Dr Candice Carpenter is Co-Chief Executive Officer, Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder of The Boston Congress of Public Health (BCPH), founded in August of 2021. The BCPH has three main pillars: Education, Policy, and Knowledge Translation. The third pillar is perhaps the most developed and involves the dissemination of the HPHR Journal: an academic, peer-reviewed public health journal inviting submissions from emerging and established researchers representing diverse settings. The Education arm recruits diverse, independent faculty to teach courses in public health that are cross-cutting with issues of equity and social justice. The Policy arm facilitates global conversations and policy-making about public health issues. This venture is further along than Infinity Ivy Consulting, with more people involved, including a board of directors and several hundred volunteers. Candice is also President, CEO, and Founder of Infinity Ivy Consulting, which offers support through medical school and graduate applications, job/internship applications, mock interviews, personal statements, and personalized coaching.
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
I am a physician and neurosurgeon-in-training. As a neurosurgery resident, I spent two academic, elective years completing an accelerated Masters in Business Administration (MBA) at Oxford and a Masters in Public Health at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. As well as these degrees, I majored in psychology at undergraduate level at Yale University and completed a Masters in Education in Mind, Brain, Education (cognitive neuroscience and cognitive science applied to learning and teaching) at Harvard Graduate School of Education. I still have some years left to complete my neurosurgical training. While I was interested in entrepreneurship even during my undergraduate degree, I felt like I had no ideas. It wasn’t until medical school that I started to be inspired by entrepreneurial ideas in health and medicine. After the STEP Ignite programme at Oxford, I started up a biotechnology theragnostic company called OXLUMINA, but this was not pursued beyond 2021 due to uncertain product viability, amongst others. This was definitely a useful experience for my entrepreneurial journey. The BCPH emerged somewhat fortuitously and was not as complicated as my previous venture in biotech, not requiring clinical trials for example. My entrepreneurial desire has been there for a long time and I have been constantly inspired by healthcare, seeing all the things that could be improved and innovated upon. The pandemic also made people realise the importance of public health, and so I am driven by the mission of making it more accessible, more infused with social justice and equity, and allowing more people to be part of the conversation.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Bringing your inspiration, your passion, and your talents and resources to contribute to the world in a meaningful and personal way.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
Before setting up the BCPH, I was working with the Editor in Chief at the Harvard Public Health Review. I communicated my ideas to her about creating podcasts, blogs and an anthology, for instance, on public health research. Within a few weeks of this, we started a fellowship and had people over 25 people writing for us and creating diverse public health content from all corners of the globe. We then created The Great Health Debates web series and the Best of the Harvard Public Health Review anthology. When these were successful in a few months, myself and my Co-Editor in Chief decided to create a venture, forming the BCPH to effectively and efficiently out these initiatives. What was great in setting up the BCPH was that I already had a business partner who I had great synergy with – the Editor in Chief I had worked with on the Harvard Public Health Review. Some of the editors of this previous journal also became BCPH board members and directors, and so much of the team was already there.
For Infinity Ivy Consulting, I knew this was a good idea because as long as I can remember, people have been referred to me for advice on how to get into medical school. Also, I’ve had many life experiences and leaned a lot from the unconventional educational path I have taken. Others with non-traditional backgrounds have therefore been referred to me for advice. And so I decided to formalise this into a consulting service.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
There are so many! So these are particular to me. Leadership is number one, specifically visionary leadership because this has propelled me to pursue my ideas. Resourcefulness is also very important. Being a successful entrepreneur is about more than being smart – you need to doggedly work at getting partnerships and the resources to help realise your ventures. Finally, extreme inquisitiveness and experiment-oriented is important, asking why an idea may have failed, and being flexible and adaptable accordingly.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
Being able to create things and see them manifest really quickly. I saw this with HPHR Journal and starting the HPHR fellowship. It’s one of my talents to have a vision and also be able to quickly and agilely execute it.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
I loved that Oxford University made the effort to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem and community. The business school and STEP Ignite program gave me confidence in entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurial activities of my classmates also inspired me, as did the numerous talks delivered at the university by entrepreneurs. The Oxford Saïd Entrepreneurship Forum (OSEF) allowed me to see so many companies coming out of the Oxford entrepreneurial ecosystem. I also have a number of entrepreneurs in my family: my brother and my uncles. While their ventures are quite small-scale, they were very inspiring to see and planted the seeds for my current entrepreneurship.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I would want to talk with Jeff Bezos – I am fascinated with the ability of Amazon to penetrate so many different markets. I would ask him how he started from selling books online to expanding into healthcare and grocery stores. Teach me your secrets!
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
We wanted people to subscribe to the BCPH but were faced with the problem of how to make this happen. My proudest moment was figuring out that we could have a small window of time where people could become lifetime members and generate a viable revenue stream. Thinking of such strategies to make this venture successful, implementing them, and seeing them be successful, have been very proud moments for me.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Personnel management. Initially we brought in too many people who were very inspired by the mission but didn’t always have the skills or the follow-through. I wanted to bring on passionate people and teach them, but having too many was a mistake. Being able to recruit people who can ‘hit the ground running’ and have the appropriate skills, has been important. I also always wonder if we should have had more partners in the beginning to acquire more sponsors and accelerate certain aspects of the business.
How have you funded your ideas?
The BCPH and my other ventures have been funded through ‘bootstrapping’, meaning personally financing along with my Co-CEO, and also raising money from the Board of Directors, as well as through direct, digital fundraising campaigns.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
What is bad is the hyperfocus on biotech and fintech in Oxford. This might make people feel like if they can’t do entrepreneurship in biotech, then they can’t be an entrepreneur. Oxford has to diversify the type of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship, that are supported.
What is good is having the supportive ecosystem and such brilliant people around you. You can easily find people to make your ideas happen, in terms of technical and business expertise. I’d say that Oxford is much to credit for my entrepreneurship.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
I would recommend taking part in Oxford entrepreneurial competitions. I wouldn’t recommend any particular book, but I like to read about any entrepreneurial venture that I can get my hands on and then identify themes/patterns to learn from. You can never know enough.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
So far, they have been minimal because my Co-CEO is also a woman. It also happens that within public health there are a lot of women so we have not encountered much difficulty. But when pitching an idea, it is possible that bias comes in and people make assumptions about your level of ambition and underestimate it. We have had to overcome such stereotypical assumptions about women.
What resources would you recommend for other women?
Having other female entrepreneurs as friends and colleagues is helpful. I’ve found it nicer to work with other females and bounce ideas off of them. You may find that in a predominantly male team your ideas are silenced but that female colleagues may be more supportive. I’m not saying that female entrepreneurs necessarily and entirely need to be around other female entrepreneurs, but it can be helpful. I’ve always had a lot of ideas, but all-male environments have sometimes drowned them out. A more mixed gender environment can give you confidence and support.
How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
If female entrepreneurs can see Oxford supporting them more with funding or through promotion, then as a woman you can say “wow this is being supported and I can do this”.
Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
Each woman is different but I’d highlight having confidence and breaking through that imposter syndrome. Experiment with different environments until you can find the best one for you – don’t blame yourself first if you are finding it difficult.
Any last words of advice?
Continue to believe in yourself. When I first started I saw that I didn’t look like the kind of people who were doing entrepreneurship (white and male), but it is important to continue to believe in yourself and find your space. Stay persistent with your desire. Just because you fail doesn’t mean you are not a good entrepreneur; failure is an important part of it.