Pitch Practice Makes Perfect

The Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust (WHT) scholars have been developing business ideas during Michaelmas term as part ofthe Enterprise Challenge. The Enterprise Challenge has been an extraordinary opportunity to collectively explore some of the world’s biggest problems anddevelop business ideas to help address them.

Scholars preparing to pitch their ideas at the Pitch Practice Tutorial

On 29 November 2018 we got the opportunityto practice our business pitches and receive feedback on them ahead of the pitches to the business panel at the annual Practical Skills Seminar at Cumberland Lodge.

This was the first time that I had seensome of the business ideas since they were initially discussed at the Moral Philosophy Seminar in September. I was amazed by how far the teams haddeveloped the initial ideas and by the quality of the pitches. I have summarized just a few of the business ideas below:

  • DocLink is a mobile application that aims to connect patients in Pakistan with their personal doctors in an efficient and easy-to-use manner.
  • Project Dastaan is a project using virtual reality (VR) to transcend physical borders and promote cultural exchange by reconnecting individuals displaced during the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan to their ancestral villages through cutting edge technology.
  • Be CHANGE is a recycling initiative in Ecuador focussed on harnessing the potential of waste and reducing the cost of waste disposal in cities.
  • H2nOw is a network of water dispensers in developing countries helping improve access to water for people on the move in urban areas.
  • Bridge is a platform to connect individuals to volunteering opportunities in India. It was inspiring to watch Ayushi Agarwal (2019, India, Bachelor of Civil Law, Oxford-Hoffmann) present her idea so passionately and confidently.

The pitch practice session proved to be avaluable opportunity for the teams to learn from each other and to receivevaluable feedback from the panel comprised of Charmian Love, Libby Wood, Atherton Mutombwera and Elizabeth Roberts. The feedback that really stuck withme was:

  1. Using creative stories or comparisons is a useful way of connecting your audience to the idea that you are pitching.
  2. It is important to highlight your teams’ core competencies and diversity and what makes them the right teamfor the job.
  3. Framing the problem and presenting the solution early in the pitch is important.
  4. It is important to clearly articulate the market you are targeting and the business model you are using.
  5. The Ask. End your pitch with a clear request. This is usually a request for funding (in the case of astart-up), but it can also be for feedback on your idea or connections to people in the industry that may be of assistance.

The pitch practice session was a great way for teams to flex their pitching muscles. At the time of writing this we had just completed our Practical Skills Seminar at Cumberland Lodge and it was incredible to see how the teams had taken on the feedback from the practice session and improved the pitches even further. The pitches were full of innovative ideas, passion and confidence. It made me feel exceptionally honoured and proud to be a part of this exciting family. #WHTWishYouWereHere.

About the Scholar

Alan Clarke

Master of Business Administration (MBA), 2019
Kellogg College, Oxford
Weidenfeld-Hoffmann-Saïd/Chevening Scholar

Enterprise Challenge: Lessons Learned Thus Far

The timing of the Enterprise Challenge could not have been more convenient. I am a public servant and in the public agenda we have enormous challenges ahead: poverty, growing inequality and climate change. These are complex problems that need wide consensus and cooperation among politicians to be overcome. Yet, we face a highly polarised political environment and it is hard to find common ground on how to solve fundamental issues to ensure sustainability and growth. 

In a world that is swaying toward isolation and polarisation, entrepreneurs seem to have cultivated the capacity to break through politics and address issues more efficiently through iterative learning and testing. I found in the Enterprise Challenge the perfect opportunity to acquire useful tools from the entrepreneurial world which are highly applicable to the public sector. In particular, the Enterprise Challenge has taught us about the effectiveness of working upon feedback processes. We’ve learnt how to apply design thinking methods to improve policy decisions and were given the chance to design business models capable of scaling-up solutions for higher social benefits. Furthermore and most importantly, we were also given the chance to enhance our knowledge of the frameworks used to better understand and identify the sectors which contribute the most to a nation’s progress and change, decipher the underlying dynamics of these sectors and discover how to increase growth within them.  

Laura and Antonio sharing thoughts.

