Oliver is a historian by training, and received his undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Oxford. He created the Thames Valley Country House Partnership in 2013 as a way of linking entrepreneurial ideas in the heritage sector with researchers in the University of Oxford. In his position as Knowledge Exchange Fellow he has co-ordinated a range of collaborative projects with country houses, and co-supervises a Knowledge Transfer Partnership in partnership with the National Trust.
Q: What is your background? Why are you doing this?
A: I was teaching in the third year of my D.Phil, and learned about the Yorkshire Country House Partnership, which has been going since 1999. I had always been interested in design and country houses, so this sort of venture seemed an exciting idea.
Q: What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
A: Entrepreneurship is about seeing a gap, and going for it. People often don’t have the time or inclination to fully understand other people’s ideas, so being able to translate or bridge the gap is a key part of the process.
Q: What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
A: As I finished my DPhil, I was very aware of the lack of permanent positions for post-docs. I felt that the key would be to create my own job, and not rely on existing hierarchies to create a career. I started thinking about alternatives, and through a bit of luck and a lot of hard work and support, the Thames Country House Partnership began!
Q: So what would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
A: Self-belief is key; you have to think you can do it, but also listening to other advice. You need to be strategic, and understand where the gaps are. And of course, you need to be accessible or available to others, and be good at self-promotion. If you don’t do it, no one will do it for you.
Q: What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: The variety of people and places I come in contact with. I love doing what I do. It’s a very niche market, and often people know who I am but not what I do exactly. They think it’s something whizzy and cool. . . there is a lot of energy here!
Q: What has been your most satisfying or successful moments?
A: One of the biggest successes for me is that the Thames Country House Partnership exists! We have been working with the Careers Service to provide internships to students, many of whom would not be your typical country house visitor.
Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
A: I guess I need to better at managing expectations. I have a problem saying no, especially in the early days. Ensuring the project is scalable is another key challenge for me.
Q: What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
A: Oxford is an amazing place to find talent and opportunities. There are so many people here willing to help or guide you along the way.
Q: If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship information or resources in Oxfordshire, where would you send them?
A: Go to the people you work or study with. Find advocates in your chosen field as they will be best placed to offer support and advice. Build your network as they are the ones who will help get you noticed.
Q: Any last words of advice?
A: Give it a go, and if doesn’t work, it doesn’t work!