Dr Sheen Gurrib, a graduate of both Oxford and Cambridge, is a social entrepreneur and podcaster (Dream, Girl). She is the co-founder of ReShape Co, a young, not-for-profit consulting company. ReShape Co enlists students and graduates to carry out non-profit consultancy work for SMEs, charities and NGOs and was originally set up to help businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
After only a few months, ReShape Co. has grown into one of the world’s largest non-profit consulting groups catering to SMEs. They are now a team of 210 members, working on 40 live projects and they have been endorsed by Microsoft for Start-ups, the World Economic Forum Global Shapers, One Young World, several industry leaders in the EMEA & APAC region, and public figures globally. Across multiple social media platforms, including LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook, they now have a network of over 4000 members. They have saved several businesses from more than 30 countries from closing down and created exceptional social impact. Their consultants worked on projects across multiple industries, ranging from private equity, fintech, agriculture, transport, healthcare, retail, hospitality to even government-led challenges. They also worked on critical social impact projects dealing with women empowerment, levelling the playing field for access to education for students from underrepresented backgrounds, public speaking coaching and the BLM movement. Their consultants even got to work on projects involving cutting edge technology such as blockchain and artificial intelligence. Their support has excelled beyond traditional boundaries to accomplish competent strategies for a wide variety of business problems, including marketing, expansion, go-to-market, funding challenges, pitch decks optimisation and revision of business models.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I am originally from Mauritius and came to the UK 8 years ago to begin my undergraduate studies at Oxford. I moved to Cambridge to do a PhD in back pain research, during which I began exploring areas outside of pure science, such as the intersection between technology, science and business.
I undertook several projects during my PhD, including a Development I-Teams project where I worked on commercialising a sustainable wound dressing made from bacterial cellulose which would be especially useful in the developing world. To see the development of an original idea into a viable project made me realise I was very interested in the business and technology side of science. I also interned as a market researcher for a pharmaceutical company and enjoyed seeing the full journey of an idea to a final product, then to the market. ReShape Co was my first big entrepreneurial project. Before that, I set up an educational charity called Project Access for Refugees; a new branch of Project Access which focused on mentoring refugee students in their journey to higher education. My work with Project Access, and projects during my PhD, developed the skills I used in setting up ReShape Co and allowed me to be proactive from the outset.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Personally, entrepreneurship means identifying a ‘gap’. This gap could be anything; in current services, products, or business models – anything that has the potential to transform people’s lives beneficially. To me, being entrepreneurial means identifying that ‘gap’ and trying to think creatively as to how it can be solved. Working with like-minded people to achieve this goal is essential to entrepreneurship.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
ReShape Co developed so quickly, since we were trying to work in the midst of a global crisis. Therefore, as soon as we identified the problem we wanted to fix, my main priority was talking to people with experience in this field and sharing our ideas. The response from professional consultants was overwhelmingly positive and supportive; many thought that our idea was very useful in our current economic climate. I would say that you know an idea is ready for development as soon as you have the idea. Of course, take advice from others, but ideas are prone to change and develop over time anyway, so I think the best idea is to take a leap of faith.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Resilience – persevering in the face of whatever comes, being ready to work hard to achieve your goals and also accepting that some failures are inevitable in entrepreneurship, but that you should always be prepared to adapt and try again.
Communication and listening skills – this involves general interpersonal skills and being able to attentively listen to others. As an entrepreneur, you need to be able to tell a convincing story to effectively encourage investment, recruitment and interest from clients. I think it is important to be confident, as well as listening to what your clients and your team want.
