Libby is the Associate Director for Programmes at the Entrepreneurship Centre of Saïd Business School, where she has been working for almost four years. Prior to that, she spent most of her career supporting higher education students internationally.
The Entrepreneurship Centre is a department of Saïd Business School that supports Oxford Saïd students as well as alumni along their entrepreneurial journeys by developing structured programmes and events throughout the year as well as providing access to relevant networks.
Libby oversees many of these initiatives, developing their content and successful implementation.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I completed my undergraduate degree in French with Management at King’s College London and after graduation I pursued opportunities to work with students through different roles from teaching English to student services. I’m naturally drawn to working with international institutions and students which comes from my background of living abroad from a young age.
Prior to joining the University of Oxford, I was leading an organisation specialising in academic study-abroad programmes. Through this role, I developed a network of faculty and practitioners from higher education institutions as well as business leaders and entrepreneurs to provide theoretical and experiential experiences.
I joined Saïd Business School almost four years ago, and my knowledge of entrepreneurship and innovation has developed significantly since then. Saïd Business School welcomes students from all over the world with unique motivations, and it was the opportunity to work with them and their ideas that attracted me to the role in the first place. Additionally, being able to learn from faculty and guest speakers through flagship events like the Oxford Saïd Entrepreneurship Forum (OSEF) which the Entrepreneurship Centre hosts each year is truly inspiring.
Saïd Business School positions entrepreneurship within the core curriculum and students choose programmes like the MBA for many different reasons. It’s great to work with them at varying different stages of their entrepreneurial journey and I love working with the team at the Entrepreneurship Centre to deliver initiatives that enrich the student experience.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship to me is the ability to come up with a solution to a problem. It is as much about creating something that addresses that problem as it is about having a certain mindset.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
You need passion. Whilst it will require flexibility and the ability to pivot you have to remain passionate about what you’re doing.
Being an entrepreneur requires a lot of resilience. You need to develop a thick skin and be prepared for the obstacles along the way, whether you’re starting your own business or working as an intrapreneur in an organisation.
Creativity is also very important. With creativity, it can help you adapt quickly and look at your problem and your idea from different perspectives.
What is your favourite part of supporting entrepreneurs?
There are so many things I love about it. Being exposed to a variety of different ideas when working with students at Saïd Business School is very enjoyable. It’s also very fulfilling to see students start out at the beginning of the programme and come out on the other side with an idea or venture that they want to take to the market. An MBA cohort at Saïd Business School is incredibly diverse and I’m always meeting so many people from all over the world who come together to work on different projects.
What entrepreneurial individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
I find James Dyson’s story really inspiring and building over 5000 prototypes in 15 years before launching the first product is a perfect demonstration of resilience. Seeing how Dyson has evolved over the years is a great example of innovation.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I’d love to know about the constant cycle of innovation and approach to product development.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment while supporting entrepreneurs?
A programme I am heavily involved with is the Oxford Seed Fund. It’s an early-stage investment fund led by 11 MBA students that work closely with exciting start-ups who have a connection to the University of Oxford. In addition to sourcing hundreds of ventures each year and working with founding teams through the due diligence process, the fund has a portfolio of ventures which provides students with first-hand experience of managing a fund. Engaging with the student team and the entrepreneurs they invest in is a real highlight for me, especially when I see alumni team members go on to start their own ventures or become investors.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned while supporting entrepreneurs?Firstly, I think a key lesson is there isn’t one pathway to becoming an entrepreneur and every venture is different. Secondly, an academic year goes very quickly, so learning how best to support students in getting the most out of their experience but also raising awareness of alumni initiatives and networks that they can engage with afterwards is important.
Finally the entrepreneurial landscape is constantly changing. From podcasts and magazine to events, I’ve learned that while you can’t know everything, there’s a lot to read up on to keep current.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?The Oxford ecosystem is growing and growing. The Entrepreneurship Centre has a lot of initiatives for Saïd Business School students as well as opportunities to collaborate with those from the wider community like we do through the Liber Project and Ideas to Impact. Other departments like the Skoll Centre and the Oxford Foundry as well as Enterprising Oxford also showcase many other ways to engage with the entrepreneurial journey.
People are a valuable resource, and I’d recommend speaking to others as much as you can whether that’s in your department, college, society as well as the networks and communities of entrepreneurs and business leaders in Oxford.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman supporting entrepreneurs? If so, how have you overcome them?
I wouldn’t say that the challenges I have faced are specific to me being a woman. When I first joined Saïd Business School, my knowledge on entrepreneurship wasn’t what it is now so it took me some time to navigate the ecosystem and build my confidence. As an entrepreneur supporter, it’s important to showcase diverse entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs through our initiatives as well as building diverse cohorts of students on our programmes.
What resources would you recommend for other women interested in doing this?
All of the programmes we run at the Entrepreneurship Centre are highly relevant for any entrepreneur. Events like OSEF, our flagship conference, projects like the Entrepreneurship Project and funding opportunities like the Oxford Seed Fund offer future and existing entrepreneurs opportunities to engage. We have an amazing community of entrepreneurs and business leaders, known as the oNetwork, which support SBS students and alumni. Outside of the Business School, resources like Enterprising Oxford create a platform where you can find out what’s going on in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Reaching out to those already in your networks but also potential connections who can share their own experiences is a valuable way to learn from others.
How do you think institutions such as the University of Oxford could better support women entrepreneurs?
The University of Oxford is a very broad space with a lot going on, and therefore navigating it can be a challenge particularly when there are always new initiatives and groups. Regardless of you stage on the entrepreneurial journey, support that helps the navigation process helps to ‘digest’ what’s going on.
Any last words of advice?
Whether you have an idea, have already started a venture or looking for inspiration make the most of the networks and support available at Oxford that can be of use now but also further down the line. Be proactive!