Note: This article was originally posted in YHP (Your Hidden Potential) website. Although it reviews my story, it aims to portray the impact that student enterprise societies may have upon someone’s life and career path, and the ways in which they could actually provide you with business responsibilities and practical skills while you are a university student. Many thanks to Joseph Ajilore (YHP, Co-founder and Director) for posting.
In September 2007 I was enrolled as an undergraduate at King’s College London. After serving in the military for two years, I was finally moving away from the Friday inspections, the combat training, the virtual minefields and drills to join university, 2000 miles away from home. This new chapter in my life did not only matter in virtue of the academic knowledge that I was about to receive, but also due to the horizon of opportunities, which I was hoping to access.
The university environment intrigued me to set my ideas into perspective and apply them. Was I entrepreneurial before? Maybe, if trading balloons for chocolates with the kids in your neighborhood at the age of 5, or renting out IRC bots and BNCs to your classmates at the age of 14, counts as entrepreneurship. What really mattered now, was my need to create something that could make a real impact.
With that in mind, I devised “Mindsquared” towards the end of my fresher year. Mindsquared was an online platform, which enabled my classmates, as well as students from other courses, to exchange study-notes. Although it recruited more than 10 volunteers and had some success, it ultimately died out. Nevertheless, it alerted Zain Jaffer (currently co-founder at Vungle.com), who was then launching the King’s College London Business Club (KCLBC), to invite me on board as a vice president.
Joining KCLBC gave me an invaluable lesson on the similarities that a student society and an actual business could have in common. You see, just like a business, a student society a) caters the public demand through its products and services; b) sets out a plethora of administrative tasks; c) requires funding and strategic planning to operate and progress; and d) is accountable to various stakeholders. On our first year, KCLBC did great. It received a commendation from the NCGE and Enterprise Educators UK and participated in the foundation of NACUE.
Without a doubt, I had some pretty big shoes to fill when I became president. I also had a lot of outstanding issues to attend, in terms raising sponsorship; setting flagship events; defining our media channels and continuing the healthy growth of the society. It is a common phenomenon that if you are launching something off the ground, you often wish to take all the decisions yourself without delegating. Nonetheless, the society was not going to grow if all the decisions boiled down to a single person. This was probably the moment I fully understood why a true leader was responsible to inspire leadership into others.
With the support of my VP, Sarah Chen (President 10-11), we restructured the club into four areas; corporate relations, media, finance, and enterprise. Accordingly, we appointed a leader in each area and asked them to lead as they sought best. What happened? Yasmeen Ghali (CR) secured sponsorships from Microsoft, Accenture, E&Y and other prestigious firms. Daria Kyrilova (Media) and her team led an unprecedented and marketing campaign for our events. Paul Stapelfeldt (Finance) and his team managed our financial matters in the most professional manner; and Jack Smith (Enterprise; also co-founder at Vungle.com) launched “IdeaBox”, the first enterprise competition for undergraduates at King’s College London. They liked what they did, and they did well!
In a recent mention, NACUE stated that I “grew a fairly new society into a mature, high-quality and professional student enterprise organization” – truth is if it wasn’t for the work of my team and the mentorship of people like Harriet Robinson (former manager at KCL Business Ltd), I wouldn’t have made it.
It would also be ignorant on my behalf not to say that I hadn’t made some terrible mistakes or that we didn’t mismanage some serious tasks. Nonetheless the bigger picture is what truly matters in the end… Three years later, KCLBC grew to more than 3000 members, was named “Society of the Year 2011”, spun off various startups and launched its own investment fund thanks to our collective efforts and the stellar team that succeeded us.
My “journey” during my undergraduate years also acted as a milestone to my consequent activities. It gave me the opportunity be a part of the efforts for the development of student entrepreneurship in the UK, through my roles on the student advisory board of NACUE and the student advisory panel at McKisney & Co (for the Entrepreneur First scheme).
It enabled me to inspire leadership into others by delivering keynotes at national leadership events in Cyprus and the UK. It helped me develop strong knowledge on society formation and growth, as to start the Cambridge University Venture Capital & Private Equity Club while doing my Masters degree and to launch it as a member of the Cambridge University Enterprise Network group. More importantly it made me part of a network of extraordinary young leaders that have never stopped supporting my work.
At the moment, I am co-founding a company with three brilliant partners at Cambridge. Synups (www.synups.com) is a social space, where individuals with creative ideas can build their projects, share them with like-minded people and build new teams. In 2012 I will also be launching the Cypriot Enterprise Link, a non-profit organization, which aims to cultivate the entrepreneurial ethos and raise awareness amongst the young people of my generation in Cyprus. In parallel, I am serving as a renewable energy investments research advisor to the CEO of Bioland International, as the acting Chairman of the Cambridge University Venture Capital & Private Equity Club and as a member of the student advisory panel at Entrepreneur First.
Coming to a conclusion, I would like to leave you with a single thought. We often find ourselves petrified by a daunting task or what seems to be an impossible goal. It is important to realize that nobody got to where they are, by taking one step alone. According to the ancient Chinese Philosopher, Lao Tzu, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. In my case, the first step in my journey was made through a student society, KCLBC. In your case, where do you want to be and what should your first step be to get there?