Reflections on OSEF

4 minute read

MBA students Bartek Ogonowski and Youmna Sirgi share their memories of OSEF 2022.

More than 500 attendees came together at the Oxford Saïd Entrepreneurship Forum (#OSEF22) on 25 February. This included students, alumni and 27 global speakers.

The annual event was momentous as, for the first time, it was in a truly hybrid format, apt as it was taking place in Saïd Business School’s 25th anniversary year. The Entrepreneurship Centre asked several MBAs to participate in the event as panel moderators and exhibitors. We had the opportunity to co-host the event and felt so lucky to be able to be together in person, making jokes on stage, and sharing the experience with so many of our peers. Here are our individual and collective reflections about the day.

Key takeaways:

  • It is key to find the right balance between innovation and sustainability.
  • The world is going through a fundamental shift to an accelerated future in a post-pandemic economy, and it is up to all of us, as future innovators, to embrace these challenges and shape our future.
  • Start! Even if your action feels uncomfortably small – just start! As humans, we will fail at times, but these are all learning opportunities.

Bartek: What an incredible experience!

The day was filled with interesting stories and key lessons from prominent entrepreneurs, innovators, and business leaders.

The past few years have presented multiple challenges for the OSEF team – from snowstorms, to a heat wave, to a global pandemic. So being on stage this year, to welcome the majority of attendees in person, felt amazing.

We have experienced (and still are experiencing) a very disruptive world recently, and I honestly believe that, in times of difficulty, lies opportunity. The global speakers that we were fortunate enough to hear from are the ones who have embraced these challenges by taking the risks and that initial leap of faith, went against the odds and are now on an inspirational journey of success.

As a proud South African, it was an incredible feeling being able to welcome all attendees into the Nelson Mandela Lecture Theatre. And being in Oxford – an institution founded in 1096, which has produced and nurtured thousands of brilliant and notable minds throughout the years, the stage was set for a day of high inspirational energy and creative thought. I was hugely impressed with the ideas presented in the pitching competition and felt an overwhelming sense of pride to be surrounded by such critical thinkers and future global leaders.

There were brilliant speakers, it was a highly engaging and interactive event, and there was an enjoyable atmosphere throughout the day (which was enjoyed by all). I cannot wait to see the selfie taken at #OSEF23!

Youmna: The day before the OSEF, Bartek and I were sitting in the EMBA (Executive MBA) lounge trying to finalise our opening segment to kick off the conference. The Ukraine conflict had just begun to escalate and, as I stared at the news on TV, I kept thinking, 'Is this really the time for us to be throwing a big entrepreneurship conference as the world is shifting around us?' The answer is an absolute and resounding yes.

As I rushed between hosting duties throughout the day, I heard conversations in the hallways between attendees reflecting on the sessions they had just attended. They debated the best path towards net zero, the difference between ESG and impact in venture capital, and the importance of perseverance after failure. Angel investors approached pitch competition participants (both the winners and losers) to continue conversations about potential investments. Co-panelists huddled together after their sessions to further connect and collaborate.

We have limited control over the geopolitical forces that are at play in the world right now. But, we have full autonomy to continue working to change the systemic inequities that exist in our communities. Entrepreneurship is the pathway to do so.

More importantly, community-building is the pathway to do so. We might disagree on the best way to move forward, but we have only got a fighting chance if we continue to connect, debate, and discuss. OSEF was a great reminder about how powerful it is when people with ambitious ideas come together and I’m so lucky I got to play a small part in the day.