Working in the USA

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On Thursday 23rd June 2016, we hosted our fourth alumni careers webinar. The topic was “Working in the USA”, and focussed on the next steps you need to take to work and live in the USA.

This webinar was recorded and is now available here. Running Time 50 mins.

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk

Olive is the new Black

Alumni Stories, City News.

morenikeAfter seeing her first anaerobic digester in operation during her time at City, Morenike Idewu (MSc, Energy, Environmental Technology and Economics 2013) has been considering the ways in which energy can be used more efficiently, particularly in her home country Nigeria. She has since created her own energy blog thefutureisolive.com. We caught up with Morenike to find out why olive is the new black.

 Can you tell me about your time at City?
I had an interesting time at City University London. I’m a frequent traveller to the UK so coming to the UK wasn’t new, but studying with lots of students from different countries was. My course mates were from all over the world: Bangladesh, China, Morocco, United States, Iran, Egypt, Brazil, Greece, France, Spain, Sweden, Norway and Portugal. The cultural exchange both in and outside the classroom was a unique experience for me.

I studied MSc in Energy, Environmental Technology and Economics at the School of Mathematics, Computer Science and Engineering. The course covered a variety of topics in the Energy sector including policy, technologies, energy markets, energy purchasing and the transport industry among others. 80 per cent of our modules were taught by industry experts who came in to share knowledge with us directly from real life commercial and industrial experience; all this made the course unique both in delivery and organisation.

What happened after you graduated?
After I completed my course in 2013, I tried, unsuccessfully, to get UK work experience, so after my graduation in 2014 I returned to my home country Nigeria.

How did your idea come about?
During my time at City there were three things in particular that stood out to me. They were the presentation on Risk Management Principles during the course Energy Markets from the Purchasers perspective, an excursion trip to see the Anaerobic Digester at Harper Adam University in Shropshire and the presentation on Combined Heat Power by Paul Gardiner of British Sugar. The visit to Harper Adams University was the first time I had seen an anaerobic digester in operation – the plant supplied the power needs of the University and enabled them reduce their carbon footprint. British Sugar on the other hand have a Combined Heat and Power plant (gas and steam turbine) at their bio-refinery in Wissington; the interesting thing about the plant, apart from improving energy efficiency, is that the CO2 exhaust is channelled to nearby Cornerways greenhouse where tomatoes are grown.

It got me thinking about the many ways energy sources and their technologies can be used in various industries, whilst at the same time considering ways to reduce emissions sustainably and economically. So in 2015, I decided to put my writing skills and my interest in the energy sector to good use by starting my own energy blog; there I write about energy issues and report on events and news in the energy sector and how they primarily affect my home country Nigeria and Africa in general.

My objective is to educate, inform and possibly demystify energy topics and issues. My site’s name is thefutureisolive.com. I chose the domain name based on the colours used to represent the main sources of energy. In my opinion the future of energy is a blended energy mix of both fossil-based (black fuels) and renewable energies (green fuels); the composition of the energy mix for any organization, home or country will depend on what’s accessible and what’s affordable.

I have also had the privilege to attend a number of seminars, conferences and workshops in the last year as a media representative.

What has been the biggest challenge with regards to your idea?

This is still very much the early days so I expect more challenges as I expand and add other services, however I would say that the biggest challenge has been the multitasking that administrating your own site entails. My work is not limited to just content writing; I am also editing, networking, advertising, handling correspondence and graphics, researching and being a journalist, as well as learning a good deal of web development to run the site.  It’s like doing 10 different jobs at the same time and being the non-techie person that I was, learning a bit about web development was a challenge. The good thing is that there is a lot of online help for newbies.

What has been the most rewarding experience?
I would say feedback from those who contact thefutureisolive.com about topics and the companies I have profiled on the site.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?
I would say go for it! Even if you are afraid. Look for others with the same interests, study how they did it and reach out for help when you need it.

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!

Favourite place in London:  Bar Salsa on Tottenham court Rd
Favourite holiday destination:  Spain
Must-check every day website: Bellanaija.com
Dream travel destination:  Sweden or Manila (Philippines)
Cheese or chocolate: Definitely Cheese

The Airbnb of Meeting Rooms

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News , .

IMG_20160504_133248Ygal Levy (BSc Business Studies, 2012) expanded his world view through exchange programmes whilst at Cass, and he’s now expanding the minds of…anyone who wants to book a meeting room, thanks to Bird Office “the Airbnb of meeting rooms”!

Tell me about your time at Cass!

To tell you about my time at Cass first you should know where I came from. I am from Antwerp in Belgium – famous for its diamonds and port. I grew up going to a Jewish school from the age of 3 to 18, where I was surrounded by the same fifty or so people throughout. I call it a “cocoon” community.

At the age of 16 I came to London to visit my sister who was studying Business Studies at Cass and I was instantly sold on the University and its curriculum. There were so many international students at Cass and it really opened my eyes to a whole new world. This sneak peek was all I needed, so as soon as applications opened I had Cass at the top of my list.

