Keep calm and carry on

About the event

Peter Tufano calls on entrepreneurs to keep a cool head in challenging times and keep innovating to find solutions to world scale problems.

‘In a world on a precipice, facing global challenges and increasing divisions within and between countries, there is a need to keep calm in order to drive for change,’ said Dean Peter Tufano at the opening of the Oxford Saïd Entrepreneurship Forum 2019.  

On the agenda over 25 respected and renowned entrepreneurs and business leaders delivered globally focused, thought-provoking keynotes and panel discussions on how to start and scale a business, including specific themes such as robotics, fintech, the creative industries, energy, smart cities, and social innovation. 

After a calming mindfulness exercise the audience heard from Rich Pierson, who shared the story of his personal journey from a period of acute anxiety, through to becoming co-founder and CEO of the meditation app Headspace. Meeting his co-founder Andy Puddicombe was a ‘gift of desperation,’ he said, elaborating that when things are going OK there’s no motivation to change. The chance meeting allowed Rich to offer his skills in business to complement Andy’s knowledge of meditation, demystifying the practice and making it accessible to all. Headspace is now used by 42 million people in 190 countries, and as mental health issues and costs escalate beyond those for other diseases, it is helping to fulfil their mission to improve the world’s health and happiness. 

This positive mission was echoed by the Furhat robot who joined ‘the rise of the robots’ panel discussion. It predicted that ‘traditional robotics used in automation or manufacturing will become much more effective and will provide people with the opportunity to focus on more meaningful tasks.’ The discussion explored trends in the sector, the impact of robotics on jobs, and rights for robots following the news that Sophia the robot was granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia last year. Some challenging questions arose around issues with diversity in the industry where the pool of talent was said to be biased, but also around the stereotypical use of female voices in servile roles in virtual assistants such as Alexa.  

We are facing some really interesting challenges, but we have to keep calm; as entrepreneurs you have to carry on, you have important work to do.

Peter Tufano

Peter Moores Dean and Professor of Finance, Saïd Business School

If Pearson’s gift was desperation, ‘we had the “gift of cluelessness,”’ said Dhiraj Mukherjee one of the four founders of Shazam! ‘The one thing we had in common is that we knew nothing about music, and we knew so little about technology we didn’t know what domain of science to look in to develop the technology,’ he said.  But over ten years the team persisted against all the odds to develop new algorithms, raise finance, build and refine their business model, and create teams, all the while iterating to keep the business alive. Having been on the verge of having to turn off the life support system their fortunes changed in 2007 when the app store launched, providing a platform that was much more intuitive for the user and finally allowing them to fulfil their goals. After Apple acquired Shazam in 2017 Mukherjee has gone on to become an angel investor focused on tech for good. 

Seven teams of budding entrepreneurs comprising students, alumni and staff went head to head to showcase their ideas to an audience of invited guests including venture capital firms and angel investors at the forum's pitching event. The winners, HuCell, are focused on human stem cell technology, scaling it to make it faster, cheaper and more accessible.  

With panels throughout the day exploring the need to provide sustainable infrastructure for the growth in population living in cities; the disruption of the financial system challenging the status quo; addressing the urgent need to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees; and the role of philanthropy in driving social innovation, the focus of the day was finding solutions to seemingly intractable problems. ‘We are facing some really interesting challenges, but we have to keep calm,’ said Tufano rallying the crowd. ‘As entrepreneurs you have to carry on, you have important work to do.’ 

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