by LAUREN CODLING
THE director of a new entrepreneurial space for students at Oxford University said she aims to create a diverse community where people with “different” perceptions can come together.
Anandana Bakshi, 31, has been working with the Foundry, a hub where students can be supported in becoming “the best entrepreneur they can be”.
She told Eastern Eye her hope is that the facility will help people generate “great” ideas, encourage them to start skilled businesses and make them more employable.
“Essentially, our tagline is ‘supporting students and smashing it in life’,” she said. “We all have different choices, we all have different perceptions of what success is and we just want to support students in choosing whatever they want.”
Since Apple CEO Tim Cook opened the centre in early October, more than 600 Oxford
students who have joined the Foundry; 130 students registered to attend the first
workshop hosted by the space.
Indian-origin Bakshi grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. Her maternal grandfather
was a goldsmith in Kenya and when she was younger, Bakshi would join her mother at
international jewellery fairs. On her father’s side, the family has a mass condiment production business.
“As cheesy as it sounds, it is my DNA,” Bakshi laughed. “I love it.”
Having previously worked at King’s College in London for four years, Bakshi helped develop the Entrepreneurship Institute. The scheme helped to build student’s confidence and encouraged them to learn leadership skills.
The success of Bakshi’s work at King’s led her to Oxford. She knew Brent Hoberman, the chair of the advisory board at the Foundry and one of the co-founders of lastminute.com, and she reached out to him earlier in the year.
“I said to him, ‘I’ve been at King’s for four years now, it’s going well, but I need a new
challenge,’” she recalled. “I love feeling challenged, I love learning and growing.
“I just thought it was time.”
Although she was unaware of the Foundry project at the time of her initial discussions with the Dean of Business at the prestigious institute, she was eventually hired as the inaugural director. She was given the task of working with a brand-new project, from designing programming to building an innovative team.
The project has not come without obstacles, however. The former Labour councillor
admitted a future challenge will be to guarantee that students will continue to engage with the Foundry.
Language, she said, is key, as some students may find the term ‘entrepreneur’ offputting.
Diversity too, is important to Bakshi, and she wanted to make sure students from all different areas come together and feel the Foundry is applicable to them.
“If you put forward positive role models who are relevant and have entrepreneurial skills, such as Shakespeare for history students or [boxer] Anthony Joshua for those interested in sport …these are [qualities] we want to instill within our student bodies,” she explained.
Oxford has been criticised for a lack of diversity, with recent figures revealing only 35 black students were accepted out of 2,210 placed UK applicants to the university last year.
Growing up in Watford, a multicultural hub in northwest London, Bakshi said she has always been exposed to a very integrated community.
“I have experienced that at Oxford too – it is quite integrated. I’ve met people from all walks of life,” she said.
She acknowledged that access has been an issue, but she stated the school was “working really hard” to solve some of the challenges and communicate to the student body and potential applicants.
For instance, Oxford introduced a LMH Foundation Year in 2016. It is a one-year, fully funded course that takes students from under-represented groups.
“One of the main challenges is the presumption that high-school or A-level students
think Oxford isn’t even a possibility,” Bakshi said. “It’s a personal motivator for me – students come from all backgrounds and in all shapes, sizes and colours.”