Creativity and risk-taking – sometimes, entrepreneurship requires a leap of faith. There may be times when you’re not able to test whether the idea you have is going to be worth it in the long run, so it comes down to just giving it a go. Creative solutions are also essential for success, because the problem you’re trying to solve has not been solved already – it is an inherently difficult task.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
I love being able to work with a variety of people. This includes not only team members and colleagues, but also the clients themselves. I think it’s amazing to be able to interact with so many clients, who are entrepreneurs themselves. I enjoy being able to witness what our clients have set up, their approach and their goals, as well as the way our work at ReShape Co has impacted them
and their entrepreneurial journey in a positive way. Another aspect of being an entrepreneur that I love is the huge range of tasks I undertake. No day is the same. I do recruitment, pitching, working on many different projects, and the ability to play different roles each day means that I am constantly learning and developing.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. This young United States congresswoman inspires me so much because she comes from an immigrant background, she has undertaken all kinds of jobs before her political career, and now she is in an extremely important political office. She is hard-working and determined to make a real difference in her constituency and all over the United States. She is not afraid to speak her mind, nor does the succumb to the pressure to conform. It is wonderful to see a young woman of colour forge her own path in politics and not be swayed by external pressure or criticism.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I would definitely ask her to be a guest on my podcast! I would also want to know how she keeps going and remains optimistic and composed even in her darkest hours. I imagine it must be very difficult to be in the public forum and therefore open to constant critique. I would ask how she views her role and influence as a woman of colour in Congress, as well as how careful she feels she has to be since she is now seen as representing women of colour in the political arena more generally.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
Within 24hrs of launching ReShape Co. we received over 125 applications from students and graduates, 13 client registrations and almost 200 followers from around the world. The overwhelming positive support we received immediately at the time of launch reaffirmed that we were doing something good, and only made us more determined to stick to our mission and create positive social impact.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
ReShape Co did not have a long-term plan at the beginning, which was a natural consequence of being put together as a crisis response to the effects of the pandemic. We started as student-run and pro-bono, which was working well, but we wanted to change to not-for-profit. We have successfully achieved this and are now working on a long-term plan. Planning the possible evolution of the company in the beginning would have been useful because making changes takes a lot of time and preparation. We are now more prepared and better at planning ahead
How have you funded your ideas?
So far, all of our work has been pro-bono. We have not had any external funding.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
Not so far on our journey. We are currently considering going through the LSE Generate process to raise funds, and we have also been nominated for the Forbes 30 Under 30 for the social entrepreneur branch, which will hopefully bring in some great visibility.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
I think the Oxford Foundry is a brilliant place which helps young entrepreneurs in the early stages of their enterprise. The Said Business School holds entrepreneurial forums which focus on social impact. These are great places to start as a student because you are supported and taught so much of what you need to know, which gives you a great base to start working on your own. Making most out of courses the university offers, such as the entrepreneurship course I undertook, is a great way to start going in the right direction. I think in general, the best way to learn is from mentors, especially other women. RisingWISE was a great opportunity in terms of learning from other successful women in a diverse range of fields, and so I would recommend this course to any women interested in entrepreneurship.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
I can’t say I have had any challenges as a woman so far. I am happy to see that there seems to be an active push to encourage and support women entrepreneurs. Recent figures in the United States show that 80% of new businesses registered in 2019 were run by women, so as a society we are certainty heading in a good direction in terms of supporting women entrepreneurs. All of our clients have been pleased to work with myself and my other female co-founder.
What resources would you recommend for other women?
I would reiterate that an invaluable resource is your own network. Always strive to reach out and communicate with people and to increase your circle. The more people you know and meet, the more opportunities will present themselves. Never turn down opportunities; every experience gives you something to learn and reflect on. Also, having a clear vision about what success means to you personally is important. This can be anything, but just ensure that it matters to you.
How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
As mentioned previously, RisingWISE is a great programme which is currently recruiting Oxbridge postgraduate students in science and engineering disciplines to take part in entrepreneurial workshops and training. The program is led by women professionals in a range of industries who are there to share their knowledge and experiences with students considering becoming entrepreneurs. RisingWISE creates a strong network of women, mentors and opportunities which are aimed specifically at entrepreneurship. Another great resource is podcasts. There are so many available, many by women discussing finance, entrepreneurship and business.
Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
I think The University of Oxford particularly does a great job of encouraging and supporting women entrepreneurs. However, this could be taken a step further by setting up women-specific mentoring schemes where experienced entrepreneurs can help those at an earlier stage. It also may be a good idea to encourage entrepreneurship in younger women, perhaps through outreach programmes, since this career path is often only focused on at a post-graduate level.
Any last words of advice?
Always have at least a five-year plan, and possibly a flexible ten-year plan. But still remain flexible so you can adapt to unpredictable changes and twists along the way.