We spoke to Maria Rotilu, Managing Director of the Oxford Seed Fund, to find out more about this well-established VC fund right on our doorstep. She is completing a MBA at the Saïd Business School.
How did you get involved with the Oxford Seed Fund?
The Oxford Seed Fund (OSF) is an initiative of the Entrepreneurship Centre at the Saïd Business School. The OSF is a student-led VC that invests up to £50,000 in the top Oxford-affiliated startups and provides them with the network and support they need to scale. Every year, there is a recruitment process for the Managing Director position. I applied and got the role.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities as the Managing Director of the OSF?
A typical day involves working on several initiatives like venture sourcing, due diligence, portfolio management, and team management. The team is student-led and changes each year, so the MD is primarily responsible for recruiting the team every year.
When that is complete, the MD manages the team to set and achieve goals across those verticals. The sourcing front involves working with the team to design and execute comprehensive push and pull sourcing strategies. The push strategy consists of collaborating with exciting Oxford-affiliated ventures and partners who are strong lead channels for Oxford affiliated seed-stage businesses. The pull strategy works on managing inbounds by stimulating sourcing campaign strategies like events, teach-ins, digital campaigns, and partnerships that build awareness of the OSF application process in relevant networks.
Regarding portfolio management, it's working with the ventures to find ways we can continue to add value to our portfolio companies. On some days, that means utilising the rich network of the OSF and the extended Oxford community to help our ventures grow by introducing them to the right people, and on others, it’s helping them with strategic projects or fundraising. The MD is also responsible for liaising with several stakeholders including the Advisory Board, Industry Experts and University Departments, among others.
Overall, the role involves leading the team to success. We want to find and invest in two unique Oxford-affiliated seed-stage businesses and create value for our existing portfolio companies.
What is the thesis of OSF?
It’s three-pronged. The first two are for the ventures, and the final point is for students. First, we are looking to invest in commercially viable and globally scalable startups, and we believe that Oxford is teeming with opportunity as an academic community.
Second, we believe that there are ticket sizes and stage focus on the bridge between an idea and a startup ready for growth. At this stage, many businesses with excellent prospects can't demonstrate it due to a lack of initial capital. So, we look for the impact potential of our funding on your journey.
Finally, we believe that OSF is a fantastic opportunity for students to get hands-on experience in investing as a gateway into Venture Capital as a career path.
What do you see as the value of an MBA to someone interested in a VC career?
1. It gives you instant access to a global network of incredibly talented and experienced colleagues. In VC, the quality of your network often informs the quality of your deal flow.
2. Initiatives like the Oxford Seed Fund are a fantastic platform to learn about Venture Capital
3. Specific electives like entrepreneurial finance and venture capital, for example, can be quite useful in bringing you up to speed about how Venture Capitalists approach investments.
How would you describe your team at OSF?
I couldn't be more pleased with our combination. If I had to pick a word, it would be diverse, and our diversity makes our work richer. What I find most exciting is that we are genuinely diverse across several verticals; industry, gender, race, experience, region, you name it. We have on the team folks like me who have scaled global startups and consultants who have advised multinational clients, financial analysts, entrepreneurs, product designers, project managers, software engineers, and even folks with venture capital experience. Because of this, we are naturally optimized for diversity in our venture sourcing pool and a great working experience where we learn from one another.
What's the most recent book that made you feel inspired?
I recently read Born A Crime by Trevor Noah and think it's a fantastic book. I might even reread it.
I'm founding a world problem-solving think tank. I'll invite these people…
The entire OSF team, including Libby from the Entrepreneurship Center. Haha!