BOOSTING ENTREPRENEURSHIP AT OXFORD

17 student societies receive Oxford Foundry grants to support their entrepreneurial initiatives.

The Oxford Foundry (OXFO) has announced the first 17 Oxford student societies to receive an OXFO Booster Grant for academic year 2018-19. The OXFO Booster Grants initiative, which makes available a total of £20k in funding to support the student societies of Oxford in providing entrepreneurial opportunities and skills to their members, was established this autumn by the Oxford Foundry, the University’s entrepreneurship centre.

OXFO Booster Grants give student societies at the University of Oxford the chance to apply for up to £2,000 in grant funding for initiatives that introduce entrepreneurship to people at the University.  To be considered for a booster grant, societies need to demonstrate that they have a practical plan to expand their outreach, and to experiment with exciting new entrepreneurship-related events and initiatives that engage both current and prospective members. To be successful, societies must demonstrate that their planned activities will inspire students to engage with entrepreneurship-related activities, support students to develop transferable skills that enhance employability, and provide students with entrepreneurial experiences which will enhance their future careers.

The grants will enable the student societies to deliver entrepreneurial learning to over 3500 Oxford students in total, all of whom will be able to gain access to student-run initiatives such as workshops, speaker events, hackathons and masterclasses. These will support them in developing practical skills such as coding, product development and branding, in building their understanding of new technologies such as AI, and its applications in deep learning, as well as in taking a confident, entrepreneurial approach to future challenges.

As Ana Bakshi, Director at the Oxford Foundry, explains:

“With these OXFO Booster Grants, our aim is to facilitate an environment of collaboration and co-creation amongst a very diverse group of students, and to skill them up through peer-to-peer learning opportunities. We’re taking the theory of the zone of proximal development as our foundation: we want to encourage students to empower one another to test and to stretch themselves beyond the comfortable or the predictable.

The diversity of this group demonstrates that entrepreneurship is for everyone, regardless of what you study, your interests, your background, gender, ethnicity and more– no matter what our story is, we all need to push ourselves, to build our capacity to  overcome our fear of failure and to be exposed to opportunities outside of our comfort zone. We’re delighted to see so many strong proposals from Oxford’s  student societies, and we look forward to supporting them as they open these opportunities to their fellow  students across the University.”

Which societies received OXFO Booster Grants, and how will they use them?

The 17 Oxford student societies that have been awarded an OXFO Booster Grant are:

African & Caribbean Society – planning to run a series of workshops to teach students the fundamentals of the entrepreneurial journey and equip students with transferable skills such as product development, building a strong team, networking and branding.

OU Music Society  - planning to run an inter-college music competition for the whole of the University. Participants will receive feedback on their musicianship, and get experience of performing a recital in front of a large audience. Judges will not just give feedback but will give professional advice about making a career in music.

Women in Computer Science Society – planning a 24 hour student hackathon, incorporating four workshops focused on enhancing ideas and using novel technologies.

Cortex Club – planning to run a conference focused on the topic of 'opportunities at the intersection of neuroscience and artificial intelligence' featuring keynote talks and showcasing exciting student-led innovations within this area at Oxford.

OU Athletics Club – planning three seminars on the different aspects of overcoming adversity in sport (mental health in sport, returning from injury, transitioning from athlete to coach) and a workshop on coaching and officiating.

Rhodes Incubator Oxford – planning two all-day sessions to bring people together to brainstorm problem areas and form teams, host three speakers who will talk about their entrepreneurial experiences, support teams in developing their ventures through access to mentors and experts, and host a panel discussion which focuses on women in entrepreneurship.

Robotics & Additive Manufacturing (OxRAM) Society – planning 5 teaching workshops (led by OXRAM society members) to teach students about 3D printing and robotics and provide hands on experience, plus a speaker series featuring experts in these technologies.

Capitox (Oxford’s Premier Finance & Consulting Society) – planning a 1-day conference focused on self-development featuring sessions on motivation, accelerated learning, the power of a morning routine, mindfulness and stress management, and biohacking.

