Want to become a social entrepreneur? The University of Cambridge has you covered!

Want to become a social entrepreneur? The University of Cambridge has you covered!

You are bold, ambitious and determined. As a student at the University of Cambridge you also dream of becoming a social entrepreneur, someone who innovates to create economic as well as social and/or environmental benefits. Fear not, Cambridge has many resources available to support you in this entrepreneurial journey.

Portia Asli, Cambridge MBA 2015-2016 & Co-Founder of Vocalens Limited
Portia Asli (MBA 2015) and Co-Founder of Vocalens

Just one year ago I commenced my MBA at Cambridge Judge Business School. New to the country, the city and to the University I was thirsty for knowledge and resources to help me become the social entrepreneur I always dreamed. With the great opportunities at the University, I co-founded Vocalens; a health tech start-up with the mission of increasing independence and wellbeing of visually impaired people through wearable technologies. Here are the resources my team and I drew upon.

For those who want to receive endorsement from The University of Cambridge for a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa, participating in as many of these allows you to create a much stronger application.

Entrepreneurship societies at Colleges

The best place to start is finding out whether your College offers support to entrepreneurs through JCR or MCR societies. These entrepreneurship societies at Colleges provide a ground to meet like-minded people, network and even work on your idea through business plan competitions and receive mentorship.

As a member of Hughes Hall, I was very fortunate to have the Hughes Hall Enterprise Society [1] to help me kickstart Vocalens. Hughes Hall offers a business plan competition that is run in three stages: 10 lines for £10, 750-1000 word business plan for £250 and 10 minute pitch for £1,250.

Other Colleges have very similar programmes to Hughes Hall and if you are member of any of these Colleges, it is a wonderful place to start:

  • King’s College has an annual entrepreneurship competition called King’s Enterprise [2] for its students and alumni for a chance to win up to £20,000.
  • Downing College offers the Downing Enterprise Competition [3] for its students and alumni to win up to £25,000.
  • Churchill College runs an annual Churchill Enterprise Competition [4] that includes a one page idea and 20 minute presentation for its students, Fellows, and alumni to win £1,000.

Cambridge University-wide clubs and societies

Whether your College offers any entrepreneurship support or not, there are certainly University-wide clubs that are open to everyone. The two most popular university-wide clubs are Cambridge University Entrepreneurs and the Cambridge University Technology & Enterprise Club.

Cambridge University Entrepreneurs (CUE) [5] provides three competitions: 100 words for £100, 1500 words for £1,000 and 10 page business plan plus pitch for £5,000 and a trip to Silicon Valley. In addition, they have Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for £2,500 and an apprenticeship. Throughout the academic year, there are workshops held to help students write business plans and hone their skills for the Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. This club is not only a wonderful way to work on your idea but also meet many people from various disciplines. Vocalens has been very fortunate to win the ‘1500 words for £1,000’ competition, which allowed us to create a proof of concept. Some of the best and most successful start-ups have come through CUE, such as GeoSpock, HealX and Rapportive.

Cambridge University Technology & Enterprise Club (CUTEC) [6] is another great way to network with like-minded entrepreneurs. CUTEC runs various events, speaker series and workshops throughout the academic year. Their flagship event is the Technology Ventures Conference in June, with a focused theme every year.

I would also mention the Entrepreneurial Postdocs of Cambridge (EPOC) [7] which, as the name suggests, is a great club for Postdoctoral researchers. This club runs business plan competitions, various events, and workshops in collaborations with industries and other departments of the University.

Finally, checkout the student hubs within your programme. For example, the students in the Cambridge MBA programme form student interest groups to expand their knowledge of a particular sector [8]. In the past MBA students chaired the Social Innovation Special Interest Group and the Entrepreneurship Special Interest Group. Your programme may have something similar, and if not, you can bring your entrepreneurial spirit to start such student hub.

Entrepreneurial events

Your network is one of your greatest assets when starting a business. Do get out there and meet as many people as you can. At one point in your business, you will need someone’s expertise that you do not possess. Here are some entrepreneurial themed events where you can grow your network.