My experience at Cass was amazing, especially because of the large network of student exchange programs that were offered. During my second year, I studied abroad at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) for one year; actually, after doing so I convinced my younger brother to also study at Cass and HKUST. 70% of the students were international and the University offers a broad range of exchange destinations to explore new cultures. I learned Chinese, travelled from Hong Kong to mainland China and practiced my Mandarin with the locals.

Most of the people I met in London and while on exchange are still close friends of mine. Recently, I travelled to San Francisco as well as Mexico and funnily enough I did not have to spend any time in a hotel, I knew people everywhere! Actually, I also got in touch with Bird Office through a friend from Cass.

What did you do next?

Following my undergraduate degree at Cass, I did a Master of European Business at the École Supérieure du Commerce de Paris (ESCP). I got the opportunity to write my Masters thesis about the EU container market for the largest container handling company in the world, PSA Antwerp, which led to a job directly thereafter.

They were looking to fill a specific position but after my studies I had a very open view of what I should do. I was only 21 and I did not know whether I would prefer sales, finance or operations, so I did not want to settle into any specific role; I wanted to move around and see what a large company had to offer. Since this was unprecedented, I became the guinea pig for the new management trainee program. I rotated through various departments; thus, I had gained a very holistic view of the company.

This rotation went on for three years and I really built up a good picture of what it was like inside the company. After about two and a half years I realised that I wanted to pursue a more entrepreneurial path and develop a new concept and market from scratch.

How did you end up at Bird Office?

Last year I was introduced to the two founders of the company through a mutual friend of a fellow Cass alumni. These two guys came up with the concept when they were in university. Over two and a half years they have grown from a start-up of two founders to a team of 25. They have received several awards and have featured in magazines like Le Figaro and on TV. It’s a great concept – it has changed the way people book meeting and training rooms. After several meetings the company awarded me the opportunity to launch Bird Office on the Belgian market.

So, what is Bird Office?

It’s an online booking platform for meeting and event spaces, whether you want to hire a small room or an auditorium for a conference, training rooms, or IT rooms for an hour or a day. We are now active in the UK, France, Belgium and Switzerland, and the website will be translated to Dutch in order to further expand to the Netherlands.

It’s a hassle-free online booking platform suitable for all types of companies looking for an event location and it’s able to offer better prices, thanks to our long-term deals with partners. Our partners are split in profile between those who have historically offered meeting spaces, and newcomers to the market.

We offer the classic options of hotels and co-working centres who have dedicated employees whose job it is to organise the hire of meeting spaces, but we also have added offerings like architects’ offices, lawyers’ offices, training facilities and university classrooms. These companies and institutions have a lot of rooms that are not in use all the time, so we can turn these in to B2B meeting rooms. Basically, any company can rent its available room(s) through Bird Office to gain additional revenue.

My role was to launch Bird Office in Belgium and the Netherlands and to create the partnerships (the offering of event spaces and meeting rooms on the Bird Office website). Everyone knows you can hire rooms at hotels and conference centres but very few know about those other meeting rooms in training centres, lawyer and architect offices etc. We have changed that!

Most of the people looking to book the rooms are companies or professionals organising meetings, but we also get entrepreneurs and recruiters using, for example, our smaller rooms for interviews as well as bookings for 300+ people auditoriums.

What have been the main difficulties?

The challenge is that when you launch a product that’s new to the market you are changing the traditional way things are done, so you need great communication to convey the benefits and time-saving of booking via Bird Office. People are used to booking events spaces or conference rooms in the classic hotels by calling or e-mailing the venue, which can be a very time consuming process.

Bird Office offers transparency on the prices, and a booking can be requested in just a few clicks without the need to wait for a reply. You know the exact cost when booking through Bird Office but there is also the benefit of a networking aspect.

We heard of one company that booked a meeting room at a university, in the auditorium, and subsequent to the event, the client suggested advertising its available job positions to the university students. The networking aspect can create unexpected connections!

The other main reason big clients choose us is the ease of administration and accounting. Whether you book a meeting room through Bird Office in Paris, London or Brussels you can access all your invoices on your online account.

Could you give any advice to people looking to follow in your footsteps?

I would definitely recommend to go on exchanges and fully immerse yourself in a culture different to yours. I left my comfort zone and went to London, Paris and Hong Kong and learned Mandarin, these adventures gave me the push to pursue a start-up adventure.

It’s hard work but when you see the fruits of your labour and obtain clients or partners it really puts a smile on your face. You’re not a number in a company rather you’re an asset. The concept has real added value and you’re an important part of the ride!

But what was also important for me before joining a start up was to get that experience at a large company. It’s a great learning school, like how through my job rotation I saw how departments work together and coordinate. Start up life is really exciting and fun and there is lots of networking to be done but you need to understand the building blocks first.

The secret is to find your skills, what you like, your passion, and then aim for the sky!

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!

Favourite place in London: I discovered this one recently, Bounce in Shoreditch.
Favourite holiday destination: Not strictly a holiday but going to Hong Kong and travelling from there, it was the best year of my life.
Must-check every day website: Bird Office, of course, and also Tech Crunch, which is about new tech concepts and start-ups.
Dream travel destination: South America, I’d love to discover it all on a backpacking trip.
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate of course – Belgian chocolate is the best!

