Chris Edson is an Oxford graduate in Engineering Materials Science (2010) and a co-founder of OurPath, an online programme to help them change their lifestyle and avoid chronic diseases such as diabetes. OurPath was developed on Bethnal Green Ventures, a cabinet funded accelerator for Tech-for-good startups, and FICHe, a European Union funded accelerator for health tech startups. Before OurPath, Chris worked as a strategy consultant, as well as being part of the founding teams of a few other tech startups.
Q: What is your background? Why are you doing this?
A: Out of university, I did the standard graduate route and joined a consulting firm. More so out of panic than any solid reason. Most of my friends were doing it so it seemed like a sensible thing to do. Consulting gives you a good base for a lot of things, but it wasn’t something I could see myself doing long term - I realised it was time for a change. I knew I wanted to build things so it was actually quite a simple route to start up my own thing. I actually worked on a few different projects before settling on OurPath about a year ago, and haven’t looked back.
Q: What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
A: Entrepreneurship, as a term, is something I think is a bit silly because its so unplaceable. I don’t think I can define it. Maybe someone who hates authority so much they decided to risk everything to avoid it? If someone asks me what I do, I don’t say I’m an entrepreneur. I say something cop-out like “I work with a company that helps get people healthy.” It just feels a bit embarrassing to use the label ‘entrepreneur’ – but maybe that’s because I don’t feel like Richard Branson. I just feel like someone who likes to make things.
Q: So what would you say are the top skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
A: Emotional strength. That’s by far the biggest. Working on a startup means you live and work in conditions of extreme instability. You have to be comfortable with that or it will break you. So much of your ego and self-worth is wrapped up in your company, it’s difficult to abstract yourself when things aren’t going to plan. But recognize that it’s the same for everyone and push on.
Q: What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: The total freedom it gives you to solve a problem that you’re passionate about.
Q: What individual, company or organization inspires you most?
A: Elon Musk. He’s my hero. He’s changing the game in so many different industries. Whereas a lot of startups will be trying to solve quite a niche little problem – Musk is challenging so many giant issues. Transport, energy, space travel. Is there anything bigger? Probably healthcare – but don’t worry Elon, I’ve got you covered. People will look back in 100 years and he’ll stand out as one of the most revolutionary individuals of a generation. Along with Kanye West of course.
Q: If you could have 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?
A: What can I do to help?
Q: What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
A: Being accepted on to Bethnal Green Ventures was actually really big for me. When someone else has decided to put time, office space, and investment in to your company, it’s incredibly validating.
Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes as an entrepreneur?
A: Projecting your own belief structures on to whatever you’re creating. Everyone has ideas about what might work and what’s going to be great – but ultimately, you have to thoroughly test your assumptions.
Validating what you’re doing through a proper process of market research is the most valuable thing you can do. That sounds like a very mechanical process – and it is. Startups aren’t really about ‘ideas’. They’re about testing and finding something that works, then going and building that thing.
Q: What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
A: Your access to other bright people is fantastic. If you can’t find a co-founder in Oxford, you probably won’t find one elsewhere. On the flipside, you’ll also be surrounded by people who want to go in to law, consulting, banking, or accounting – and that can make it quite difficult to go and do something different because you’re going completely against the status quo.
Q: If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for information or resources in Oxfordshire, where would you send them?
A: I’d recommend the Careers service as well as trying to get involved in any hackathons!
Q: Any last words of advice?
A: Read all of Paul Graham’s articles (http://www.paulgraham.com)! Then you’re probably all set.