Oli Monks: ‘Nobody’s Listening’

‘But it’s ok not to be ok’

Alumnus Oli Monks recently posted a very honest blog post in which he highlights the hidden, yet all too frequent pressure placed on people to put on a front that everything is going brilliantly. Not only is this a common pressure for entrepreneurs but it is applicable everywhere and very important to recognise. The post is well worth a read here.

Getting Ahead with Oli Monks, Co-founder of Bagsee

As part of Adam Ian Stewart’s ‘Getting Ahead With…’ series, Oli Monks – Lancaster Alumni, co-founder of Bagsee and current entrepreneur in residence tells all about the workings and future of Bagsee, his experience of university, charity work and he also shares his top tips for getting ahead.

Click here to listen to the interview.

GUEST BLOG: Olly Heron of ‘Stride’

‘Stride’- everywhere you look there’s a helping hand. A story of start-up support at Lancaster University


Guest blog by Olly Heron, Co Founder and Marketing Director of Stride Innovations Ltd and LU undergraduate.

Way back in November 2014, myself and three friends attended the Lancaster Entrepreneurs’ Start-up Weekend with the simple idea for a mobile app that helped users record and share their ideas quickly.

After making it through a tough round of pitching, we worked on the idea with a team of 8 for an intense 54 hours until the time came for the final pitch to a panel of experts.

We placed second, and won flexible working space from SpacePortX in Manchester, as well as the promise of a meeting with Barclays in 2015 if we kept working on our product. So, we had a challenge: make Stride a reality.

From there onwards, we have been amazed at the support we’ve received from Lancaster University- here’s just a selection of the groups who have helped us along the way:

  1. ISS Innovation Hub: Rob Ellis, the team leader of the Innovation Hub, was a judge on the panel for the final pitch at the Startup Weekend. We met with him to get additional feedback after the startup weekend where he gave us some great ideas of what to do next- including some sources of initial funding. Rob has been a great mentor for us- willing to take the time to chat through ideas and introduce us to new contacts.
  2. LUSU: After our meeting with Rob, the next place we looked to was LUSU. There’s some big work going on at the moment to create an even better offering for start-ups at the University- but even without that in place we’ve been able to gain a huge amount of advice and some funding from Josh Dean and co. We go to go through a pitch process and created a business plan, which we’ve developed since- but this was the first time someone really challenged us to think professionally about our idea.
  3. Lancaster University School of Computing and Communications: We’d got the funding, but we were missing a crucial skill set, a developer. SCC helped us put out the feelers to students, and Stewart Kember met with us to discuss some of the general advantages and disadvantages to selecting either iOS or Android as a starting platform.
  4. Lancaster University Enterprise Team: Now we’re working on bigger funding applications, it’s great to have the ad hoc 1-2-1 support that the Enterprise Team is so readily able to give- we’re looking forward to bouncing some ideas around with the team in the coming weeks. Additionally, the Enterprise Team have provided us with some inspiration. If you’ve not been to one of their ‘Start Up Stories’ events, its time to change that (HINT: there’s one coming up on the 11th June!) Hearing from some of our incredibly successful alumni really leaves you thinking ‘what if I gave it a shot?’

So there’s just a snapshot, from one very early start up journey, and our very many helpers across the University. So if you’ve got an idea and you don’t know how to make it happen, why not reach out? What have you got to lose?

If you’re interested to learn more about Stride, follow us on Twitter at @hellostride and be the first to find out when the Beta of our iOS app is available by registering here.

Stride co-founders are:

Olly Heron, BA Advertising and Marketing, Lonsdale College

Michael Palmer, MSci Biomedicine, Fylde College

Oli Monks, BA Management and Entrepreneurship, Fylde College

Chris Cerra, BA Marketing, Advertising and Public Relations, Birmingham City University

Oli Monks: Virgin Media Pioneer of the Week

LU student named Virgin Media ‘Pioneer of the Week’


Oli Monks, final year BA Hons Management and Entrepreneurship student, has been named as Virgin Media’s ‘Pioneer of the Week’ for his innovative productivity app, ‘Stride’.

Oli credits Lancaster University’s Start Up Weekend as a great platform for testing out his initial business ideas and quotes Tim Ferriss with ‘you can measure your success by the number of difficult conversations you’re willing to have’.

You can read the article and question and answers with Oli here where he also talks about his greatest achievements, experience and offers advice to other start up businesses.

Congratulations Oli!

Stride is an innovative way of recording ideas on the go and can be downloaded on Android and iOS. Visit the Stride website here.

Trust, Pivot, Stride

Keeping your idea quiet? Think again…


Oli Monks, Stride co-founder and Lancaster University student, believes that keeping your business ideas to yourself is not necessarily the best way to succeed in enterprise.

Constructive criticism, an alternate point of view and helpful suggestions will all accumulate in improving and developing your product or idea, and realising that you can’t please everyone is a crucial lesson to learn.