From City Graduate to London Recruit

Alumni Stories, Uncategorized.

Ken K blog photoGraduating in 1968 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Ken Keable went on to become an activist in ‘the secret war against apartheid’. In his own words, Ken tells us his story.

Born in 1945 and leaving school in Walthamstow in 1963, I secured a student apprenticeship with the London Electricity Board (a fine, publicly owned organisation that offered good opportunities for working-class people). I was put on a four-year “sandwich course” (six months in industry alternating with six months at college) with the college part being at the Northampton College of Advanced Technology leading to a Diploma of Technology. However, while I was there the college was upgraded to a university and my diploma was upgraded to a BSc in electrical and electronic engineering. I paid no fees and I was paid a good wage – a fact that I love telling to young people I meet today, as it shows that things were not always as bad as they are now, and could be better again.

It being the 1960s, there was a lot of left-wing activity going on among students, but not, alas, at the new City University. Being a member of the Young Communist League (due to coming from a Communist family), I sometimes felt isolated and had many arguments with my fellow students. I remember the Students’ Union inviting a diplomat from the South African High Commission to explain apartheid to us. He said that white people had arrived in South Africa a few months before the black people came in from further north – he told us the precise dates – and claimed that this meant that South Africa belonged to the whites, implying that the black people were there on sufferance. This apparently justified the entire apartheid system. No-one challenged this argument. I was astonished by it but could not think of a suitable riposte.

In the autumn of 1967, I was a delegate to the London District Congress of the Young Communist League. There I was approached by the District Secretary, George Bridges, whom I had known for about seven years, and he asked me whether I would be willing to go on a visit to South Africa “to help our comrades”. I was deeply honoured at being asked. After sleeping on it, I said that I was taking my final exams in January and would be available after that. I met him again after the exams and he took me to meet a young white South African, Ronnie Kasrils (who was to become, in 1994, a minister in Nelson Mandela’s government). I had numerous meetings with Ronnie with the result that, in April 1968, I flew to Johannesburg with a false-bottomed suitcase containing 1,200 letters addressed to members of South Africa’s Indian community. Staying in a hotel for a few days, I bought 1,200 stamps, posted the letters and returned home. I had never flown before. I told no-one at all about what I had done. I found a way of locking the experience away in my mind so that it could never come out accidentally. It never did. I was proud of what I had done, and I still am.

After the Rivonia Trial, in which Mandela and most of the leadership of the African National Congress were jailed for life, the remaining members had to go into exile to avoid arrest and torture. Wondering how they were to carry on their liberation struggle, their leader, Oliver Tambo, hit upon the brilliant idea of recruiting white foreigners to enter the country and show that the ANC was not defeated. They chose London because there was so much human traffic from there to South Africa, and they wanted young people because they needed people with no dependents, as dependents would add to the problem if we were arrested. Ronnie Kasrils revealed a little of the story in his book “Armed and Dangerous – my undercover struggle against apartheid”, published in 1993, with a chapter called “London Recruits”.

My second and final mission to South Africa was in 1970. Together with my comrade Pete Smith, I went to Durban where we planted several “leaflet bombs” – entirely harmless devices, tested on Hampstead Heath, that blasted leaflets high into the air. We also set up a street broadcast, using an amplified cassette player. Only afterwards did we realise that similar things were done in five cities simultaneously. This brought hope to the oppressed people and signalled that the ANC was still alive and kicking. The most difficult moment came when, setting up the leaflet bombs in our hotel room in the middle of the night, I accidentally set one off, with a very loud ‘bang’. ANC leaflets were everywhere. Taking advantage of my white skin over that of the night manager, who was Indian, I succeeded in talking my way out of the situation and prevented him entering the room.

I kept all these activities secret, as did the other people involved. It became a deeply ingrained habit. In 2005, on reaching the age of 60, I began tracking down the other London Recruits, asking them to write their stories for a book that I edited. London Recruits – the secret war against apartheid was published in 2012 and is now being made into a documentary film, to be called London Recruits. All royalties go to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.

From the information gathered in the book, we now know that the London Recruits did similar agitational work inside South Africa at least once a year every year from 1967 to 1973. Recruits also smuggled weapons, helped ANC fighters to enter South Africa and did reconnaissance and other work. Three – Sean Hosey, Alex Moumbaris and Marie-José Moumbaris – were arrested and tortured. Some were students (mostly from the LSE) but most were young workers. We did not liberate the South African people – they did that themselves, at great sacrifice – but we helped. We also struck a blow against racism worldwide and against those forces in British society that were profiting from the apartheid system and supporting it in deeds while opposing it in words.

I love telling the story to young people because international solidarity and anti-racism are so much needed today and I hope our story will inspire them to work for a better world.

To buy the book or find out more please click here. You can also follow Ken on Twitter @KenKeable.

London Recruits is hoping to make its way to the Big Screen. To find out more, or to sponsor the project, please click here

Next Generation Entrepreneur

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News , .