My fellow scholars also shared their main takeaways: Laura Aristizabal(2019, Colombia, Master of Business Administration, 
Louis Dreyfus and Weidenfeld-Hoffmann) stressed the importance of understanding the private sector when building a better society, because many of the most significant stakeholders in the world are no longer only countries, but also companies. Understanding the language and underlying mechanisms of any business is a key tool for leaders. 

Aditta Kittikhoun (2019, Laos, Social Science of the Internet,
learnt of the importance of narrowing down the definition of ‘customer’ for a business, to a real specific person with a name and a face, in order to humanise sales strategies. The Challenge helped him understand the importance of breaking down our assumptions of what the ideal customer is. This is important to mitigate the tendency of private sector companies idolising a certain type of ‘customer’ that may not exist in practice. This logic also applies to relations within companies; in a business to business setting, one should personalise communication efforts to specific persons inside that company. 

Mohsin Mustafa (2019, Pakistan, Master of Business Administration,
Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann-Lewis)
highlighted how the Challenge showed a real sense of what entrepreneurship is. Rather than showing only glamour and success, we were reminded that it is a journey with ups and downs, in which resilience is fundamental. 

Claudio Gonzalez (2019, Master of Public Policy,
Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann)
highlighted some key learning-points that are fundamental for any project, public or private, to be sustainable in the long term: pivot early, use survey insights and test iteratively. 

Finally, Ramon Narvaez Terron (2019, Mexico, MSc Evidence-based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation, Oxford-Hoffmann), who has worked in the government for the past six years, pointed out that having exposure to the Enterprise Challenge gave him new tools to address social challenges. Design thinking helped him think about citizen centred policies to better deliver public services. 

 A very popular Korean saying says that you can only see as much as you know. The Enterprise Challenge gave us new tools to face challenges that demand a comprehensive understanding of the world. I am very grateful for this opportunity, since I feel that I have learnt a whole new language.

About the Scholar

Antonio Beun

Master of Public Policy (MPP), 2019
Kellogg College, Oxford
Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholar

The Enterprise Challenge: A Platform to Bring Market Knowledge to the Table

Last Saturday, we had our third Workshop for the Enterprise Challenge with Charlie Curtis. The theme for this workshop was “Pivot and Present”.
In the first part of the workshop we reviewed the competitors existing in the market for some of our enterprises, the Hollywood Pitch feedback from the previous session, and the feedback that we received from our potential customers. These three steps provided the perfect background to learning about; how to innovate the business model for each of our ventures, and how to pivot, challenge and enhance the venture.

Once we had established the different reasons that may drive us to pivot our venture, we analysed how to increase evidence that people will buy what we are selling. To do this, we needed a vision about empathy and about who our customers are, and how they live their lives. We also needed to analyse the needs and pain points in the area of the product or service that we were wanting to provide. This enables us to understand the value proposition of the offer, see how real customers respond to it, and establish what features they like about the venture.


Brainstorming 101.

Later in the session, we talked about the Minimal Viable Product (MVP), which is the early version of a product, which is developed with just the minimal features that are required to satisfy early customers. We created MVPs for each of our ventures. During this exercise, we also discussed ways to pivot our ventures based on scale and impact and drew up internal business models to get a better sense of the market sizes we were addressing.

The most interesting part of the workshop was the explanation of the different examples of business and operating models such as; franchise, subscription, cooperative ownership, microfinance crowdfunding, etc.
The Enterprise Challenge is an opportunity for us to learn about business and entrepreneurship. Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholars come from different backgrounds and this is an opportunity for a person in any field of knowledge, to understand how businesses and markets operate. Learning about entrepreneurship gives us key skills and knowledge to make a real change in a world where some of the wealthiest entities are no longer countries, but companies.

Bringing together people from all walks of life and having them work collaboratively towards one objective is the essence of the Enterprise Challenge. Intelligent people with brilliant backgrounds and promising futures need the right tools and training to generate a sustainable impact in the world, and the Enterprise Challenge is just the programme for this.

About the Scholar

Laura Aristizabal

Master of Business Administration (MBA), 2019
Green Templeton College, Oxford
Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholar

“Nostalgia for Now”

The Stag.(Photo: Ana Lucia Azcunaga)

   Hello reader, my name is Claudio, Claudio Gonzalez. And you are?