Enterprise Tuesdays [9], run by Cambridge Judge Business School, is a free evening lecture and networking series. This event occurs during Michaelmas term and Lent term for a total of eight evenings. It is an opportunity to learn from renowned entrepreneurs and the lectures are followed by free drinks and nibbles. If you do attend a minimum of six lectures, you are rewarded with a certificate of attendance.

Ever wanted to meet those entrepreneurs who became successful on the west coast? Well, Silicon Valley Comes 2 UK [10] is your chance to hear them speak and network with them. This event occurs in the Autumn over a week in London, Cambridge, and Manchester. When they do come to Cambridge, be sure to book ahead to secure your spot. When I attended in 2016, it was an opportunity to hear Rahul Vohra speak about quitting his PhD at Cambridge to launch Rapportive, which was ultimately acquired by LinkedIn.

Do you want to get a feel for what is like to launch a startup in just over a weekend? The Venture Creation Weekend [11] run by Cambridge Judge Business School will allow you to do just that. If you have an idea, you can pitch on Friday, form a team to work on it during the weekend and pitch it to a panel of judges to win a place on the Accelerate Cambridge programme. Or you can just come and join a team and help make an idea a reality.

Do you want to learn more about what it means to run a social enterprise? The Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation runs a Social Venture Weekend [12] several times a year. It is a full weekend of workshops covering finance, legal structures, business plan writing and market research, pitching and opportunities to network with other social entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurial projects

Would you like to take part in a multi-disciplinary team project to assess the commercial viability of new university inventions? i-teams at Cambridge [13] will allow you do just that. Not only will you be able to build your CV, but also apply your knowledge to a real-world application.

Do you have skill in finance, consulting or law and want to apply it to a social enterprise and help them succeed? If so, then Bridges for Enterprise [14] is the club for you. As a student, you can directly empower social enterprises in developing countries while gaining skill sets and networks that are valuable for your future career. They recruit once a year (during Michaelmas term, in October). Be sure to join their mailing list to learn more about this incredible opportunity.

Accelerators and incubators

You have gone to all these events, participated in various competitions and you are convinced that you want to take the entrepreneurial dive. At the early stages an entrepreneur meets many challenges. As such, one of the best way to learn how to conquer these challenges and build your business on a great foundation is through an incubator or an accelerator.

Cambridge Judge Business School offers an incubator called Cambridge Social Ventures [15]. This is a 12-month programme that includes a once a month meeting with your lead mentor, a once a month training workshop, introductions to powerful connections, including social investors, and office space at Allia Future Business Centre (if required). This incubator is for entrepreneurs with ideas that have social impact.

The Cambridge Judge Business School Entrepreneurship Centre offers an Accelerate Cambridge programme [16]. This is a three-month programme with weekly coaching and workshops. Accelerate Cambridge is very competitive to get into and, once you are admitted in, it is an opportunity to be coached by serial entrepreneurs and investors. Their support does not end after three months. If your venture grows they will continue to provide support at various stages. This accelerator is best for entrepreneurs developing science and technology innovations.

There are many more resources offered at the University of Cambridge. The list above is not meant to be comprehensive, but to provide you with a starting point or a big picture of various resources available. As Lao Tzu once said “a journey of thousand miles begins with one step”. May one of the above serve as your first entrepreneurial step.


References

[1] Hughes Hall Enterprise Society

[2] King’s Enterprise

[3] The Downing Enterprise Competition

[4] Churchill College Enterprise Competition

[5] Cambridge University Entrepreneurs

[6] Cambridge University Technology and Enterprise Club

[7] Entrepreneurial Postdocs of Cambridge

[8] CJBS special interest groups and societies

[9] Enterprise Tuesdays

[10] Silicon Valley Comes to the UK

[11] Venture Creation Weekends

[12] Social Venture Weekends

[13] i-Teams at Cambridge

[14] Bridges for Enterprise

[15] Cambridge Social Ventures’ incubator programme

[16] Accelerate Cambridge

Portia Asli

Portia Asli

Portia Asli (MBA 2015) is the Co-Founder of Vocalens

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