IMG_0301Whilst at Cass, Alumna Ashuveen Linsbichler (neé Bhadal) (Executive MBA, 2013) met her partner Lukas (both pictured), and began her journey into the entrepreneurial lifestyle that’s been in her family for generations. She’s now up and running with VEVA, an app designed to make meeting up and going out with your friends easier by combining all the elements you need in one place – chat and venue search complete with reviews and offers.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

Wow – my time at Cass was intense! I did the Executive MBA, so I was working full time as usual and then studying on evenings and weekends. One reason we both started at Cass was that we were keen to start a business, it’s in our blood – both of our families are entrepreneurs going back generations.

I had fantastic times with great people. Cass really gives you an incredible network – for example, I met my CTO for our company here. I have nothing but praise for Cass and the support you get.

I learned great business tools and how to scale, but nothing really prepares you for business until you do it. It’s based on intuition and hard work – but the knowledge is all Cass. Most useful is business strategy, what is important on a more holistic view, how to structure the business, and how to speak to investors in their language.

What happened next?

An idea emerged in late 2012 around ordering and payment (then known as QPiranha) that was taken forward by Lukas’s MBA dissertation. I left my career in late 2013 to commit full-time to the venture to drive it forward and take the leap. The co-founder team was formed with complimentary skills, fuelled by a desire to innovate and a vision to make life easier.

We spoke with venues (pubs, bars and clubs) and found the order and payment space is tricky, and this is where the MBA comes in – how to turn it around. We learned that the venues could logistically not handle pre-order by phone at busy times, well, they weren’t interested – their biggest challenge is filling the venue off-peak. The issue was further compounded when we looked to scale the product. It could take six months to a year to integrate with a firm’s point of sale system, by the time we had 40 bars on board and were concerned people may stop using the app, thus limiting scalability and growth. The app was called Drinqsmart at this point.

We re-pivoted after this, to focus more getting people together and give people a tool to meet as well as finding promotions designed to get spontaneous footfall. After extensive user feedback the app went through a facelift, focusing on high quality imagery and an easy to use interface.

So, here we are, rebranded as “VEVA”. Now more energetic, about life and living in the moment – being able to see who’s free to meet and find a place or offer on the day, everyday.

Now it’s out there and people love it. We’re getting hundreds of downloads, but we want to push it to thousands. We’ve also got ~5% of all venues in London signed up. It’s an exciting time. I’m glad we didn’t give up on it even though it’s been a lot of work, especially alongside our other projects.

And what is the idea in a nutshell?

“Going out just got a lot easier!” VEVA wants Londoners to “Live in the moment” by finding a great place or offer to meet a friend on the go, everyday! No more long emails, endless WhatsApp groups, missed evenings or frantic web searches. All you need for going out in one app. People love the ability to see who’s free to meet by tube station; it’s relevant but not intrusive to people’s privacy.

VEVA shows you when someone is free to meet based on the closest tube station and allows you to find a place or offer based on your mood – a rooftop bar for a cocktail with the girls, a pub with sports for that football match or a bottomless brunch at a funky place in the West. You can always find a place with an offer tailored to your need (2-4-1 cocktails, free pints, or 20% off your bill), invite friends and let VEVA handle the updates – Denis is running late or Bea is coming at 7pm.

So what is VEVA exactly?

We’re onto something big. Imagine a social network coupled with a venue/offer discovery platform customised for going out. That’s VEVA and the future “How to bring people to places” and “a contextual way for venues to promote to mobile users – when they decide to go out”.

There are lots of apps that are location-based to help you find your friends nearby, but they fail to focus on the fact that you need somewhere to go. And on the discovery side, there are hundreds of apps for bars but they are limited because they focus on a small part of the big problem – “Where”, but we’re also thinking about the “Who” and “When”.

VEVA brings it all together – you can see Who is out, Where to go nearby and easily agree When to meet and chat about it all in one app.

Our users think it’s the future and once hooked use it every time they go out – the next big thing hopefully; discovery doesn’t add enough value, neither does social. We combine images from Foursquare with reviews from TripAdvisor and offers from Twitter (we have an algorithm that picks them up in real time) – all these mean we can scale quickly. We’ve also added a chat function that can be between two people or a group. WhatsApp is great for group chat, but it can be vague when trying to get together – here you can do the discovery in the chat and stay in the conversation. Some scenarios I’m sure we can all relate to:

1) You want to go out but you’re not sure if anyone is free – ping an email or message to 50 people or switch on the app to let friends know you’re free or see who is free close by. 2) You’re strapped for cash and need a deal – scout the web or open the app and filter places to find one. We also pick up last minute tweets by venues so offers are as real-time as they can be. 3) You just finished a pint at the pub and need to find the next place for a boogie – look at Google maps tapping on bars, reading reviews for hours or use VEVA, filter by nightlife and find the closest bar with the best reviews. 4) You’re planning a night out on Saturday but you’re not sure where to go – use WhatsApp and send a million links back and forth or setup a group chat on VEVA, send venue suggestions that you can browse in the app, agree a place and send an invite. And we’re only scratching the surface here.

App Shots_DiscoveryApp Shots_Social

How do you connect with friends?

VEVA auto links you with friends based on a two-way match on your phonebook. If both you and your friend hold each other’s numbers the website auto links you as friends. If you hold your friends number but they do not hold your number in their phonebook, or visa versa, the app assumes a one-way match and does not auto-link you as friends. Auto linking is built to protect user privacy and ensure false friends cannot add a user on their phonebook to track status or location updates.

