a glamorized career path and everyone dreamed of joining companies like McKinsey. Thus, entrepreneurship and the uncertainty that startups face in this new landscape of technology is something quite new. The other thing that one of the speakers pointed out which struck me is that startups aren’t desperately trying to form internet and mobile based products because thats the cool thing to do. Rather, they are trying to solve a problem and create value just like any other business; it happens to be through internet based platforms of the unexplored opportunities that exist within its span.
The talk that I enjoyed the most was the closing keynote by Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress and former student of University of Houston. It was great to see someone else from Houston on the other side of the world and I pointed this out during Q&A to him. I can hear the inception horn as I talk about the founder of WordPress, on a WordPress blog. He had a really interesting story to tell about his background and was very candid when he answered questions from the MA and the audience. It was also fascinating to hear about how he was working on a startup called Automattic in addition to his contribution towards WordPress. Later I got a WordPress sticker from him which I’ll gladly add to the massive collection of existing stickers on my laptop. Since I had mentioned that I studied at Rice during the Q&A, I was later approached by a 2010 Rice alumnus who was doing a Phd in Neuroscience now at Oxford. I also knew her sister who currently studies at Rice.
The keynote concluded and many of us proceded to the drinks reception, where I met many more Oxford students and alumni which gave me insight on what it’s like to be a student over here. My Google backpack was identified by the trained eyes of one of the event organizers who interned at Google himself last summer. We obviously had a really energetic and enjoyable conversation because of our common internship experience. It was great to talk to someone who was on a similar wavelength as me and studying computer science. There were 9 startups in their early stages that pitched during the reception in an effort to connect with investors and other interested people. Later during the reception, I had an amazing conversation with an Indian student I met who was doing her MBA at Oxford right now and had done her undergrad in the States and worked in Silicon Valley. This segued into how much we both loved San Francisco and how amazing it is to work in the valley. We both shared our startup ideas and she gave me really critical advice which has fundamentally changed a key decision I was planning to make. As I walked out towards the train station to head back to London, I heard one of the girls behind me say, “We need to take a shot for every million pounds we make!” “I guess we’ll remain sober for the rest of our lives,” replied another. I smiled, and now understood why I got up so early this morning and attended this conference.
My train is now slowing down as it approaches London. I’ve had an amazing day and made contacts and met people who I will definitely run into in the future. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to get up and wonder what I’m doing as I get ready to go to Oxford. Deja vu? This time, I’ll be visiting Oxford as a tourist through my study abroad program provider! Looking forward to another adventure tomorrow! Hopefully, I’ll have slept more than 4 hours for this one!
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