We were just talking about the stag. . .I wasn’t there (too many coupons spent at the bar the evening before) but witnesses described the scene: It was just after 8AM when the deer appeared; its prodigious horns wrapped by the early morning mist. The stag stood in front of an enormous statue of George III on horseback. Despite the sculptor’s best efforts, however, the deer thoroughly outshone the monarch. 

 That was the last morning of the trip. Two days earlier, the Weidfenfeld-Hoffmann Trust scholars arrived at Cumberland Lodge for what was to be a jam-packed series of events: public speaking training, networking coaching, resume-writing exercises and most importantly, several WHT Enterprise Challenge pitches to an expert panel of business and thought leaders.

Breakfast in the grand dining room with Ana Lucia and Alan. 

First came the public speaking training. After a brief introduction, we were assembled into small teams of three or four and proceeded to our corresponding working rooms. There, one by one, the facilitators pointed a camera at our noses and briskly snapped, “rolling”. An awkward silence set in. Then, sitting with a sloped back and gesturing with wild-waving arms, I faced the menacing camera and spoke at a pace so fast that only small phrases were decipherable, but the overall meaning of what I said was hidden. That wasn’t the worse part; We were then all forced to watch ourselves on camera. It was painful! After around of feedback from facilitators and colleagues alike, every second round speech improved very noticeably (in my room, June Samo was especially impressive). 

A while  later we all convened in the grandest room of the lodge, where those brave enough were invited to put their new-learned skills to practice in front of the larger group. There’s scant room here to go into the details but one speaker is worth highlighting: Samuel Taylor Tagore (née Kapil Yadav). Dancing across the room as he spoke, our Tagore deftly conveyed the autumn landscape giving birth to the winter scenery, contrasting it with the change from shy caterpillar into confident butterfly. 

Learning how to network with Sue Tonks.

The next day the excellent Sue Tonks provided an insightful training on networking norms in the UK. But we were all mostly focused on the event that would take place later that night; the WHT Challenge pitches. When the time came, we all scrambled into the large room to face our colleagues and the expert panel. The projects were very diverse – from waste management in Ecuador to early education in Jordan – linked only by a clear social purpose. After every pitch came rounds of applause of varying length and excitement; as well as rounds of equally stringent questioning and supporting advice voiced by the panel. As with the speeches, there’s a lot to highlight here but only time for one notable mention. Project Dastaan, spearheaded by Saadia Gardezi together with a group of five WHT scholars which proposes to use state of the art technology to soothe deeply entrenched wounds. It aims to use Virtual Reality to take Pakistanis and Indians on a tour of their pre-partition homes. 

A fun photo with the full cohort of 2018-2019 WHT Scholars. 

               After dinner that night, the scholars once again came together in the large room, this time to exchange Christmas gifts. Predictably, the most common gifts were books (among them were Alice in Wonderland, Red Rising, El Señor Presidente, and The Choice). Less predictably, the second most common gift was stroop waffles (Dutch cookies). The evening was then carried forward by Zuzana Hlavkova leading on the piano, accompanied by Ramón Narváez on the guitar, and Moshin Ali Mustafa on surprisingly smooth vocals. The group fizzled after awhile, but some moved slowly underground, struggling to match David Hernández at Despacito. Witnesses of that scene were remiss to share the highlights.

An early WHT Christmas complete with Secret Santa gifts. 

 The last morning of the trip some woke-up early to walk to the statue with the stag; others lay in their comfy rooms an extra hour. Then, we all hesitantly packed into the coach that would take us to Windsor Castle en route to Oxford. As we watched Cumberland Lodge disappear behind us, Alfredo Ortega got it exactly right when he said that, “Being here is like a feeling of nostalgia for a moment that hasn’t passed.”

About the Scholar

Claudio Gonzalez

Master of Public Policy (MPP), 2019
The Queen's College, Oxford
Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholar

Just a Regular Lunch…Or Was It?

During the first week of the term, we were kindly invited by the Trust to a drop-in lunch at the Nosebag. The modest restaurant, located just opposite the historic buildings of the Oxford Union, has a reputation for being delicious and wholesome. I must confess that I initially thought this lunch would not merit a blog post. However, upon further reflection, I came to realize there is an extraordinary value and uniqueness to every WHT activity.