How did the development go?

An intense roller-coaster ride – developing, testing, designing! We have managed to keep a core team of developers who are brilliant, love the product and find the project very exciting – it’s like building 3 apps in 1. With 40k+ lines of code you can imagine what a monster the app is, this is excluding the web portal for venues. What a project, what a ride!

We have dozens of integration points to give our app users accurate, real-time data: Foursquare for images, Tripadvisor for reviews and Twitter for offers.
And we’re only scratching the surface here – we’ve got sophisticated algorithms and logic refined after months of discussion and market testing: that’s VEVA.

What has been the biggest challenge?

Nailing the consumer angle. Me and Lukas both have a B2B background, and we had underestimated the importance of the consumer and how to get and keep their attention. There is no special tool for doing this, it’s trial and error and market testing to find the right approach.

If you could go back and give yourself some advice, what would it be?

Spend at least 4-6 months refining the concept with consumers before developing. Development costs (time primarily) rise exponentially with each new feature.

Also be persistent! Keep at it and never give up – it’s a hard journey and it takes longer than you think. You could be on the edge of something really amazing, getting to the peak is the hardest part.

What’s next for you?

Pushing VEVA out to a wider London audience and signing up more venues to get special offers for our users. We want to focus on traction and self-funding with revenue from venues. Once we hit the 25k+ user mark we would seek a Series A investment round to scale the brand to UK and beyond!

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!
Favourite place in London: Shoreditch and the City – it’s got the best pubs and bar concepts
Favourite holiday destination: Greece
Must-check-every day website: FT, Twitter, Time Out, Londonist, About Time London
Dream travel destination: Caribbean
Cheese or chocolate: Ooof! Depends on my mood – I’m a fan of both!

Download VEVA from the app store here.

Cass MBA Alumni Club in London

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News .

meetupCass Alumni Ambassador and MBA alumnus (2015) Doug Markey sat down for a chat with fellow MBA alumna (2004) Kal Atwal about MBA networking events in London. Here is what he had to say.

Q: There have been rumours about regular monthly socials in London for Cass MBA Alumni, tell us more …

The monthly socials were an idea put together by some of the recent MBA Alumni cohorts. We recognised people from different years socialised in different parts of the city. We wanted to connect a wide range of people from different backgrounds together.

Q: You are the Alumni Ambassador for the UK, what drove you to step up?

I believe that our MBA Alumni network is extremely valuable. It’s mutually beneficial for everyone to stay involved. Even if you only engage once or twice a year, you never know who you could meet or what path it might take you on. For me the Cass experience didn’t finish when my coursework finished. I’m always happy to step up to whatever extent I can help out locally or elsewhere.

Q: What is your hope for the future of Cass MBA Alumni?

Long after I’ve moved on, I’d like to see a vibrant active alumni community not only here in London but in every major city around the world. We’re starting out with MBA Alumni in London where Cass HQ is based and would like to link up with other areas too. So no matter where Cass MBA Alumni are travelling to throughout Continental Europe, Asia and the US, they will have people to reach out to. As well as having activities and events that are specifically for Alumni.

Q: How can MBA Alumni benefit?

One of the benefits of the MBA is being surrounded by people from a lot of different backgrounds and sectors. Once you’re back at work again, you’re likely silo’d within a specific industry dealing with a core set of problems and issues. Reaching back out to a wider network allows you to experience having conversations again with people with different perspectives and experiences. It’s mutually beneficial for everyone to stay involved. Even if you only drop in once or twice a year, you never know who you could meet or what path it might take you on.

Q: How can MBA Alumni hear more?

If you’re based in London, visit London or just want to be kept in the loop, here are 4 ways you can get connected:

1) Engage with us on Social Media. Our LinkedIn Group and Facebook pages are up and running. Here you will find out more about upcoming events such as the monthly informal socials.

2) Stop by the monthly informal drinks on the 1st Tuesday of every month, even if only to say hi.

3) Reach out to your fellow alumni and help us spread the word, meet up with them at the socials. One of the most important things for us right now is to get the message out to as many of the Alumni as we can. This would really help us expand our reach.

4) Keep your details with the Cass Alumni Relations Team up to date. This will help us invite you to events we will be putting on throughout the year specifically for MBA Alumni going forward. Click here to update your details.

Find out more about Doug and the other Ambassadors here.

Getting Graduates Hired

Alumni Stories.

afshinAfshin Moayed studied Sociology and won CitySpark 2011 – he is now focusing on his start-up Individuum, an online platform supporting graduate employment, a platform he set up after his first year at City. We caught up with Afshin to ask him how he did it.

Tell me about your time at City!
I started at City at the end of September 2011. I had initially chosen to study sociology and psychology but I wanted to widen my course choices, so I opted for sociology instead and had the pleasure of attending classes in economy and politics as well. Also, I didn’t stay at City halls which made socialising a challenge!

