by Richard Lucas July 2019
I'm bad at doing nothing. I don't like looking at buildings full of people doing interesting things - I want to be in the building with them! While passing through Gibraltar in late June I met Professor Daniella Tilbury - The Commissioner for Sustainable Development of HM Government of Gibraltar, Honorary Fellow at University of Cambridge. She also leads the Cambridge Alumni Group in Gibraltar.
We talked and brainstormed about the challenges and possibilities of getting a CAMentrepreneurs group going in town. She suggested I write a message for her to share with the twenty-two Cambridge alumni in Gibraltar. It only takes one person (apart from me) to try to a group going, and the outcomes can be spectacular - attracting entrepreneurs who would never have thought that Alumni activities could be about more than watching the boat race, or fund raising.
I realised that my message to Gibraltar alumni would be very similar to that which I would write to Cambridge Alumni anywhere else in the world - (or perhaps for others wanting to do something similar among the alumni of their own place of study other than Cambridge). In other words a message for a wider audience, which is why I am writing this as a blog post (this way of thinking has a history*)
So here goes - if you are not in Gibraltar, imagine Searching for & Replacing "Gibraltar" with the place you are based. It's a longer message than the one I would have asked Gabriella to send on - as it is for a wider audience,
Message to Gibraltar based Alumni and Gibraltarian diaspora
from Richard Lucas, founder of CAMentrepreneurs, Economics 1985-88, now with 14 companies in Poland. UK, and the US employing about 600 people.
I founded CAMentrepreneurs in 2016 with the aim of changing the way that business and social entrepreneurship is supported and promoted among Cambridge University alumni, current students and others. I wrote a longer post about the desirability and possibility for a revolution in alumni student relations here.
What is CAMentrepreneurs and what does it do?
CAMentrepreneurs is an officially recognised Alumni Group of Cambridge University to promote business and social entrepreneurship among alumni, current students and others. It's non-profit and run by volunteers. We organise (usually) free informal meetups of alumni and guests in places where these goals resonate with at least some members of the local community. We do this in collaboration with existing Cambridge (and often Oxford) alumni groups, and often with other pro-enterprise organisations (alumni groups from other business schools, Universities, incubators. accelerators, co-working spaces, investment funds, government agencies and the like). Since our launch in December 2016 we have had 20 odd successful gatherings in Dubai, Edinburgh, London, New York, Sydney and Warsaw, and are planning our launch in Cambridge on 24th October.
We draw on my 10 years of experience as a TEDx Organiser - using TED->TEDx methodology to scale. TEDx is the largest voluntary idea sharing platform on earth - more information here and this global "mega movement" is brilliantly supported by a small team in New York. Like TEDx-es, we only launch in cities where there is at least one suitable person who would like to make it happen. The first meet up becomes a “test of concept”. I've also been deeply involved in building pro-entrepreneurship eco-systems over the last 30 years - and as an entrepreneur I've started, and/or invested in and sometime run more than 30 businesses) some of which are now market leaders.
The objectives of CAMentrepreneurs meetups are:
to provide support, education, inspiration and encouragement in a positive atmosphere for those who attend, no matter where they are on their entrepreneurial journey. It is not a club only for those who have already succeeded in starting their own enterprise, though we celebrate and encourage success.
The longer term vision is to have regular gatherings in major global cities, and perhaps meet once a year and have a local point of contact in smaller cities. If a CAMentrepeneur from another part for the world was looking to set up an office in Gibraltar - they would have a point of contact who can show them the ropes, make introductions, and vice versa.
Once our Cambridge group is up and running we want to facilitate and enable contacts to explore the possibilities of interacting with the Cambridge eco-system when members of the global CAMentrepreneurs community are in town. We are planning a launch event in the Judge Business School on 24th October - details here
The goals and benefits of meet ups are defined by those who attend based on local needs and preferences:
as simple as basic networking, as varied as:
providing investment opportunities for those with capital
entrepreneurs with sources of capital
staff for businesses with hiring needs
job opportunities for job seekers
potential clients, suppliers and partners for existing businesses.
Can so many things be achieved in a meetup? There are no guarantees. Success depends on leadership, enthusiasm, who shows up, who is committed and lends a hand. My experience as a TEDx Organiser and other voluntary movements shows what is possible at scale. If everyone shows up with attitude that they want to give more than they get, everyone wins. It has never been easier to get together with like minded people. In other walks of life such as Open Source software, and Wikipedia the power and impact of voluntary collaboration is beyond dispute. This can work among Cambridge Alumni too.
But...time is scarce... Why should anyone want to do this? While some of these benefits may emerge out of this initiative it is not guaranteed.
Why bother ?
It is a question of mindset and identity and is hard to quantify in statistical terms. We don't have a budget to pay for venues, let alone a Monitoring and Evaluation process. Anecdotally there are many examples where people have told me how their lives have been transformed by becoming aware of what an entrepreneurial mindset can bring them and then taking action. There are many practical benefits from mixing people who want to do things with people who have experience, contacts and resources. But ultimately it is a question of identity and purpose. Being at the centre of things, making a difference, and having an impact gives life meaning. It is challenging to do a workshop with some school kids, or mentor someone who can really benefit from your experience and expertise. Through challenges and getting out of comfort zones comes personal development. Along the way you will come across people and opportunities that otherwise would never have crossed your path.
Conclusions and a CTA (call to action)
If you have previously thought "Alumni activities are not for me" because you are busy, working and like to be productive - you may have been right. This is not to say that existing activities: talks by alumni about academic subjects, getting together to watch sporting events and socialising are not valuable. They are. CAMentrepreneurs offers an opportunity to find out if there is a demand and interest for something different. In America, Poland, the UK, the Dubai , and Australia (so far) there is strong evidence that there is a demand, if someone steps forward to take a lead. If you would like to try, or help someone who would, join our Linkedin, and Facebook groups, signing up on our webpage, and most importantly get in touch with me, and we will see what we can do.
https://www.facebook.com/CAMentrepreneurs-1657091887849096 https://www.linkedin.com/groups/12012315/ https://www.alumni.cam.ac.uk/group/camentrepreneurs
* Many years ago I wrote a column for a Polish business magazine based on answering questions e-mailed to me. Instead of my content being available for one person only, anyone reading the magazine could benefit. That was one of the motivations for the Project Kazimierz podcast where I often felt that if I was lucky enough to have the chance to talk to someone doing something interesting or impressive, it was worth sharing the conversation with a wider audience/