Oli has first hand experience in developing a business idea and turning it into reality as co founder of business productivity tool, ‘Stride‘. To read more on his experience and advice, visit the Chasing Ed website here.

Social Change through SPARK awards….


Nickala Torkington, Partnership Manager at UnLtd shares  how she went about developing peer to peer support to galvanise a ‘Network of Networks’ of Women supporting Social Entrepreneurs in Greater Manchester. Read on to hear more about how to save time and money, whilst building SE Ambassadors, Mentors and Champions….

‘Developing a peer to peer Network of Networks’ of Women supporting Social Entrepreneurs in Greater Manchester has been fun, rewarding and has started to address some gaps in the provision of support tailored to meet the needs of female social entrepreneurs in Greater Manchester. All the attention on this theme has come a bit leftfield for me, perhaps I take it for granted or as a given that this is straightforward, given UnLtd’s values and ability to reach out to women through our awards programmes 48% of our awards have gone to women over the last 12 years and on the HE Support programme over 50% of awards were to women.

Contrary to belief – I haven’t been slaving away on this and am not doing this ‘In addition’ to my day job – well not much…. And supporting the development of this is actually saving me time, resources and helping me deliver a range of outcomes across UnLtd programmes as well as develop the networks of partners.

Plus it helped me bust my own myth and cynical side that said ‘What on earth can you do with real impact with a £500 SPARK award?’

First of all I ironed out my personal & work goals for doing this. I wanted to……

  • Find ways to connect my network and save time, energy and emails
  • Provide more support for female social entrepreneurs as could see a number of them struggling to get going or move things forward
  • Find ways to use some of the tools and techniques I and others have learned to support more SEs and share learning
  • Find ways to celebrate and showcase some of the fantastic award winners and female social entrepreneurs out there
  • Help the small SPARK team shift some awards and create meaningful impact

What happened…..

I mapped out my top 10 female socially entrepreneurial ‘Super connectors’ ( which quickly turned into 30). These were a combination of longstanding award winners, new award winners (L1, L2, Try/Do/Build it and SPARK) our 3 HEFCE Partners and a Star People partner, a couple of UnLtd Mentors along with a random selection of old stalwarts and strategic agencies in the sector.

Over a period of 12 – 18 months we:

1)   Held a couple of pre-meets which galvanised a group, identified shared goals, gaps and opportunities – this alone created 2 useful outcomes:

  • a new contract opportunity which a member took with both hands to deliver the Ogunte Make a Wave programme
  • initiated 4 separate Spark Awards (G4N, OSEN, the Greater Manchester Mappathon and the peer to peer network we have developed WSSE)

2)  Encouraged and supported group members to apply for SPARK awards and members attended each other’s activities where relevant.

3)  Kicked off the Women Supporting Social Entrepreneurs (WSSE) peer to peer network and met 3 times to build the group which now stands at around 50 engaged and contributing and used our meetings to consider ideas to challenges and barriers whilst address gaps and opportunities. See a downloadable presentation we compiled fairly early on in case this can be of use.

4)  Have shaped our ideas into a programme of activities – attached below in case they can be of use.

Yet to come this year….

  • The development of a network of 30 – 50 women supporting social entrepreneurs in the Greater Manchester area who want to mentor or would benefit from a mentor
  • Continuation of the original peer mentoring group – 15 to 20 people meeting bi monthly
  • Launch event for 50 women to attend on 5th March as part of International Women’s Week:http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/breakthrough-women-celebrating-developing-women-social-entrepreneurs-tickets-15468177736
  • Training and development of 30- 50 women in mentoring skills and practice through April/ May 2014
  • Development of a team of mentor champions, a pool of mentors plus operational processes to support this.
  • An action training and fundraising event in July– ‘Mentorathon’ to engage 20 – 30 mentors and 10 – 15 mentees
  • Brokerage of a further 20 – 30 1 to 1 mentor relationships
  • An evaluation of the programme to inform the future

My cynical side said….. Myths busted

£500 is not worth effort -what can we get moving? I have proved myself and others wrong on this much has been achieved with very little money. Plus the £500 we started with has turned into £2000 of SPARK awards in the area which through the network and so far the group has raised an additional £2000 in cash to contribute towards venue hire launch event and mentor training through contacts within the network.

Do we really need this in Manchester? There is much support for social entrepreneurs within the Greater Manchester area, however the number of people getting involved and the feedback we have received shows there is a need for both a peer network for infrastructure and more diverse mentors readily available so capacity can meet demand.

If I act as a catalyst in this will I have loads to do – can I manage it? Whilst I have helped to drive this, working with award winners our highly talented, highly networked and creative ‘Can – do’ people means that our joined effort gets things moving. I haven’t had to attend all meetings, I haven’t written any funding bids and haven’t felt this is a stretch. It has been more of a help in keeping connected, offering support to award winners and partners whilst building the ecosystem.

Myths still to bust …..

How will people from grass roots communities engage – will they have the confidence to come forward/not be put off? Our network is highly diverse and reaching into all communities, however we need to check in with the language we use, style of activities we run and keep listening to feedback on how to make this accessible and holistic. Some of the SPARK awards that have been applied for from the group have been to reach out to underdeveloped communities.

