Ana Bakshi, Director, Oxford Foundry:
It’s been fantastic to see how the pandemic has shone a light on how compassionate and collaborative we call all be. The pandemic has also shown us the pressing need for innovation and entrepreneurial endeavour.
Universities have been playing a central role in this. We’re constantly inspired by the work being done across the University, with Oxford leading the vaccine trial with AstraZeneca, and researchers, staff and faculty from across different centres, departments and divisions spending hundreds of tireless hours responding to the pandemic. If ever there was a reason to be so motivated in such a challenging time, it’s because of the inspirational work and dedication of the Institution as a whole.
At Oxfo we’ve been focusing on our Covid-19 action plan. Nearly half of the ventures we support have directly responded to the pandemic, many pivoting within hours of the onset. We’re working to exponentially scale them across four critical areas: Healthcare, education, inclusive social engagement, and operations & supply chains. We’re whole-heartedly committed to building this new generation of strong, ethical ventures. I’ve repurposed 100% of my team’s time to work on the action plan and we’re busier than ever. Being within a university, we’re lucky that the culture set within our network of Oxford students and alumni, has always been that of responsible business and people first.
The amazing response from the ventures has demonstrated this – Over a weekend the team at Nye Health gathered for emergency talks and mapped how their GP-to-patient remote consultation platform could help save lives immediately. In a few short weeks they scaled from 200,000 patients, to the Nye Phone now within the reach of 10 million people. Oxwash have used their eco-friendly laundry business to launder scrubs and PPE equipment for the NHS, and to crowdfund to offer free washes to the vulnerable and elderly in Oxfordshire. They have also just announced that they have raised $1.7m from investors, including the Foundry’s Advisor Biz Stone, Cofounder of Twitter. The brilliant Myo team have been rolling out their communication platform free to care homes for residents to keep in touch with their families, Scoodle are helping parents get tutoring for their kids, and many more fantastic stories.
The agility and compassion they’ve all shown has been incredible. This is a challenging time for start-ups, but their first thought has continued to be how they can help others. The growth, delivery and impact they have had over the last month has been phenomenal – they’ve helped address a wide variety of challenges we’re collectively facing, and are looking ahead to how to help rebuild society and add as much value to society and the economy as possible.
As well as supporting the scaling of our ventures, we are also focusing on building solutions to challenges we will face further down the line as a result of the pandemic. We all know that in Oxford we have access to exceptional student and alumni talent, so we’ve created the Rapid Solutions Builder. This new two month programme is helping build, scale and implement four innovative solutions to some of the secondary and tertiary challenges we’ll face from Covid-19 such as mass unemployment, financial inclusion, and mental health support provision.
To support these solutions we’ve convened an international taskforce of leading entrepreneurs, policy-makers, academics, business leaders, and public and private organisations. We’re also pulling together a talent pool of over 100 student and alumni volunteers at Oxford, across all four divisions and 38 colleges– who are donating their time, experience and expertise to support ventures and the new solutions created. We are also working with partners including Verizon, Citi Private bank, WPM, Gyana, Santander, OSI and some brilliant student societies and we’ve developed a startup manual with hundreds of resources to help our ventures navigate through this time of change.
Last but not least, we’ve launched a start-up grant fund to give immediate grants to ventures and solutions generated from the Rapid Solutions Builder. This will ensure they have the vital runway they need, and are able to survive and grow sustainably.
This is an opportunity for us all to work together to reshape our new normal, and to consider and care for the people we impact through our work and actions. If you’d like any more detail about the Foundry or our Covid-19 action plan and how to get involved, you can find it on our website oxfordfoundry.ox.ac.uk or email us on [email protected]. Thank you!