TAPPING INTO A BIG POOL OF HELP AT THE OXFORD LAUNCHPADThere are few places with so many brain cells per square foot as Oxford, so if you use every opportunity in this social enterprise incubator community to say what you do, you will soon hit the jackpot with the help you need!

The Oxford Launchpad is a co-working space for social enterprises within the curtilage of Saïd Business School, set up by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and the Entrepreneurship Centre at Said Business School in February 2014.

It is open to entrepreneurs from the ecosystem outside of the University and has 1800 signed up members  (made up of students, alumni and other experts and entrepreneurs) 20 hot-desk spaces – able to be shaped into any format, plus ancillary equipment for every kind of meeting; open every day from 9am till 5pm.

It attracts students, graduates and locals alike – because

*    it provides access to talent

*    it is a work-space in the accessible centre of the town,

*   and because of high-level visitors to Said Business School and to Oxford.

And it is one of the very few places dedicated to entrepreneurship in Oxford aside from other Incubation centres.

James, the curator, tells new visitors

  • to sign in every time (for valuable stats)
  • to sit next to someone you don’t  know
  • to tell each other what you  do.

And we try, he says, to get new joiners to find someone to work with them – as co-founder, fellow worker or intern (of which there are now 20, each attached to a different business). You’d want to demonstrate your capability to me, says James, so that I can introduce you to relevant visitors and startups – I am the gatekeeper. And we get a lot of interest and enquiries from VCs and Angels. (Besides having two startups under his belt, he has worked at two universities, running multidisciplinary experimental entrepreneurship events, and he has worked for a policy think-tank).

Everything is done to foster the sense of community – to believe in its collaborative power – by sharing your highs and lows, by being encouraged to ask others, and by sharing your own expertise and successes. As a square space, you encounter everyone readily and form relationships and friends easily  ‘you go out to lunch together and with the interns’.

Every week there is an event of one kind or another – a workshop on such topics as idea generation, team building, marketing, financial and business planning; or on design thinking, the business model canvass or rapid prototyping; or speakers e.g. on Confessions of an entrepreneur, or a Hackathon, with meetings all top-and-tailed with networking. And there are regular networking meetings – “Mix@Six” – which are held each time at a different location in Oxford.

Details of some of the Resident Experts can be found on the Launchpad website, and arrangements can be made to meet them, although these are generally only for students at this time.

One entrepreneur whom I met whose 4-year old business had just come into profit had come by her mentor along with a grant from a charity had enabled her and her partner to take on their first member of staff.

There is an annual Busines2Environment event at which you had to arrive with a team from different disciplines – where a team consisting of a DPhil in material sciences had combined with a frustrated MBA to win a grant, and went on to win a series of funding rounds.

There is a lean-Launchpad programme (or VIEW) run by the Entrepreneurship Centre, of 5 weeks duration, consisting of a day a week of lectures and a home-work programme, which attracted 30 teams last year (each of the three cohorts having a different day of the week of lectures.)

The Oxford Launchpad supports the activities of both the Skoll Centre and the Entrepreneurship Centre at the Said Business School, while drawing together entrepreneurial endeavour from all parts of Oxford, both within and external to the University. It is a place where students, Faculty and the wider Oxford community can meet to collaborate, create and strengthen ventures, as well as to share knowledge, practice and connections. The Launchpad aims to become the focal entrepreneurship space in Oxford, with a large and active membership, a programme of events and a reputation for producing and accelerating a consistently high quality of growing ventures.

See also

Three pieces of Pixie Dust: Bethnal Green Ventures ‘accelerates’ six new social enterprises

The workings of Accelerators may tell us something more general about how better to help to turn ideas into innovations: what is the Pixie Dust?

In the more effective Accelerators, the mentoring is more intensive and more pervasive than it is for example in most incubators; in some accelerators (this one among them), the proximity and interactions between the teams are much closer (‘the kitchen a vital place’); and the pressure to deliver within the given period something of value is the third significant piece of Pixie Dust.

But what about leadership? Empathy, experience, contacts with top people who have ‘done it before’, willingness to force issues, regular meetings and support, and ‘getting people to interact on their own terms’ – all of this in a quietly understated style (‘self-effacing facilitation’): probably a rare collection of skills.


John Whatmore

October 2015



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s