Clare Carlile (Second Year English Student) is the treasurer and shop coordinator for OxCo-op, the student food cooperative at Oxford University. OxCo-op is a super friendly cooperative food shop, designed to allow students on low budgets to communally buy more socially and evironmentally sustainable food. It is run by student volunteers and bulk-buys all its products (including local, seasonable fruit and veg!) from sustainable sources. Every week, somewhere between 20 and 40 students volunteer with, and buy through, OxCo-op, allowing it to be a completely sustainable enterprise!
Q: What is your background? Why are you doing this?
A: I began by doing bits of pieces of volunteering (packing orders, helping in shop) with OxCo-op, but wanted to help out more. It seems like such a great idea, because it makes ethical living so much easier. It lets people change habits, and because it is completely self-sufficient only takes an hour from volunteers each week to keep going, unlike a lot of good deeds!
Q: What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
A: In the OED 'enterprise' means 'to take in hand'. So entrepreneurship seems very much about a responsibility to tackle an issue or change a situation, as OxCo-op does through its positive ethical and environmental impact.
Q: What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
A: OxCo-op has been around for quite a few years now, so it never seemed like an actual decision to become an entrepreneur. Instead, the fact that that is really what the members of OxCo-op are has changed my view of what entrepreneurship can be: it seems like an exciting opportunity to merge economic needs with a particular ethical stance, and make it sustainable.
Q: So what would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
A: Innovation, commitment, and a clear sense of the direction or goal of the enterprise. There are always going to be problems that need to be worked around, and more than anything this makes the last of the three seem most important to me: you have to know why you're committing the time and the energy.
Q: What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: The sociable side of it. As a co-operative, OxCo-op is very much a collective of entrepreneur's and decisions are always made by its members. This makes it exciting - there are always such cool ideas!
Q: What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
A: Cultivate is a fab organization. It is a self-sufficient cooperative farm, owned and run by members, providing sustainable fruit and veg in and around Oxford. Their slogan is 'people-powered food'!
Q: If you could have 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?
A: Where did you come from? What provided the impetus to start something so cool?!
Q: What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
A: Last term, in 8 weeks, we turned over as many orders as the previous year in total! That was very satisfying, and means we will hopefully remain sustainable for the forseeable future. Every time a new volunteer comes to work in shop is really great too.
Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
A: Sometimes volunteers stop coming and that's always really sad. It usually seems to be because they haven't had enough responsibility, so don't feel particularly invested. Maybe the main thing, especially with a cooperative, is making sure everyone feels ownership over the idea.
Q: What challenges do you face as a social entrepreneur, as opposed to a “traditional” entrepreneur?
A: We rely on volunteers and that means things can be tricky at busy times of year, for example during exams, when people just don't have time. We also don't make any profit, because we only sell the bulk-brought produce at just enough of a margin to cover our costs. Sometimes this is hard to calculate in order to remain sustainable, and we have to be very careful about any unforeseeable running costs.
Q: What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
A: We are part of the university's OxHub, a student-led group which co-ordinates all ethical and volunteer-led societies within the university. They are unbelievable helpful: they have given us training and lend us space every week for the pop-up shop. I think students are also really up for committing a lot of time, energy and ideas to something like the OxCo-op too.
Q: If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship information or resources in Oxfordshire, where would you send them?
A: If it was something like ours, definitely OxHub!
Q: Any last words of advice?
A: Find a group of people who have the same aims for an enterprise as you!