Wenmiao Yu, a Balliol College, Oxford alumna (MChem, 2019), is the Director of Business Development and co-founder of Quantum Dice Ltd. Founded in 2019, Quantum Dice Ltd is pioneering high-speed and secure Quantum Random Number Generation (QRNG) through their patented, quantum-enabled DISCTM protocol. Quantum Dice’s QRNGs will improve encryption protocols by mitigating the issues with the current algorithm-based (bias) and physical-true methods (hardware-attacks on device).
As the Director of Business Development, Wenmiao is focused on developing Quantum Dice’s commercial strategy and leading Quantum Dice’s commercial team in market development through initiatives to encourage/educate policy makers and larger corporations to realise, trial QRNG products to demonstrate their advantages in long term data security. She co-managed Quantum Dice’s recent fundraise alongside Ramy, her co-founder and CEO of Quantum Dice, which is now an established VC-backed SME based at the Oxford Centre for Innovation.
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
I have always been aware of the start-up community, mainly from discussions with friends studying at MIT or along the west coast of the US. It is something that I have always wanted to be a part of and when Oxford University Innovation’s Student Entrepreneur’s Programme (StEP Ignite) opened application for its inaugural cohort, I just knew that I had to apply!
During the early stages of my undergraduate degree in chemistry, I was unsure of the path that my career would take. I was curious to experience different industries, and carried out a variety of internships from working in biochemistry labs in Singapore to patent attorney offices in London where I learned how the commercialisation of technology occurs from a legal point of view and finally to the software procurement department of a large corporate. Looking back, all my placements which may have seemed disjointed at the time now makes sense as I tackle being an early-stage founder.
My initial taste of entrepreneurship was the four week StEP programme. Here I met my other co-founders, conducted initial market research, and our team went on to win the prize funding which we used to fund the development of our first batch of quantum random number generating photonics chips.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is having a growth mindset, creatively problem-solving and being able to execute on plans.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
We first knew our idea was good when we found a customer (in the space sector) who articulated an immediate problem which could be directly addressed by our QRNG product and service. Working alongside them gave us a huge amount of satisfaction and motivation for further market development.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
This links to my personal definition of entrepreneurship that I shared above. Creativity is important. You need to have an agile mind-set to synthesise and embrace new ideas and to be able to join dots from unrelated fields. At the same time, you still need to be objective so that you can handle business problems when they arise.
Drive is also key. Entrepreneurship is unstructured with no set way of doings things. You need to be able to navigate the good days as well as the bad and have the emotional capacity to be able to accept seemingly bad news but remained committed to progress with the project.
The ability to execute on plans is also an essential skill. It is easy to talk about hypothetical ideas to solve a problem, but there will not be any tangible outcomes unless you follow through on them.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
My favourite part about being an entrepreneur is the unstructured nature of the day to day work.
What individual, company or organisation inspires you most? Why?
There are so many, but I would have to say Phil Knight (the founder of Nike) and in particular, his book “Shoe Dog”. This book inspired me not to give up but more importantly clarified the distinction between a good manager (someone in charge of the day to day running of a team or project), and a good leader (someone who inspires and empowers others to execute). The ethos he created at Nike is something that I would like to replicate in my own business.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
What is his single-most biggest regret in business? And, what would he have done differently? I am not sure if his answers would be directly applicable to the current stage of Quantum Dice, as each business scenario is so unique – but there are always core lessons one can learn from others.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
It was last Friday when we got the keys to our lab and office. Walking into then (currently!) empty rooms made me realise just what dedication and a really good team can do in a short amount of time.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
I didn’t have much industrial experience or a business orientated background when I started my journey to become an entrepreneur. As a result, I approached tasks with the mindset of a student i.e. always asking others for specific answers to my own business problems. It took a while for me to change this mentality and have to confidence to make my own decisions. You can gather as much advice from experts and others in your field but at the end of the day, it is your business and there is so much strength and power that comes from making decisions yourself whilst knowing that you need to be accountable for these decisions.
How have you funded your ideas?
The realisation that our business would be cash heavy at the start meant that we sought other grants through various research and development projects. We were also able to secure venture capital funding via a consortium of good institutions (two of which are UK-based and one resides in Europe).
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
Our initial funding was the StEP competition winnings (£25,000) from July 2019, which was used in conjunction with a business development grant from the EPSRC and Bristol’s Quantum Technology Enterprise Centre to develop our prototype and fund conferences.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
Simply the access to the Oxford Foundry, the Oxford University Innovation and the Oxford Sciences Innovation hubs. Barclays Eagle Labs also have a branch here in Oxfordshire; they point early stage start-ups in the direction of useful connections. The Said Business School has also been a useful resource as they offer programmes for start-ups to engage with MBA mentors. Our EMBA mentor, Jonathan, was particularly useful in applying his commercial experience to help expand our network (even internationally!). The Said Business School also has links to the prestigious Creative Destruction Lab.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
I would recommend Tech Nation. It is a great platform for access to sessions on fundraising, networking and engaging with peers. They also have regional offices with entrepreneur engagement officers who are excellent at providing good, effective, productive tips – Elizabeth, our EEO for the South East region is a fantastic connector!
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
Yes. I was the youngest, and only full-time woman fellow in my cohort at the Quantum Technology Enterprise Centre in Bristol, where Quantum Dice was incubated for over a year. I had to quickly get over my initial shyness, acclimatise and actively participate in debates with the other fellows; this taught me that discuss problems as they come up is always a good path. This change in mind-set helped me to gain confidence in both myself and my project. All in all, I felt like I had been thrown in at the deep end but really embraced all the experiences that I’ve had over the past two years since graduating – it set me up very well for handling the further development of my company.
How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
I think Enterprising Oxford is doing a fantastic job so far – it gives more women a platform to share their diverse experiences and opinions. It also increases the reach to younger generations and those from different sectors. This ability to see other people you can relate to puts ideas in your head and gives you the foundational confidence to action upon achieving your own goals.
Increasing mentorship opportunities is something I think would be useful. I had a fantastic mentor, Jane Garrett, during my time at QTEC in Bristol. She gave me many opportunities to pitch and present, which was an indirect way of her telling me that she had confidence in my abilities. She is always good to talk through problems with, and her actions developed my skills in public speaking and talking about Quantum Dice, indispensable skills when it came to fundraising. OxWib (Oxford Women in Business) also runs an excellent mentorship scheme that I’ve mentored current undergraduates through over the past year. I have to say that I always leave my sessions with my mentees feeling so inspired! I am passionate about giving back to the community that have supported me and actively welcome anyone reading this article to reach out to me directly through the links below if they have questions or certain topics they want to speak with me about.
Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
Make a plan on what you want to achieve within a certain time period and work backwards from there. I always write down what I want to have achieved by a set time, as it forces me to break them down into actionable steps and start thinking about who/what resources can help me achieve my goals. The rest will come naturally from there.
Any last words of advice?
As I have learnt personally, don’t be afraid to fail. Living life and approaching your career with a mind-set knowing that you will fail at certain points, but will also learn and quickly bounce back is important. The action paralysis caused by the fear of failing is what holds people back. Failure is the catalysis for new opportunities to learn and grow.