I joined a few societies but realised I needed something else. Three months into my degree I saw an advert for CitySpark, [a business design and doing competition that helps City students and recent alumni to develop a business idea]. I decided to enter and teamed up with a friend, also a 1st year. Neither of us had a business degree, but we won! It felt different but good to be surrounded by business students and after that experience I felt more involved at City. I realised that what you get back depends on how much you are willing to be involved.

After the competition I was feeling pumped up and started applying for internships at banks. I didn’t have much success but I started to understand that there are unwritten rules for creating a CV – what to include, what to exclude, that sort of thing. Coincidentally, during the last month of my first year, friends of mine from Luxemburg asked me to join a project they were working on and this turned out to become Individuum.

So what exactly is Individuum?
Individuum is a solution to the problem of graduate recruitment and more generally young hires that have less than five years of experience. It’s not about the meeting of two people; we’re asking (and answering) the question ‘how do you get people hired?’ Individuum hosts both company and candidate profiles. Rather than waiting weeks for the outcome of an application, through Individuum you can receive a response straight away. We’ve tried to make it collaborative by engaging employers and actually let both parties engage on the platform. Individuum is user friendly and smart and employers can track the progress of candidates, run live interviews, negotiate contracts etc, really be involved in their hiring process and manage their workflow seamlessly. Individuum takes you through the whole process – from the moment you’re looking to hire, to the point of signing a contract. We just want to make life easier for both parties. The beauty of it is that it is as suitable for SMEs as for larger corporations

What has been your biggest challenge?
Being a young first time entrepreneur means you have to learn a lot by making mistakes. You have to make sure you surround yourself with the right people so that you can reach out to them, bounce ideas off of them and seek advice from them. At first we probably came across as bold or rude when we were the new kids on the block trying to find our path but you come into illumination as you persevere.

What has been the biggest reward?
I’ve learnt so much – which you can’t find in a book! It’s amazing the people you meet too – like directors and CEOs. I’ve dealt with and have been exposed to more directors and CEOs in the last two years than I would have anywhere else. It’s fulfilling to be able to make an impact on them and share what you’re working on. I now have skills I didn’t think I had and that I could only have developed out of the situations I was in.

Any advice to others looking to follow in your footsteps?
Go to events before you start your project. Stop going to events once you start your project! From that moment onwards be focused on the product that you are building and make sure you’re doing it solely with the aim to solve a real problem. Once you are done with the first version, talk to as many people as you can to gather feedback and constantly improve and innovate from there on.

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!
Favourite place in London: Shoreditch
Favourite holiday destination: Rome
Must-check every day website: Facebook
Dream travel destination: Argentina
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate

Whether you’re looking for your first job or you have posts you’d like filled by City graduates, check out Individuum here .

Innovation + Creativity + Leadership

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News , .

workshopsMila Kayukala (centre in photo) studied MSc in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership (2014) and has now applied everything she learned to form her new venture, OffWeGo, promoting creative and innovative thinking, through workshops in unusual locations and special team challenges.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

The Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership (MICL) was an amazing choice! When I came to the degree (I still remember the night when I first read the course description and could not sleep because of excitement) I had tried lots of different industries. I did a BSc in Teaching English and German and I had lived and worked in countries like Belarus (where I’m from), Russia, USA and Singapore.

I needed a new turn in my life and career as most of my cohort (MICLers) who eventually set up their own companies, launched successful Kickstarter campaigns, joined great startups and got promoted in their companies. I am grateful for my MICL network influence and my course content which motivated me to get out of my comfort zone and start my own creative business. That was a big shift in my mindset and an overall amazing experience.

I studied full time, which was certainly an immersive experience. My course included modules at The City Law School, Cass Business School, the School of Arts and School of Social Sciences, the School of Mathematics, Computer Science and Engineering and studying at five schools at the same time was mind-blowing! For example, we were writing film scripts and short stories, facilitating creative problem solving workshops, designing new apps and analysing IP court cases all in one semester! It allowed me to “taste” each discipline and bring everything together in my research project.

I developed an Innovation assessment tool for highly innovative companies and applied it to 3M, Virgin, Samsung, IBM, Castrol InnoVentures and Barclays. Cass gave me the necessary access to big companies. It was really challenging to analyse those companies’ innovation through interviews with the Heads of Innovation, R&D departments and report back saying “You’re great but you can still improve this and that”. I needed strength and nerve to do that and my supervisor and advisor supported me throughout my ambitious journey. I was trembling but I did it. Half way through the project I realised that I was acting as a consultant and that gave me more confidence and valuable experience which is at use now.

Do you keep in touch with any of your MICL cohort?

We do and not only socially but professionally as well. We meet almost every month for our MICL Innovation Hub where we do presentations and share experiences with each other as we have common interests, plus we support each other and ask for help or even do joint projects!

I understand you need a visa to stay and work here?

After completing this course, for the first time in my life I considered working for myself and established my business. I’m very fortunate to have been put forward for a graduate entrepreneur visa, which needed to be endorsed by the university, so thanks to Ben Mumby-Croft, who believed in me. I’m now in the 2nd year of my visa, and thanks to Alex Elkins who supported my visa extension, I’m the first student at the University to do this. I have just 10 months left to prove that my business is worth of getting a full-time entrepreneur visa! I’m under a lot of pressure but I’m looking at it as a creative trigger to push me forward and make me achieve my goals faster.

