At the start of every academic year, I like to set myself at least one new challenge for the year ahead. And so two years ago, after much thought, I came to the conclusion that I was interested in exploring the biotech startup scene in Cambridge and so I was faced with how best to do so.
My fundamental work guiding principles:
- Active engagement is always better than passive
- There is always enough time to do the things that you enjoy
- Be the creator of your own destiny
By following these key three y principles, in the past two years I have launched my own podcast ‘CUTalks by CUTEC’, and have both equipped myself with many essential skills to run my own company in the future, and gained valuable connections in the field of interest. I encourage all students interested in exploring a field but not knowing where to start or feeling very out of your depth to push those thoughts aside, to start something of your own, no matter how big or small.
Active engagement is always better than passive
Attending entrepreneurship talks was fascinating – after listening to the talk, people would crowd around the speaker hoping to get their 1 fake question answered for the sake of a bit of facetime with the speaker; ultimately, they would leave the conversation feeling 10% fulfilled and a business card in hand, and some free pizza. Most likely, they would forget the majority of the talk’s content, and would never contact the speaker for anything useful, so largely an unproductive evening.
Taking part in a Venture Creation Weekend, I noticed a completely different atmosphere. We worked on a project for 50 hours with strangers, who by the end of the experience we could consider not just useful contacts but also friends, many of whom I am still in meaningful contact with years later. This experience highlighted the importance of active engagement to me, and hence drove me to start my own podcast – I manufactured a way of approaching speakers of large events but in a 1-1 environment with actually interesting conversations, achieving what many miss by passively attending talks.
There is always enough time to do things that you enjoy
The most common phrase you will hear at Cambridge: ‘sorry I’m busy, I have too much work to do’. As a student, it is very easy to get bogged down saying this statement but Cambridge is not just valuable for its degree status, but also for its people – so make the most of being around them whilst you can! Time management is one of the biggest skills to learn but one that many have not truly achieved.
My simple solution: make the time for things you enjoy; be objective with how much time sub-tasks will take to achieve your wider goal; re-prioritise as necessary (towards exams or coursework deadlines, I re-weighted my time towards academic work as necessary); stop procrastinating and just do it. People marvel at how much I manage with the same 24 hours in the day compared to others, and I do it by literally sticking by these steps.
Be the creator of your own destiny
Joining a society just for the sake of being able to put ‘Junior Treasurer’ on your CV will be meaningless unless you have actually gotten something out of the role. Literally nobody cares otherwise. If you notice that you are just completing tasks that people are asking, this is a red flag that you do not enjoy that area so ditch it quickly, for your own sake as much as the others in your team. Doing things based on your own initiative gives you the ownership to do it the best you can, and you will get so much more out of it.
You don’t need to do what I have done, in fact you shouldn’t. Come up with your own work principles (I also have personal guiding principles), and never let excuses come in the way of exploring a new field. If you are interested in entrepreneurship, by all means attend talks to get a feel for the area; but then, there are so many great active ways to get involved in Cambridge and beyond, and with a small amount of digging and a large amount of personal motivation, it is very possible to get far.
Some ideas of where to start in entrepreneurship if you are vaguely interested but feeling lost:
- CJBS Entrepreneurship Centre’s Enterprise Tuesday
- Enter short innovation team projects CJBS Venture Creation Weekend, Medtech Foundation
- CUE talks
- Hackathons eg see Hack Cambridge
- Watch pitch events eg Trinity Bradfield Prize, Innovation Forum
- Join an entrepreneurship society eg CUTEC, CUE
- Join CUTEC’s coffee club to (virtually) meet similar people – you never know where a conversation might lead.