The questions we get asked most often are “When did you start?”, “How did you start?”, and “Why did you start?”. So, here’s a post that outlines our origin story; how and why we started, who is involved, and what we want to achieve.
The motivations that sparked RI came out of a conversation between Bogdan Knezevic, one of our co-founders, and his childhood friend Ahmed, back in January, 2017. The topic of conversation: the incredible breadth and depth of ideas, experiences, and personalities represented by the Rhodes Scholar community; a group comprised of ~100 new Scholars each year, from ~50 countries around the world. Ahmed, an engineering graduate of the University of Waterloo who worked at Google before moving to help build Socratic, remarked how the Rhodes community seemed like the ideal place to form a co-founding team and launch a venture. ‘It must be happening all the time’ was his sentiment.
It wasn’t. Or, if it was, no one was really talking about it and no one was actively supporting or encouraging it.
It was a no-brainer to us: if you have a group of diverse, driven, bright young minds physically brought together specifically by their desire to lead and impact the world in positive ways, they should be encouraged to start their own ventures (we define venture as something that can fall anywhere along the ‘profit — non-profit’ spectrum).
And so, RI was built with the purpose of cultivating an entrepreneurial ecosystem within the Rhodes community, in order to help grow tangible and impactful ventures.
This is the gap that we are actively trying to fill in numerous ways, as we continuously identify new angles from which to approach this challenge.
The exciting thing about RI is that we are, essentially, a start-up for start-ups. This is the mentality that we have had since day one, and, as any start-up knows, team composition matters. From the get-go, we were certain that:
- We needed committed team members that deeply believed in RI’s mission.
- We needed diverse team members, both in terms of experience and in terms of strengths.
- We wanted a flat hierarchy with an open, fluid culture.
In addition to Bogdan, the core founding team is comprised of four other individuals — Tinashe Chandauka, Jessica Price, Jonas Bovijn, and Jade Leung. We are three men and two women. We come from South Africa, Canada, and New Zealand. We have backgrounds in engineering, medicine, and neuroscience. We are PhD students studying genomics, drug discovery, policy, primary care, artificial intelligence, and surgical team dynamics. Collectively, we have experience starting, building, and growing various ventures; student-run, non-profit, and for-profit. This diversity in thoughts, experiences, and passions is central to who we are. Our personalities are distinct; we complement each other in our behaviour and in our communication. We challenge each other in productive ways; we respect each other; we listen to one another. Our disagreements make RI better. It’s not always easy having five strong personalities in a room together, but we’ve struck a great balance that allows us to make strides while also having a great time doing so.
Currently, we’re in the middle of one of our six-week INCUBATE cycles where we are guiding teams through the early stages of conceptualising and designing their ventures. Prior to that, we held an IDEATE event that brought students together over the course of a dense, high-energy weekend. And before all that, we presented the early outline of our idea at the inaugural Rhodes Ventures Forum in June, 2017. Each of these stages was the culmination of many hours of work — brainstorming, discussing, researching, emailing, compiling, designing.
Importantly, we always remain centred around our key question: how can we challenge Rhodes Scholars to re-shape their idea of entrepreneurship, encourage them to incorporate an entrepreneurial mindset in their own problem solving situations, and support them in pursuing their ventures in the best way possible?
We’ve also integrated the wider alumni network into RI’s platform. At the moment, we have three advisors and 22 mentors, a list that is continuously expanding. Our aim is to keep growing and diversifying the people and organisations that we partner with, so that all future RI entrepreneurial teams will have access to an appropriately tailored support system. Part of our mission is building discourse around these various topics and encouraging multidisciplinary cross-pollination; we want to ensure that this discussion and collaboration is multi-generational and continues beyond one’s time as a student at Oxford.
So what’s next? Well, for starters, we’re planning an end-of-cycle event that will provide teams with an opportunity to step back, reflect on their progress, and define their next steps. We’re also working on setting up some frameworks for teams with more mature ventures to plug into, including investor tours and prize pools, and we’re continuously exploring creative ways in which we can build partnerships. We’ve gained substantial momentum since our launch in October, and we’re excited to keep growing and learning!
Thanks for reading!
The Rhodes Incubator aims to develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem within the Rhodes Scholar network. By providing the right frameworks, networks, and incentives, they aim to stimulate the maturation of ideas into tangible and impactful ventures.