UCL Alumni Professional Networking Event: Entrepreneurship
By Carly Schnabl, on 28 March 2011
Cakes, elderly care, opinion polling and a popular restaurant chain may at first glance appear entirely unrelated. In fact, they are all extremely successful ventures that were instigated by the entrepreneurial UCL alumni who were on the panel for last Wednesday night’s CASE Circle of Excellence alumni professional networking event. UCL students Ben Wakeham, 3rd year BA Philosophy and Economics and Tom Palmer, 3rd year BSc Economics report on the event.
The entrepreneurship event, fourth in the series of these events that began in 2009, sought to bring together experienced alumni with recent graduates, in order that they could learn about what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur. The panel event also included a networking reception with wine and nibbles and, very importantly, a delicious selection of Lily Vanilli cakes!
In spite of this large variety of alumni attending the event, all with different queries and interests, there is no doubt that everyone came away from the panel discussion with some, if not all, of their questions answered. The panel itself was chaired by the ever entertaining Timothy Barnes, whose boundless energy and light hearted quips kept the discussion at a lively pace.
The speakers included four UCL alumni who have began their own successful business ventures since graduating: Andrew Jacobs (Economics 1991), founder of the Giraffe restaurant chain; Lily Jones (Philosophy 2003), whose luxury cakes are sold everywhere from Harrods to Brick Lane; Nadhim Zahawi MP (Chemical Engineering 1985) founder of YouGov, and Reece Howe (Astrophysics 2003), who after a brief career in the City turned his hand to the perhaps more morally conscious activity of caring for the elderly.
After over an hour of lively, energetic discussion (with a level of audience participation that would be the envy of any UCL lecturer), two common themes were emerging in the answers of the esteemed panel.
Firstly, the businesses of each of the panel members had faced considerable difficulties in their early years, which many people would have thought to be fatal. Whilst Mr Zahawi had found getting investment so difficult that he was forced to remortgage his house, Mr Jacobs’ second restaurant ended up losing him more money than his first had made! However, both these individuals’ perseverance in the face of this considerable adversity clearly paid off in the long run.
But the most notable characteristic that these successful entrepreneurs held in common was their passion. From Mr Zahawi, whose animated conviction that the internet can improve the spread of information and oil the wheels of democracy, to Mr Howe, who gave an impassioned argument for why the UK care industry needed real change and an injection of “new blood” (excuse the medical pun).
If there was one main message that the guests took away from the event, it was that the key ingredient to a successful new business is a passion for what you are doing, and the belief that one could act on that passion and make a change for the better. Unfortunately, no one was able to discover the key ingredient to Lily’s cakes!
Watch the panel discussion here: