Founders & Funders: Accelerating Oxford entrepreneurial capacity through a grassroots knowledge exchange programme

A grant from the Knowledge Exchange Seed Fund has allowed the Saïd Business School ‘Founders & Funders’ initiative to pilot new approaches to fostering research/industry interaction and collaboration.

Founders & FundersFounders & Funders
“The idea for Founders & Funders came out of our teaching for the Executive Masters in Business Administration (EMBA),” explains Dr Christiaan de Koning. “We wanted to find a way to foster dialogue between early career researchers and graduate students and, crucially, to introduce them to entrepreneurial experts and alumni from outside the university – to help them gain new perspectives and make the industry links which are so vital to achieve research impact.”

The result was Founders & Funders (F&F), launched in March 2020, an Oxford-based community and digital event series that fosters connection between Oxford early career scientists and external entrepreneurial and business expertise. In its’ first 18 months, F&F hosted numerous keynote and panel sessions, involving more than 50 industry speakers, and attracting more than a thousand participants from different disciplines across the university.

“We were delighted with the interest in the programme, and the kind of conversations and collaborations that it was sparking,” comments de Koning. “But we wanted to understand how to optimise and build on these interactions, and it was becoming difficult to support this kind of knowledge exchange without any funding.”

A grant from the KE Seed Fund enabled the team to pilot new activities and to organise these into a better structured and more sustainable knowledge exchange programme, in line with university guidance on entrepreneurship training.

From Feb to July 2022, F&F hosted nine events with world-class business-meets-science speakers, piloting new formats such as: small invite-only highly curated sessions; large interactive virtual sessions involving over 300+ participants; and expert in-depth presentations on latest research including synthetic biology or the metaverse.

“The benefit of using a variety of approaches is that it encourages the development of both loose social networks that enable diverse contacts, whilst also fostering deeper relationships which develop over many interactions and are most likely to lead to ongoing collaboration,” says de Koning.

The new iteration of the programme has also helped consolidate Oxford University entrepreneurship initiatives, providing an integrated access point for science-business interface linking the Entrepreneurship Centre, Enterprising Oxford, Oxford entrepreneurial accelerators and programmes, student & alumni societies, funders, and external industry partners. The platform has been developed with input from the Harvard Alumni Entrepreneurs programme and F&F is now seeking further funding to extend the platform and put it on a more sustainable basis.

Looking to the future, in collaboration with Saïd Business School and the Entrepreneurship Centre, F&F is now planning a large-scale event with external partners each term, as it seeks to deepen collaboration with new and existing partners and to establish a wider knowledge exchange consortium involving other global knowledge institutions.

“Bringing early career life-science researchers together with contacts from industry and policy contexts has been very productive,” says Dr Christiaan de Koning. “Over 95% of Life Science DPhils in the UK develop careers outside academia or at the intersection of academia and industry. The F&F initiative seems to have been successful in bridging between these worlds and we’re delighted to see many unexpected positive effects emerging as a result, including better understanding of the global research landscape, collaborations between academia and industry, and new opportunities for early career researchers.

“This will all help ensure Oxford University life-science and business development research has real-world impact that contributes to health, social organisation, and economic development in the UK and across the world.”

Those interested in the Founders & Funders initiative can follow activities on LinkedIn or apply to join the soon to be launched digital platform.

Dr Marc J Ventresca is Associate Professor of Strategic Management at Saïd Business School
Dr Christiaan de Koning is a Researcher at Saïd Business School and spearheading the Founders & Funders initiative

Partners: Harvard Alumni Entrepreneurs, Oxford University Alumni Board, Saïd Business School Entrepreneurship Centre, and Enterprising Oxford.

F & F was an innovation from earlier sessions on the EMBA course taught by Dr Marc Ventresca, also known as the ‘Ideas to Impact’ programme.

Funder: KE Seed Fund