Oxford Launches Startup Hub with Help from Apple CEO Tim Cook

Oxford Launches Startup Hub with Help from Apple CEO Tim Cook

A few weeks ago, Ana Bakshi cross her fingers and emailed Apple chief Tim Cook her pitch: “Will you lecture budding tycoons about building the world’s most valuable business?” 


Bakshi was building an all-star team for a new venture: A startup hub at the heart of Oxford University. “We want to bring a group of world-class speakers to the hub. With Tim Cook, we are starting as we mean to go on,” says Bakshi, the center’s inaugural director. An impressive group of entrepreneurs, such as Lastminute.com founder Brent Hoberman, note-taking app Evernote co-founder Phil Libin, and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, helped design The Foundry. 

Situated in a converted ice factory that was more recently a nightclub for revelling Oxford students, the facility will bring together the brightest minds and business smarts from across the 900-year-old university. As Bakshi explains, at The Foundry medics mix with MBAs, and historians with philosophers and engineers in the hope of creating ventures with the potential for rapid growth, or to solve the world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges. “It’s neutral ground for all 23,000 students at Oxford. The purpose is to bring together this diverse audience to enable cross-disciplinary perspectives, the most fertile ground for innovation and entrepreneurship.”

LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, who donated money to The Foundry, adds: “[It will] bring students together from lots of different backgrounds and academic areas to experiment and prototype new ideas. This will create amazing, transformative ventures that will make a real impact.”

Oxford has strong startup credentials. It has produced more founders of Unicorns — or businesses with valuations of US$1 billion upwards — than any other university in Europe. All told, Oxford has created 177 technology ventures over the past 30 years, which attracted nearly £300 million in funding last year alone. Oxford also houses Sophos, the cybersecurity firm which was the biggest IPO of a UK software company when it floated in London in 2015. Students of the university’s business school, Saïd, have co-founded over the past decade 75 companies which raised US$1.6 billion, including German internet company Rocket Internet. 

An academic degree is valuable, says Bakshi, but you need practical skills to succeed with a startup.

The Foundry will support aspiring entrepreneurs in three ways: It will bring inspirational figures to speak to students in the hope of creating an environment that encourages the exchange of ideas; Students take part in competitions and workshops in areas such as resilience, leadership, and digital skills; And finally, The Foundry will support the starting and scaling of a select number of student ventures each year, through dedicated working space, access to networks, industry experts and back-office support. “The biggest challenge is scaling up,” Bakshi says. “If they raise money what do they do with it?”

The Foundry will also welcome those who aspire to innovate within corporations — or “intrapreneurs”. “We want to support students who are solving large world problems in established companies — the future lawyers, bankers and medics — as well as future entrepreneurial leaders,” says Bakshi. 

Students will be at the heart of the accelerator, particularly Oxford Entrepreneurs, the university’s biggest student society and one of the largest entrepreneurial groups in Europe. “We allow students to design and lead activities at The Foundry,” Bakshi says. Oxford runs an incubator that has worked with more than 50 start-ups which have attracted $40 million in funding since 2011. The Saïd Business School also runs a Launchpad program. 


Bakshi joined The Foundry from King’s College London, where she oversaw the creation of the university’s Entrepreneurship Institute. “I enjoy creating entrepreneurial ecosystems from scratch and Oxford, an amazing university, has a wealth of resources and opportunities with which I can turn this old ice factory into an open space for innovation,” she says. “My overall aim is to enhance employability and make students more open to entrepreneurship and to encourage more innovation.”

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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