It’s only a few weeks to the end of my MBA experience, and I cannot believe how quickly time has flown by. I reflect on the excitement of the first term of Michaelmas, the intensity of Hilary, aka ‘Hellary,’ and the culmination of the final term, Trinity. In retrospect, applying to the Oxford Seed Fund (OSF) was the best decision I made during the academic year.
Of all the fantastic interactions through courses, interactions with professors, incredibly skilled fellow students from far and wide, one experience remains the most defining upon reflection: my role as the Managing Director of the Oxford Seed Fund.
Here are a few frequently asked questions to provide some background about the OSF. If you already know this, skip to the next section, where I share my experience.
What is the Oxford Seed Fund?
The Oxford Seed Fund is part of the Entrepreneurship Centre (EC) at Saïd Business School. It is a student-led fund that invests up to £50,000 in two startups every year. Every year, the previous Managing Director (MD) recruits the new MD, who then recruits the team of Directors for the year. So, in essence, each year, the team changes. The OSF has backed extraordinary ventures and unicorns over the past 12 years, such as Onfido and Go1. Other outstanding experiences include Hutano, Sociability, and many others.
What types of investments does the Oxford Seed Fund invest in?
It invests in pre-seed/seed stage Oxford-affiliated ventures in their earliest stages. Our sweet spot is a venture that has validated the problem somehow, perhaps built an early version of an MVP (minimum viable product) and is on its way to achieving product-market fit. The goal is to back founders at their earliest stages. The OSF supports these ventures with both investment and support from the Oxford entrepreneurial ecosystem. They also have to be Oxford-affiliated, which means that they have to be founded by an Oxford student, alumni, or faculty to qualify to receive investment.
Who should apply?
It is incredibly valuable to students interested in a career in early-stage venture capital or entrepreneurship. Essentially, if you’re looking to get first-hand experience of early-stage investing, either because you want to do that in the future or understand what investors look for as an entrepreneur yourself, then this is for you.
What are the roles?
The Oxford Seed Fund is typically a team of 11 MBA students. As the Managing Director’s role is to lead the fund, my role included recruiting ten other MBA students. There are two Deputy Director (DD) roles; DD Portfolio and Operations (led by Dhruv Sarin this year), managing relationships with existing investments, and DD Sourcing (led by Marianna Carranza), conducting sourcing activities. There are then eight other Directors who all do fantastic work across the board.
Although the roles seem prescriptive, this is not the case. Everyone on the team, for example, sources new investments and can manage existing portfolio companies.
Do I have to be an Oxford MBA student to apply?
The Oxford Seed Fund is open to all Oxford MBA and EMBA students. Because of the time requirements, it might be challenging for an EMBA student to manage this with their job. However, we have excellent programmes launched this year to increase participation with the OSF, including the College Scout programme, where we have scouts who help find our next investment across the colleges at Oxford. If their venture is selected, they get to participate in the due diligence process. This is open to all Oxford students (undergraduate and postgraduate programmes).
What would you say was the most valuable part of your experience as the Managing Director?
What I loved was how ‘hands-on’ the experience was. I had scaled startups in the past in leadership roles, first as the Country Manager of Uber in my home country, Nigeria, and the General Manager of Branch.co. This neo-bank used AI/ML (Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning) to offer credit by analysing smartphone data, building it to more than two million users. As I decided on my 'what next', the MBA was a space for me to reflect and chart my journey. I had three options: start a venture, join another high-growing startup and help them scale, or explore venture capital.
I loved the idea of supporting entrepreneurs at their earliest stages. I believe that great founders should never struggle to raise capital because building a business is hard enough already! But, I didn’t know a lot about venture capital in incredible detail, especially at what stage I’d find the most impactful, energised me and was the best fit for my skills.
So, I wanted to learn and gain information by being an investor first-hand. So, this was perfect for me, and it was the only extra-curricular I took because I was committed to giving it my whole experience, so I could leave informed about whether venture capital was the next step for my career.
It is demanding and will require up to ten hours weekly with ebbs and peaks during the academic year. There is a lot of FOMO with the MBA. So, between class prep, reading case studies and required readings ahead of the class, actual classes, extracurriculars, and socials, you have very little time left.
Instead of learning about early-stage investing via a classroom, you get to do it with the Oxford Seed Fund (OSF). One unique thing about the OSF compared with other university fund experiences is that the autonomy of investments remains with the students. While there is an advisory board comprising Europe’s top VC partners from ventures such as LocalGlobe, SeedCamp and AngelSyndicate, the decision ultimately rests with the student. This is critical to the overall experience and makes the experience richer.
As an OSF Director, you learn about being an investor by being one, and what better pool to source from within Oxford University? Did you know that, in 2020, Oxford tech hub received the second-highest investment, roughly $480m, right behind London, and was the second-highest investment growth in the UK, of ~250% between 2019 and 2020? It also produces the second most alumni-founded future unicorns. 
The most valuable part of the experience was simply the investing experience. You get to work with a fantastic team sourcing ventures by organising informational sessions, relevant fundraising events with guest speakers, teach-ins from industry experts, and meet entrepreneurs.
You organise, and assess venture pitches and hear their stories, ask relevant questions, go through a structured due diligence and evaluation process, carry out research, speak with subject-matter experts, write deal memos, organise the demo day and eventually give offers to ventures. That’s not all – you are also able to negotiate these investments and finally award them.
There are also other amazing external venture capital events and programmes, like the VCIC event; which was a super insightful three-day experience of simulating investments alongside a great team! Also, the famous SLUSH Conference in Helsinki, which unfortunately we were unable to attend this year due to Covid-19. Hopefully this changes as vaccination roll outs continue for the next cohort.
There is a lot of support from the incredible alumni of directors’ past. They share their experience with you so openly, guiding and connecting you with relevant resources and networks.
You’re also part of the heart of entrepreneurship within the University via the Entrepreneurship Centre. You are not alone; you also get to connect directly with other amazing entrepreneurial champions in the Oxford Ecosystem: Enterprising Oxford, Oxford Foundry, Oxford University Innovation, and the Creative Destruction Lab, among many others too numerous to name.
The entire experience was pivotal in my journey. It is a great way to get a first-hand feel of whether early-stage investing is for you and helps you take an informed next step on your journey.
Wish you all the best, and good luck!
Want to connect with me? I’m on Twitter: @mariarotilu