From tiny startups to multi-million pound turnovers, the entrepreneurial spirit runs throughout Imperial's alumni community.
Alumni Spotlight: Ali Baghdadi and Paul Atherton
In this online event recording, 2021 Alumni Entrepreneur Award winners Dr Ali Baghdadi and Dr Paul Atherton explored themes of leadership and business. Hosted by Imperial's Director of Entrepreneurship, Ben Mumby-Croft, Ali and Paul discussed the highs and lows of their varied careers, and answered audience questions.
Meet some of our alumni entrepreneurs:
"The hardest thing to do is make sure the team working with you and the product you’re putting into the market are in sync. No one should be afraid of asking tough questions." Dr Manuel Piñuela (PhD Electrical & Electronic Engineering 2013) has launched three technology start-ups. His latest venture, Cultivo, is helping restore the natural world around us.
Axion Property Partners
“I wanted to help people who need it but I realised that in order to be able to do that, you still need access to funds." Disillusioned with the City, Ayesha Ofori (MSci Physics 2007) used her talent for numbers to found a property investment company, Axion, that specialises in enabling property developers of affordable housing projects to access development capital.
"It can be a bit overwhelming at times, but having a team means you’re not trying to work it all out on your own." Lewis Hornby (MSc Innovation Design Engineering 2018) is the founder of Jelly Drops, sugar-free sweets that are 95 per cent water with added electrolytes, which offer a unique solution to dehydration in dementia sufferers.
Meet some of our alumni entrepreneurs
"There may be a series of frustrating challenges when something isn’t working the way it should be, but suddenly you get incredible feedback on how your product has helped improve someone’s life." Fernanda Dobal (MSc Global Innovation Design 2019) is co-founder of Bia Care, a modern menopause clinic innovating on the service delivery of healthcare for women going through menopause in the UK.
"Highlights have been growing a great team, building a product that delights people, and most importantly hearing from patients about how using our tech has helped them." Bruce Hellman (Executive MBA 2011) is the co-founder and CEO of the eClinical platform uMotif, which helps power medical research by engaging patients to capture a range of data to drive new insights.
"If you can see the world from others' point of view you can communicate and negotiate better.” Divya Gupta (MSc Management 2013) is co-founder and CEO of momzjoy.com, India’s leading maternity and nursing fashion wear brand. Self-funded and sustainable, Momzjoy is profitable and selling over 1200 unique products within 4 years of its launch.
Synsapien, Azeen and Leonardo
"If you are trying to solve a problem, speak to as many people from as many backgrounds as you can about it." Manolya Adan and Basil Mahfouz (both MSc Environmental Technology 2017) are co-founders of SynSapien, a startup developing an open innovation platform to help innovators worldwide co-invent technology, supporting researchers and scientists during the COVID-19 crisis.
"My experiences at Imperial not only crystallised my love for scientific research, but also my desire to pursue medical entrepreneurship and business endeavours." Dr Azeem Alam (BSc Medical Sciences with Surgery and Anaesthesia 2015) was awarded a British Empire Medal for his medical education platform, BiteMedicine, which has taught over 20,000 students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It has required a lot of persistence and confidence to keep going through the darkest moments in the tunnel until we finally got to see the light at the other end." Leonardo Suarez (Executive MBA 2009) is the co-founder of a freight railway operating company, Holdtrade Atlantico, that will provide freight transportation services in Colombia over a distance of 460 miles.
Tips and resources for budding entrepreneurs
Raising equity investment in uncertain times
A lack of capital is one of the primary reasons early-stage businesses fail within the first few years. In this alumni event, alumnus Oliver Woolley (MBA 1992), CEO of fintech company Envestors, explains how to be the exception to the rule and raise equity investment of £250,000 to £5 million in uncertain times.
Lessons for entrepreneurs
Dr Paul Atherton (PhD Physics 1978) and Dr Ali Baghdadi (MSc Computing 1977, PhD 1979), winners of the 2021 Alumni Entrepreneur Award, share their top tips for anyone considering starting their own business.
Consider your strengths as a team
Ali: "You need to realise what your weaknesses are and bring in people who can add value to what you know. It’s very important to get to grips with money. If you’re not interested, get someone who can take care of it. If you don’t, you’ll quickly overspend or buy what you like and never manage the company financially."
Paul: “You’ve got to get people to trust you. They’ve got to believe what you sell them is going to work. Your employees need to trust you too. They’ve given up their jobs, they have mortgages and kids. You’ve got to show them you’re worth following. If you can go to someone else’s place for a meeting, you learn so much about them. What coffee they drink, what’s on the walls. At meals you learn about their families. You need to know what they’re worrying about. They’re thinking ‘how does this decision affect my career?’”
Don't take unnecessary risks
Paul: “Entrepreneurs aren’t risk-takers. I’m like a mountaineer. I only climb with the right equipment and having looked at the weather forecast. It looks scary, but you don’t want to die doing it. You don’t take risks, you take action well-prepared and well-organised.”
Understand your role
Ali: “If you own a company and you’re going to work in it, you’ve got to be an employee. Separate the two. You’re not better than your colleagues. Some people mix the two and think they have more say as an owner, more power. But you have to separate them.”
Leave a legacy
Ali: "The world faces so many challenges. If we can make a small contribution to help communities or industries and have fun while doing it, that’s great."
Benefits for alumni entrepreneurs
Space, competitions and events
Space to work
Don't have office space yet? On a tight budget? Want to surround yourself with creative people? As well as the meeting room and lounge space in the Alumni Visitor Centre, entrepreneurial-minded alumni can also make use of the Enterprise Lab for free, either as a space for working or for small events.
Need some inspiration or to hone your skills? You can take part in, or even lead, the Enterprise Lab’s ‘How to’ workshops. Maybe you have a great idea but need to practice your patter? Try one of the monthly Pitch ‘n’ Mix events to test out your 60 second slide-free pitch, get feedback and meet new people.
Access to competitions
Whether you’re just starting out, looking to scale or are a female-founder, if you graduated within the last three years, there's a competition for you. Take your idea to the next level with the chance to pitch for up to £30,000 to get your business off the ground.