My visa, new knowledge and skills, business opportunities, unique MICL network as well as a free co-working space and mentor sessions – I have gained all this in doing my course at Cass and City University so I am very happy with my ROI of £20k – which was a big but 100% worthy investment, which changed my life as I aimed for.

How did you come up with the idea and why creative thinking?

The idea came directly from my degree: we had several modules on creative problem solving, using art for business, creating a climate for innovation. So I decided to combine it all together and make a ‘package’ of workshops and challenges. I believe people can be happier plus more efficient, and businesses can succeed faster by using creative thinking more often and applying it to various aspects of life and work. And I am proving it with my OffWeGo services.

Also, I strongly believe everyone is creative. There is no need to be in arts, or the start-up world to be a “creative type”, it just requires belief and wish to try new out and implement creative ways of doing usual tasks more efficiently and pleasantly.

My approach is that I kick-start new thinking with ‘Out of the Office’ workshops. At museums, galleries, and parks there are no post-its, no whiteboards, no walls, basically, no room for traditional thinking and teamwork, we are constantly on the go – hence the name, OffWeGo. I use museums and art in a new way to inspire new thinking and to learn about ourselves.

Usually, workshops are combined with bespoke creative challenges for teams to stimulate gradual changes. And outcomes differ from team to team, for some – creative approaches implemented in working processes, for others – creative problem solving skills gained, or internal and external communication improvements, or team climate shift.

Where next?

I think OffWeGo has great potential. Some companies offer creative workshops in traditional office setting or rented museum boardrooms, but nobody is doing it my way at the museums on the go.

You have to have energy and charisma to do this job, which is challenging, but when people appreciate themselves and their colleagues and art in a new way it is rewarding. It’s been an interesting journey so far! I don’t really know where I’m going! Currently, I’m focussing mainly on universities and hotels, but my workshops can be used in various contexts. There have been many changes from the initial idea as I tailor my workshops to each team. This project is like a new little child who keeps growing and changing and I keep on adjusting and improving, looking for new opportunities and new partnerships with museums and galleries.

I’m also looking at developing a longer programme, probably together with my MICL network. It’s ok to be working as ‘one person company’, but joint effort is much better. My fellow cohort has such a variety of expertise, skills and knowledge that I want to tap in and create extended programs together.

Another direction I want to focus on is offering more online services. At the moment, there is only a free seven-day Creativity@Work challenge sent to the subscribers by email and it is a taster of what team challenges could look like. I am planning to prepare ready to use team challenges so that leaders can purchase online and then proceed with customised versions and ‘Out of the Office’ workshops.

What have been the biggest challenges?

Overcoming my inner “gremlin” who likes to discourage me, doubt my capabilities and goals is the number one challenge. I keep on shutting it up and I’m getting better, as now I have a couple of great mentors, peer support in my co-working space and positive feedback from OffWeGo participants, some of whom have gone to become my ambassadors and “angels”. It’s very encouraging. Actually, keeping on doing it no matter what helps most to strengthen my confidence, especially as I have no business pedigree or business education apart from my Masters.

Recently, I started to attend more female entrepreneurs’ events – ladies have similar struggles. While many men tend to project themselves as superheroes and their businesses as the best ever, most ladies are timid when presenting their business ideas and sharing successes.

Developing OffWeGo on my own is challenging as well. I keep on talking to myself aloud when making decisions as I’ve nobody to bounce ideas off and I suspect with a co-founder I could have moved faster. So attracting a like-minded person is a possibility I am considering.

Do you have any advice you would give?

I wish I had a business partner next to me all the time! So if you are by yourself, a mentor or a coach is of great help and moral support.

Also, I’d advise you to talk to as many people as possible, sharing what you are doing not asking for approval or feedback, but just sharing what you are working on, what challenges you have. Speak up and ask for advice. If you don’t ask people don’t know what you are looking for that. There are opportunities in every chat, event, presentation or seminar.

I would also say, just get going and start up! I’m still developing my product and to do this I’ve offered 10 workshops for free, to both large and tiny groups. Before, I wasn’t ready to realise this awesome thing, but now I’ve spent six months on development when if you get input and information from others you can really speed up the process.

You can be an ‘average specialist with an average product or service’ and be very successful because you have spread the word about your business, you let the world know about you and how helpful you or your product is. Marketing is everything, as well as self-belief and confidence.

And the last bit of advice: accept the fact that your success and happiness is you’re your responsibility. Once you fully understand it you would start acting and believing more in your own capabilities.

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!
Favourite place in London: Hampstead Heath, but I also like to explore new parts – Harrow-on-the-Hill is my most recent find.
Favourite holiday destination: Mexico, I truly enjoyed learning about the Mayan culture in Yucatan and visiting their ruined cities.
Must-check-every day website: Tim Ferris podcasts
Dream travel destination: To explore other ancient civilizations and countries in South America like Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Chile
Cheese or chocolate: My autopilot response is chocolate, as I have a sweet tooth, but I’m trying to reduce carbs so I’ll choose cheese, especially if it is goat’s cheese!

More details and sign up to Mila’s workshops.

A Rising Star

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News , .

