Walking into Plexal, there was an eager energy as our Full-Time MBA students chatted, drank coffee and reflected over the past two weeks of induction in the hyper-contemporary and stylish Plexal foyer, or as it’s better known to resident innovators, Monument Square.
Students were treated to a guided tour of Plexal. Designed as a mini-city, the Plexal base is complete with a high street, leisure park, coffee van (a necessity for many innovators) and Monument Square. It’s one of Europe’s largest innovation workspaces and can host up to 800 individual innovators at a time.
Students moved through the tour taking in every square inch as they passed through breathable open spaces, sound-proof booths, breakout zones, Plexal Park and the ‘ideas wall’- a grid of boxed shelving where Plexal members can place a special object that inspires their ideas and motivates them to keep working.
The cohort was naturally intrigued by the wall and scanned over the displayed items, such as a roller skate, a Canadian flag, an old toy and various books, no doubt contemplating their meaning. A clear expression passed through the cohort as they looked at the wall that suggested “what would I put on the shelf?”
Plexal makes you look at traditional offices and realise there’s a definite change looming for the workplace of the future. A space that feels close to nature, not only for its living-plant wall and river-views from the large, glass windows but for an ambience conducive to creativity and contentment. The overall atmosphere giving a genuine community feel; a neighbourhood of like-minded people trying to build their ideas.
From Full-Time MBA student to industry leader
After the tour, students sat by Plexal Park to hear from Claire Cockerton, Plexal founder and CEO and Imperial Full-Time MBA alumna.
During her Imperial MBA, Claire shaped her programme to specialise in innovation, entrepreneurship and design. This facilitated her progression and growth in her business pursuits and gained her international experience to accelerate her career further.
On the Full-time MBA’s final project, Claire’s thesis centred on business incubators where she helped establish the business model for Virgin’s “Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship” in South Africa. After completing the MBA in 2010, she became an industry leader in driving innovation in fintech, smart cities, business incubators and accelerators, and went on to create a number of successful business ventures.
These projects include co-leading the implementation of Level39, Europe’s largest technology accelerator dedicated to fintech, becoming the founding CEO of Innovate Finance, a new trade body for fintech firms, and founding Plexal’s predecessor, Entiq, an innovation advisory and delivery firm.
“Resilience is core to your survival”
Claire spoke with natural charisma and passion that drew people into every word. She appropriately set the scene for our students’ study journey with a mixture of aspirational messaging balanced against realistic expectations of the programme and beyond.
The theme of Claire’s speech for the new students was all about the need for resilience. Resilience in their study journey ahead, resilience in business and entrepreneurship, and resilience in their personal lives that will see them bounce back from hardships.
She openly shared a particularly hard experience in her life and discussed that she was able to use it to reassess what was important to her and readjust her outlook as a result.
“It was one of my life’s most defining moments, and I was able to look inwards.” Claire admitted. Shortly after this incident, she travelled to London to undertake the Imperial Full-Time MBA and power on with her career.
She relayed her successes in study and business, making sure to highlight the necessity of failures and challenges along the way.
“Failure is inevitable, however, what you do with that failure is what defines you. Finding that meaning and finding that drive.” Claire advised. The opportunity to learn from failure and create something out of it is one of the more valuable lessons students should take on board at the beginning of their MBA journey.
Advice for the Full-Time MBA cohort of 2017
Claire spoke broadly and passionately of the importance of innovation and creating products and services that improve lives. Her advice for students is to question the norm and not get crushed by the weight of the narrative that says “that’s the way we’ve always done things.” Her advice was met with spirited nodding among the audience.
Speaking from experience, Claire advised the cohort that ”acting with intention” and ”the relentless pursuit of opportunity, regardless of the resources you have on hand” will ultimately push you further. Using the example of building the Plexal community, she made sure to highlight the purpose and intentions behind the member organisations and individuals.
“Plexal contains a good mix of sectors that have been curated from high-growth sectors, especially with start-ups that can play off each other. Complimentary skills, people and businesses are brought together for collaborative purposes and to maximise the benefits of all in the park. They make significant, useful and lasting connections that will open the door to the next wave of innovations.”
Plexal contains a good mix of sectors that have been curated from high-growth sectors, especially with start-ups that can play off each other. Complimentary skills, people and businesses are brought together for collaborative purposes and to maximise the benefits of all in the park. They make significant, useful and lasting connections that will open the door to the next wave of innovations.
Claire’s other advice? Be unique in the competitive landscape and tap into creativity. Go bold and know your market. Also, exercise and find a routine!
Inspiration to inspiration
Students were eager to have Claire answer their questions so they could learn from her and apply the lessons she’s had to their own journey. Upon joining the Full-Time MBA, the cohort now has access to a 14,000 strong alumni network of inspiring minds like Claire who they can connect with, learn from and perhaps even work with.
One burning question remained that was buzzing around the room: What did Claire put on the Ideas Wall?
She simply says that it was a sculpture that her mum did — a reimagining of old tools to make them into something new and different; the essence of innovation.