I was among the first scholars to arrive. Gradually, the others joined as well, each according to their own tight and intense schedules (business as usual in Oxford). Notwithstanding, the atmosphere in the restaurant was homely, soothing, and cosy. I shared my lunch with Aditta Kittikhoun (2019, Laos,  MSc Social Science of the Internet, Weidenfeld-Hoffmann/Chevening), Kapil Yadav (2019, India, Environmental Change and Management,
Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann)
and Mohsin Mustafa (2019, Pakistan, Master of  Business Administration, Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann-Lewis). The four of us come from very different places, but we are quick to have a laugh and to talk about the mundane and the not so mundane in equal measure.

From left to right Aditta, Mohsin, Alfredo

When people ask me about my colleagues from WHT, I always tell them one could write a book based on each of their life stories. Aditta, for example, is a really fun person to be around, with a witty comment always up his sleeve. A funny story that I later learned about him is that he was the first Facebook user from Laos. Ever. Kapil is a blissful and reflexive individual that irradiates positive energy. He is a passionate environmentalist whose work in India can inspire anyone.

For his part, Mohsin is a straight shooter; a very direct, risk-taking, problem-solving physician. Personally, I had previously not associated myself with many entrepreneurs. Mohsin is helping me understand that word. The way he approaches problems is very different to the mindset of a trained lawyer as myself. Always focusing on possible solutions, and rarely in the complications. You can learn a lot just by having lunch with him. This lunch in particular, included a very nice salmon quiche.

Listening to my colleagues’ stories is what made my lunch inimitable. This is what makes being part of the WHT family such an extraordinary privilege and opportunity. A pool of talented individuals from a diverse array of backgrounds that facilitate mutual learning. I now cherish each moment with this bunch, be it a moral philosophy seminar, a cup of tea, or a delicious lunch at the nosebag.

About the Scholar

Alfredo Ortega Franco

Master of Public Policy (MPP), 2019
St Hugh's College, Oxford
Oxford-Weidenfeld/Chevening Scholar

Quiet Leadership in Michaelmas Term

Early in the semester, I went on a run through the Oxford Parks with two of my new WHT classmates. The leaves had just started to turn in late September as we set out in the late afternoon. We agreed to talk on our run, boldly so, and we did. I learned about Alan Clarke’s (2019, South Africa, Master of Business Administration, Weidenfeld-Hoffmann-Saïd/Chevening) work in infrastructure finance and his desire to implement sustainable projects throughout Africa, and Kapil Yadav’s (2019, India, MSc Environmental Change and Management, Louis Dreyfus and Weidenfeld-Hoffmann) consuming passion for environmental justice and biodiversity conservation. Throughout our run, Alan and I noticed Kapil run off to the side or slow down to investigate or pick up objects one by one. Kapil picked up sticks, blades of grass, and other miscellaneous objects of the park’s ecosystem as he ran. He touched them, he smelled them, and I wondered whether he would taste them too.

He didn’t.

That moment has stood out in my memory over the last two months because it is symbolic of Kapil’s raw passion, and that of my other WHT classmates. We carry the weight of our passions to lectures, to debate events, to parties, and frequently we carry our desires for justice to sleep. We are here to pursue life goals that are intensely personal, not prescribed careers, and we sometimes lose perspective on these life goals when an essay or group project looms.

Kapil continues to remind me of this throughout the semester. Kapil is soft-spoken, sensitive, thoughtful, and even lighthearted. His acute remarks about microplastics on my sometimes hopeful Instagram posts on plastic-use are a somber reminder of why we need to value our field-experts. I thank him for recreating paintings with WHT students in the British parliament, and I thank him for remaining meditative and critical about his readings. I am immensely grateful for leaders such as Kapil in my life.

All of this is to say that my first semester at Oxford, despite the sharp and sometimes seemingly insurmountable learning curve, has confirmed in me my own passions. I have the utmost assurance that inequality and how it afflicts the United States through the unequal provision of social services is precisely what I can expect to consume me now, and for the rest of my life. This is the energy that WHT members share and multiply, and what has made Michelmas term uniquely memorable.

About the Scholar

Hanna Kamaric

United States
Comparative Social Policy (MSc), 2019
St Antony's College, Oxford
Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann-Grierson Scholar