It has always been a dream of mine to start my own business.
Fresh out of university without any knowledge or experience of running a venture, I decided to undertake MSc in Entrepreneurship at Cass Business School to kick-start my startup journey. I figured this course would equip me with international experience, technical skills and commercial abilities to start my own company eventually. More importantly, I was interested to meet likeminded people who had similar risk appetites and career ideals as me.
Image: Brainstorming & creativity problem solving activities in my Entrepreneurial Advisory module (May 2018)
With the modules covering a wide range of topics about startup ecosystems, I gained a holistic perspective of how to start and exit businesses. From new venture creation to funding new ventures, I learnt how to conceptualise an idea, achieve proof of concept and conduct feasibility tests on my business. Most of the modules involved collaborative group work and presentations, which was useful in understanding other cultures and conflict resolution styles. It also improved my pitching and public speaking skills and I personally enjoyed how it built my confidence. The lecturers were a mix of academics and professionals with industry experience, which made it very helpful when I was trying to attain insights on a topic, issue or industry. All this was valuable for what happened next.
Since starting school in September last year, I implemented the teaching from my course to initiate my own venture, Lonbrella (www.lonbrella.co.uk), London’s first umbrella rental service. I thought about this business idea one evening when it was raining heavily and I was stuck at Angel Underground Station without an umbrella. When I looked around the station, it came to my attention that I wasn’t the only one facing this problem. This was the “light bulb moment” when I realised there was opportunity for such a service.
I first pitched Lonbrella during our first class, New Venture Creation, where we had to prepare a business pitch for investors. The pitch was well received by the investors, lecturers and peers who then motivated us to pursue and explore the business idea. It seemed surreal how something that started as a mere idea now became a plausible business venture.
Shortly after that, I teamed up with two other classmates, Olianna Gonzalez and Rodrigo Camino and started working on Lonbrella. I definitely did not expect to start working on a business so quickly (it was a month after I joined the programme!). That being said, it was a very timely decision since I could apply my classroom theories and practices directly to Lonbrella.
Image: Lonbrella won CityStarters Weekend, a business competition (October 2017)
Image: Lonbrella won Runner's Up at City Spark, a business competition (December 2017)
Since then, Lonbrella participated in four business idea competitions organised by City University where we pitched to compete for funding and mentorship. The most recent competition we won was the GreenSpark award, an award rewarding sustainable businesses that help to reduce carbon footprint for customers. We also raised £2,500 in funding to achieve our next milestones. Here is a video we produced to include in our pitch: “Good Men Like Steven”. We are now fortunate to work closely with Santander Bank, one of our investors, that supports our brand awareness activities through pop-up booths in their branches.
Image: Pitching Lonbrella at City Spark, a business competition (April 2018)
Image: Lonbrella’s pop-up booth at Santander’s branch (May 2018)
Aside from competitions, Cass organised many networking events that benefited my professional network in London. Having spoken to working professionals from different industries, cultures and backgrounds, I developed a clearer perspective of my career options. The insights and knowledge gained through these conversations have helped me understand London’s working environment and employment expectations.
I also attended talks by Tom Blomfield (CEO of Monzo Bank) and Eric Ries (Author of The Lean Startup); both very successful entrepreneurs in the global startup scene. I found Blomfield’s journey very inspiring, as he is one of the best examples of a modern-day entrepreneur who successfully innovated within the financial industry; known to be cumbersome, expensive and complex. For Ries, there is no doubt that he played a significant role in my academic and entrepreneurial course thus far. He taught me that entrepreneurship is ultimately about company building to maximise creativity and productivity potential of all members in the organisation.
Image: “The Startup Way” book launch with Eric Ries, author of The Startup Way
I am grateful for Cass’s MSc Entrepreneurship course for introducing me to the incredible friends I have made throughout the year. Although my class is relatively smaller than other courses, this was a blessing in disguise because we grew close quickly. As a cohort, we hang out outside of school and often attend different events from dinner parties to rock climbing sessions. Furthermore, I was so lucky to meet my co-founders in this class. To me, it is truly incredible that we are all gathered here in London, bonded by our common interests of entrepreneurship and innovation.
Image: Self-organised class trip to Edinburgh, Scotland (February 2018)
Image: Class visit to Tech Hub, the global community for tech entrepreneurs and startups (May 2018)