IMG_9713-1Sonya Barlow studied Business Studies and won Mentee of the Year 2015 – she has now moved in to the world of media and has been shortlisted in the 2016 We Are The City Rising Stars Awards. We chatted about how everything has happened so fast!

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I studied Business Studies with a year abroad in Italy in my 2nd-3rd year. I didn’t major in marketing or finance but in the 3rd and 4th years I was drawn more to communication and technology (modules like strategy for business, virtual organisations), more than the accounting and business modules.

I found my first year quite overwhelming and it was hard to settle in, but by the 4th year I really found my feet. I’d studied abroad and created two societies (including the Erasmus Student Network Society), found a mentor and won mentee of the year 2015 – my mentor also won mentor of the year!

Cass is not an easy university to study at – academically the courses are tough. Recently, I was out for drinks, and I met someone who learned I’d studied at Cass and they gave me a round of applause!

At the beginning I was stuck and didn’t know where to go – but then I found myself. Finding your personality gives you confidence that you can do it, you just need to work hard. I think you just need to work hard and exploit every opportunity. I went to networking events and M&A talks to understand the University and see the path ahead of me, and I also had one-to-ones with academics and went to alumni events – so that I could start to mesh real life with the university experience.

Working life is different! I want to study more, and I want to inspire and give back. I could end up teaching! Cass is very finance based, and there are more males – and like it or not we were encouraged to go in to a banking or corporate environment once we graduated. I’m not super corporate, I’m more marketing savvy and when you go in to the City it’s all males males males, so I’m thinking – how can I as a female do something extra to inspire and encourage?

How did you get nominated for this award?

The lady who nominated me for the We Are The City award, I actually met her through the Sprint London, a joint mentoring initiative for female students between City and UCL. She was a guest speaker from RBS who presented to at one of the events. I liked her story and was inspired by her so I kept in touch through LinkedIn. She sent me a message to say she really liked my progression and that I’m an inspiration, and that even though I am just out of university she would like to nominate me for this award. She said don’t feel bad if you don’t get shortlisted because you’ll be up against lots of people who have been in the field for years – whereas I am just out of uni. But I ended up getting shortlisted! You can vote for me here.

Who are We Are The City?

We Are The City is pretty focussed on finance and Cass is a finance school, which I think helped with the nomination. The City is still really a boys’ club so We Are The City was founded as a network for females in the City (it’s expanding across the UK and in India also now), focussing on technology and finance sectors. These awards are to celebrate female achievements but I don’t think it goes far enough.

What did you do next?

When I graduated, at the start I was afraid when I was applying for jobs at the likes of EY and KPMG, but after the six-month recruitment period, I reached the final stages, which was a real confidence boost.

I got all my offers from my applications, and rejected all of them, including EY. The partner who gave me the job offer said “if I were you I wouldn’t take this because you have too much personality to be in an office doing audits”.

Then I panicked! I went travelling for a week and came back to no job! I knew I wanted to go in to relationship management, not strictly media but to be comms based – so I went to a recruitment firm. After a week of looking for roles for me they wanted to hire me for their own vacancy – they had cherry-picked me. Unfortunately I was mis-sold the job as it turned out not to be about a brand partnership or relationship building, but instead was cold-calling, which did not sit well with my ethics. After five months I decided I couldn’t do it any more! I’m worth more!

Then in the summer I met with another recruiter and ended up being offered an account management job straight away after the initial interview. The problem was that it was with a start-up and it turned out they didn’t have the budget to hire me. Then the same recruiter got me in touch with dunnhumby. The interview stretched across two days and they gave me a media role in account management straight away.

So I quit the recruitment firm job, went travelling to Japan for two weeks and then started at dunnhumby. It’s a great company that’s really people savvy that lets you take the initiative, and ideas are encouraged. I never knew I liked numbers so much, and need data and insight. After six months I understand the positive and negatives of the company. I really enjoy creating media content, especially researching and writing blogs, and social media. I think I’m heading towards being a digital champion– in this day and age you have to conform or miss out.

What have been your challenges?

They are always the same for me. 1) Thinking I’m not good enough 2) Not having the confidence 3) Not knowing my values. These are the three things I’m firm on now. I know my values – the things that make me me, and I make sure that my job aligns with this. If you don’t have confidence in yourself how can someone have confidence in you?
When I went to Thalia at the Professional Mentoring Scheme, she said “you’re so confident, why do you need a mentor?”, but I was not really confident in my ability and I needed help and guidance.

Sprint London is for ladies to support each other and it’s taught me to have a plan, to know myself and to keep in touch with others. Everything is a learning experience, and for getting ahead at work, interview practice is key. Know why you applied for the job role and what you can bring and you will be happy.

Can you give any advice to others looking to follow in your footsteps?

Know your values and stick to them – this also makes saying no a little bit easier!

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!

Favourite place in London: Spitalfields Market or the South Bank
Favourite holiday destination: Italy! But I’m biased
Must-check every day website: LinkedIn and the FT
Dream travel destination: If I want to go somewhere I’m usually very spontaneous and book it. I’d like to go to a spiritual retreat though!
Cheese or chocolate: Cheesecake with chocolate!