OU Pole Sports – planning to provide SpinCity's beginner's instructor training for three students who will run 6 weekly pole sports classes to teach other students

Oxford Climate Society & Changemakers – planning to build a student community of 'green entrepreneurs' striving to tackle environmental issues through entrepreneurship. This will include a film screening, a speaker event featuring accomplished 'green entrepreneurs', and a small hackathon-style competition where students will work in teams to develop solutions to a local environmental problem.

The Oxford Guild Business Society – planning to run an Infinity Entrepreneurs Event Series, with three events each term, which would be a mix of speaker events and workshops to both inspire students by showcasing positive role models and equip students with practical entrepreneurial skills.

Oxford Biotech Society – planning a panel event featuring experts in the biotech space, followed by a biotech for beginners’ workshop (open to students from non-biology backgrounds) to teach the technology that underpins today's biotech giants, plus workshops to teach students the basics of setting up a biotech start-up. This will culminate in a bio-hackathon competition.

Media Society – planning an inspirational media speaker series with prominent figures from the media who have achieved commercial success.

Oxford Paediatrics Society & Doctors of the World (DOTW) - planning a joint conference focused on alternative career paths within paediatrics, followed by a speaker series focused on the theme of health inequality.

OxAI (Artificial Intelligence) – planning two social events to bring together students interested in AI at Oxford, followed by talks on the governance of AI and opportunities for AI across multiple disciplines. This will culminate in an AI Demo Day event.

OX1 – planning a pre-accelerator programme to support 32 students with an idea to start and grow early stage businesses, supported by 10 workshops and mentoring.

Competitive Computer Security – planning a series of workshops and a hackathon to develop skills in cyber security.

Building skills, advancing leaders

Daniel Lozano Herrera, President of the Oxford AI society, and an MSc student of software engineering at Kellogg College, explained why the OXFO Booster Grant was so important to his society:

“At OxAI we are leading innovation-driving initiatives for the University and the world by educating, building and employing an active artificial intelligence community. The Oxford Foundry Booster grant will catalyse this process by enabling us to drive an AI Demo Day, a conversation regarding the governance of AI, and a social event connecting all the emerging technology societies at Oxford. We are hugely grateful to the Oxford Foundry for providing the opportunity and framework for us to advance our programmes in this way”

"The OXFO Booster Grant will enable us to run a series of workshops that will develop our members’ leadership skills, as well as provide greater insight into the process of building a business, from conception to production,” explained Esther Agbolade, President of the Oxford Afro-Caribbean Society, and 2nd year PPE student at Oriel College. “We hope that this series will build competencies in our members that aren't explicitly taught to students in the academic curriculum, as well as provide useful skills such as resilience and problem-solving that can be applied to various aspects of life. We also want to help close the leadership gap that exists when it comes to individuals of African and Caribbean descent taking up senior roles and entering the entrepreneurial sphere."

Sporting societies are equally eligible for the OXFO Booster Grant, as witnessed by Katie Hannawin of the OU Athletics Club, a 4th year Modern Languages student from Worcester College:

“With the OXFO Booster Grant to the OU Athletics Club, we’re planning to produce speaker events and coaching workshops for our members that teach skills like leadership and adaptability. These skills are invaluable for daily life as an Oxford student, where it is essential to maintain a state of good well-being and strong mental health. We want our programme to reach people both inside and outside the sphere of sport, and give our members useful skills that will be of benefit to them far beyond their time at Oxford.”

During this academic year, the Foundry will support these societies through access to its networks and by bringing in high-profile entrepreneurs for them to learn from, as well as by providing mentorship and guidance. While the initial pot of £20k grant funding has now been distributed to the 17 recipient student societies, the Oxford Foundry is considering the release of an extra sub-fund later in Michaelmas Term.

The Foundry has also established a Student Advisory Board, made up of 34 student society presidents who meet each term to advise and steer the Foundry in the creation and delivery of its learning programmes for all students at the University of Oxford.

Full information about the OXFO Booster Grants, including FAQ and eligibility criteria, can be found on the Oxford Foundry’s website.