How can we compete/distinguish ourselves alongside other mentoring initiatives? That is what we will learn over the next year, however by taking a bottom up approach, bringing new and diverse people in, keeping overheads to a minimum and supporting prestart – to scale up we hope to create sustainable impact.

It’s Sexist! Maybe – however there is a market demand and un-met needs, so we’ll offer a service that widens people’s connections and opportunities to all people and all sectors in order to help their social change initiatives and ventures to thrive.

Can we really sustain this? So far so good – the pilot has turned into a manageable programme being delivered over the next 12 months with a co-ordinating team of 3-4 people. We don’t know where this will go after that, however we know we have people who can make things happen wanting to see this succeed.

Fancy setting up something similar in your area?

Then get your networks together and apply for a SPARK award to develop your peer to peer activity and stimulate ideas and connections as well as address gaps in need for social entrepreneurs! www.unltd.org.uk/SPARK .

The Lancaster University Enterprise Team  can link you to the UnLtd network who can help galvanise an ecosystem near you.


Show us YOUR handshake selfie


Shake Hands and share plans!

Global Entrepreneurship Week is only one week away and we’re using this campaign to show the world that the Lancaster University is a campus of networkers. Give us a hand – share your handshake selfie!

This time next week we will have kicked off festivities with ‘Battle of the Colleges’ and’ Fail Forward‘ the official opening event is  Monday 17th November 6pm – 9pm. Many more activities will be taking place all week, all across campus. Full details on the GEW2014 programme here.

We want to see your global connections and we want to know how events you have attended have helped you meet people,  get inspired, learn new skills and develop your ideas.

Don’t be quiet about it, we want to know who you’ve had great conversations with. Take a handshake selfie and share it on any social media channel using #GEWConnect. We’ll pick our favourite selfies to share at the end of the week.

Youth Business International, organisers or Global Entrepreneurship in the UK are offering a prize for the person that bags the best entrepreneurship handshake selfie shot. Who’s your handshake selfie no.1? Did you catch a Big Fish? Or maybe even a Dragon? From old friends to new connections, tweet your pics!

Booking is on Target Connect. Search under ‘event type’ for Global Entrepreneurship Week 2014.

Why don’t we talk about Failure?

FF LogoAre you scared of trying something new today? What is it and how might you embrace failure to find your true passions?

On Monday 17th November ‘Fail Forward’  is the grand opening event for Global Entrepreneurship Week 2014 at Lancaster University.

Lancaster student Oli Monks is coordinating a showcase of people who have learned from failure and embrace it as an inevitable ingredient of success; in fact the comforting reality is that failure is on route to finding your passions and success in life.

In this post and media clip “Why I Want my Kids to Fail” Alexander Osterwalder PhD, writer and entrepreneur talks about  how failures in his own life turned out to be positive for his development and career.

‘Why don’t we talk about failure?

Everyone has lived it but no one wants to speak about it. We’re ashamed by our past failures and have trained our memory to only retain moments of success. We look up to thought leaders and are inspired by their flawless track record. But should we be? Should we really be inspired by those who deep inside are scared of admitting they’ve sucked at something before becoming masters at it? Should we look up to those who fear to venture into something new because they might fail and look incompetent?

The topic of failure is less of a taboo today though. We’ve embraced the startup mantra of “failing cheap and failing quickly” and have seen communities sharing stories about failures to tap into collective learning at events such as the Failcon conferences. But we are not trained to embrace failure. We’re just barely working on letting go of that fear of looking inept in everyone else’s eyes, and we still don’t know how to teach our kids to fail.

Alex’s failures

Alex mentions he failed to get in McKinsey & Company, a leading consulting firm. He also failed his first year of business school and instead learned about questioning how people think in his political sciences program. Alex learned he didn’t want to be an accountant when he ventured in a nonprofit job in Thailand. These failures shaped what he is today: a passionate thought leader building tools and introducing revolutionary methodologies in the traditional corporate world.

In spite of the success of Business Model Generation, his visual and practical bestseller that stood out in the traditional book market and made more than a million sales, Alex and his co-authors are now taking the risk of failing as they’re trying something completely unseen in the business world: making people use digital tools. With Strategyzer’s upcoming book, Value Proposition Design, Alex and his co-authors want business executives to use strategy & innovation processes through computer-aided design, just like architects and engineers. Value Proposition Design will be the first book to offer online learning, PDFs, exercises, and templates on Strategyzer.com.

Failure helps you find your passion

Are you scared that you might just blow things up if you try, and be judged by others around you? Well, you might actually fail and indeed not look very smart. You might try once, twice, and still fail. But as you learn to accept failure and learn about your own case, you’ll adapt and find something that works, something that you’re passionate about. Striving to find that passion, learning from any kind of experience and taming our fear of failure is how we should teach our kids to fail today.’

Register for the Fail Forward Event at Lancaster University here.