Inspiring Change Makers At Europe’s Largest Student-Led Seed Fund
- Universities are key to a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem, says the father of modern entrepreneurship Steve Blank
- Led by the Entrepreneurship Centre at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, the Oxford Seed Fund (OSF) is one of the world’s best funded student-driven seed funds
- The potential of SMEs for economic and social impact must not be underestimated or underappreciated
What does an online database for live music and events listings have in common with a Type 2 Diabetes reversal programme? And what connects these two innovative ventures to a Digital Solutions provider for African Food Merchants?
Seemingly very little. Distinct businesses, operating in different markets with presumably limited overlap in clientele. But they all share the same seed fund investor.
JamBase, Habitual and Orda Africa are just three of the many high-potential start-ups that the Oxford Seed Fund (OSF) has invested in to date. With an already impressive portfolio of innovative ventures funded, OSF’s ‘invested in’ list looks set to reach new heights with its latest announcement.
In recent weeks, it announced that it had garnered a major capital injection of £2.5M, making it Europe’s premier and one of the world’s most significant student-driven seed funds.
Led by the Entrepreneurship Centre at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, the Oxford Seed Fund (OSF), is raising considerable funds from Oxford Science Enterprises (OSE) to support start-ups over the next three years. The increase in fund size will create a five-fold rise in start-ups the OSF can support with pre-seed funding
For Oxford-affiliated entrepreneurs this news could be a game-changer, signifying not only an increase in access to financial support but also to the world-leading expertise available at the globally-revered institution.
The increase in the size of the fund comes amid consistently high demand for its oversubscribed programme, with more than 50 applications last year for its four-managerial spots. The 2023/24 programme has reportedly already received more than 70 applications.
“This is great news, not just here in Oxford, but for innovation and entrepreneurship across the world,” says Maria Zubeldia, Director of the Entrepreneurship Centre at Oxford Saïd.
“I am excited to see how this money will create more exciting opportunities, inspire change makers and be a force for good,” she adds.
OSF recently celebrated its 10th anniversary by welcoming renowned thinker, Steve Blank, to Oxford Saïd. Ahead of his attendance at Saïd, reflecting on the milestone moment for OSF, Blank remarked that “universities like Oxford are key to a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem…They have internal incubators, maker spaces, their own venture funds. They connect to the community; they connect to venture capital. They’ve become outward-facing. It’s a big idea.”
Saïd Business School already plays a significant role in supporting early-stage ventures. The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses UK programme is run in collaboration with Oxford University’s business school, helping small businesses and entrepreneurs create jobs and economic opportunity through education and business support.
Fully funded by the Goldman Sachs Foundation, since its inception, the programme has welcomed over 2,000 small business leaders from all regions of the UK.
“SMEs represent a huge proportion of firms that exist worldwide, as well as that of the global workforce,” he points out in an op-ed for BlueSky Thinking, Why Small Business Make A Difference. “Their potential for economic and social impact must not be underestimated or underappreciated.”
With such a staunch advocate for the value of small businesses in Dean Dutta, it’s no surprise that Oxford Saïd does so much for small and early-stage businesses.
And, according to Dutta, his business school’s activity shouldn’t be looked at as a mark of the school’s pursuit of a USP, but rather a reflection of Oxford Saïd’s awareness of an institution’s responsibility to support SME, as well as start-ups:
“Every SME deserves to benefit from world class teaching that helps them to grow effectively.”
The commitment of Saïd Business School to supporting business is clear for all to see. But what about their impact on the startups that have benefitted from the Oxford Seed Fund?
“To this day, we continue to have meaningful relationships with members of the OSF team,” says Dr Danae Maragouthakis, co-founder and CEO of Yoxly, a direct-to-consumer digital sexual health platform that received funding from OSF.
“OSF believed in us from the very beginning,” Maragouthakis notes. “They were wonderfully supportive – offering feedback or leveraging their network and diverse expertise.”
Since closing its pre-seed round, Yoxly has acquired over 3,000 users across the UK, secured new partnerships, and amassed an engaged community of more than 900,000 global followers.
But it’s not just startup founders looking for financing that OSF has helped. Participating students receive hands-on experience and know-how which serve their careers post-graduation.
Oxford Saïd interviewed two OSF alumni about their experiences as students on the fund. You can read that interview on BlueSky Thinking here.
With an already-impressive track record for entrepreneurs and students alike, a financially-bolstered OSF promises to have even more impact.
“This new, larger, fund takes us to the next level,” explains James Murray, Head of Investment at the Entrepreneurship Centre at Oxford Saïd. “It also illustrates the University’s commitment to support talented entrepreneurs, future venture capitalists and the thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in Oxford.”
This renewed commitment couldn’t come at a better time for founders. According to a study from Skynova, 47% of start-up failures in 2022 were due to a lack of financing. And so, with £2.5M fund available to invest, OSF will surely look to give a wide array of early-stage businesses a much-needed capital injection.
As the father of modern entrepreneurship Steve Blank, commented when visiting Oxford in the summer, “Never undervalue the importance of risk capital at scale in an entrepreneurship ecosystem.”