Cambridge University Entrepreneurs Grand Launch 2012

Cambridge University Entrepreneurs vision to succeed

The 2012 Grand Launch had three inspiring speakers.

Lord Mitchell

Labour Opposition Spokesperson for Business, Innovation and Skills 2012

His normal educational experience was cut short when he was thrown out with Charles Satchi at 16. Out of school he covered enough material to attend Columbia to complete a MBA, then avoided the draft (green card) by returning to the UK. The MBA gave perspective.

You need passion for the product. Entrepreneurs are born not made.

SMEs are really important to modern societies and the UK is best for SMEs in Europe. However, we have to encourage acceptance of failure in the UK, it is more culturally acceptable in the USA. “Failure is a life learning experience.” People say the UK automobile industry is being eroded but more cars are made in the UK than ever before.

Billy Boyle

CEO of Owlstone Tech

Owlstone Tech develops chemical sensors to detect explosives on board public transport and diseases through breathalysers. They formed the product by combining emergent technologies. The company is not yet profitable, but most companies take 5–10 years to get to this stage.

He was inspired into action by Seneca’s On The Shortness Of Life. Why act now? You have the least to lose in your early twenties and can afford to take a risk. He also recommended Founders at Work (stories of startups’ early days).

In Cambridge you can write sqrt(i) in a pub toilet and come back 15 minutes later to find the answer (Champion of the Thames). On Coldhams Lane Chimney: “If not now, when?”

“No” is the most common word he heard in the last 8 years. He joked with co-founders about going to Starbucks and asking for a coffee — “no”.

  • Remember knowledge of a subject is a poor substitute for experience of it
  • Respect the power of cumulative advantage
  • Qualify ideas with the outside world (not friends in Cambridge)

Dr Darrin Disley

Horizon Discovery

“How am I going to kick the shit out of the day?”

Kicked out of school at 15, released from professional football at West Ham at 19. He then started businesses, giving away half of first million to show money was not the driving factor. They included:

  • BodyShop — be able to survive until opportunities present themselves
  • Adapative — needed £20 million of investment, folded it

The first step is the hardest, turning £100 into £1000. Scaling that up is easier. Afford success and failure the same respect.

The UK has 11% of all citations in science. There push for science and an entrepreneurial society. The corporation tax is 10%, there is no point going offshore.

Decisions are made by those who show up. —Barack Obama

An attendee asked how he compared himself to Richard Branson. Mainly scale and that his characteristic is disrupting many different industries.

I raised my hand when he asked “are you an entrepreneur (at heart)?”


Before they started, I met a group of MBA students from the Judge Business School. One woman was in the formative stage of an entrepreneurial venture but the name and product were under wraps.

In the theatre, I sat down next to the usability expert John McMillan who started and sold many businesses, but kept hands-on and still took contract work from time to time. His book How to write software for sale has useful chapters on planning, marketing and efficient construction.

See also