Multi Story Edinburgh

Episode 43: Class of 2021 - Zara, MA French, Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies

September 30, 2021 The University of Edinburgh Season 2 Episode 8
Multi Story Edinburgh
Episode 43: Class of 2021 - Zara, MA French, Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies
Show Notes Transcript

Episode 43 brings us to Zara, who talks to us about entrepreneurship, winging it and connecting with people. 

Each episode is a snapshot, a moment, a sneak inside the minds of our graduates. As the world emerges from pandemic paralysis, are our Class of 2021 feeling inspired or inhibited, glad or gloomy, chaotic or calm?

Welcome to Season 2, a little bit of the same but quite a lot different. Subscribe now and find out what everyone is up to and how they feel about life, the last 12 months and future plans.

All opinions expressed are those of the individual and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Edinburgh. 

Multi Story Edinburgh has been created and produced by the Alumni Relations team at the University of Edinburgh. If you are interested in telling your story, please get in touch and let's talk.

Music: Since When by Mise Darling from 
Artwork: Vector created by redgreystock from

This is a snapshot, a moment, a sneak inside the minds of our graduates. This is season two, class of 2021. A little bit of the same but quite a lot different.

I'm Zara. I graduated from Edinburgh this summer 2021 with a degree in Arabic and French. So at the moment, I am actually in Dubrovnik, Croatia. I spent the last couple of weeks in Sarajevo in Bosnia. I went there actually to see my family for a couple of weeks for a holiday. And I was supposed to leave back to the UK on the same day, but my return flight got cancelled. So I ended up staying there a few more weeks. 

About a year ago, I was sitting with my two now co founders and we were talking about the really exciting changes going on within the University ecosystem. So we kind of observed that now more than ever, students were seeing alternatives to the very classical careers, like investment banking, law firms, consulting, software engineers, and that was entrepreneurship. And for a while when we sort of first started to see the success of start-ups born on college campuses, particularly that US space, and it was seen as a little bit of a hack to fame and fortune. But now I think it's levelled out a bit where people realise that you shouldn't go into building a start-up, if your primary motivation is money, it's a lot of effort and risk. And there are much better routes if you're looking for a salary with lots of zeros on the end of it. 

But now students are super motivated by making a change in the world. And I always say that I think entrepreneurship is the the tool with which to do it. So initially, one of my co founders, Finn, actually suggested setting up a VC. So essentially, that would be where we could fund these awesome ideas coming out of university campuses. But we very quickly realised that setting up a VC as students was much easier said than done. So in that way, it transitioned a bit into an accelerator, but even then, it was something that we did because we were super-passionate about it for fun. We never actually thought about how we can monetize it, make it sustainable. 

So we ran two cohorts. The first one was a pilot cohort, we just ran that Scotland wide, so students from any university in Scotland could apply. Scotland has three unicorn companies. So that's FanDuel, BrewDog, and Skyscanner and we actually got the founders of all three to come talk to our cohorts. I think that was a really exciting moment for us. And then our second cohort - that was pan European, and we actually had students from 26 different universities across Europe involved. Based on that we were approached by the University of Edinburgh and Heriot Watt to run an incubator for their PhD students. So Edinburgh has a whole host of really exciting programmes, accelerators, incubators, venture builders, and they wanted us to come run this PhD one with them. So 27 PhD teams turning their research, their cutting edge research into business ideas. When they came to talk to us about that and we started putting the programme together and working with them on that. That was super exciting. And that was the moment where we were like, Hey, this is real, we get to work on what we're passionate about, with really awesome people. So for me, I'm particularly interested in climate tech, sustainable development, and increasing female founders and founders from minority ethnic backgrounds. 

For me as well, I studied Arabic and French, and people think it's not typically really a route into star-tups and entrepreneurship. My two co founders, they have a background in neuroscience and artificial intelligence. So you much more typically see people with those kinds of backgrounds. But actually, when you really look at it, companies do much better when they have a diverse range of people working on their projects, because they have different experiences, different perspectives, different knowledge bases. So that's something I've also tried to push to Adventure that you don't need to be from a technical background to come and work on a startup, even working in tech, actually. 

You don't really realise how many how many steps it's taken to get to this point. And we've been very fortunate to have an incredible team working with us on Adventure from different universities. And I think the moment where we can sort of reflect and see how far it's come is when we look at the numbers. So we've worked with over 70 different start-ups in less than a year. We've worked with students who are over 26 different universities, top universities across Europe. And that's both like undergrad, post grad, PhDs. What's really cool, actually, is to see how many different nationalities we've worked with, so we'd ask people as well in our cohort, how many languages do you speak? What do you study? Particularly to me at the moment where we get testimonials from people that have gone through our programmes, to have that feedback, come back and say, Hey, this programme actually really gave me the confidence to know that I can start something on my own, or has given me a platform to really take my business to the next level. I think that's been a moment of reflection for all of us on the team, and we get to work with the coolest people.

It's all a bit of improvising, I'd say but what I have learned throughout this whole experience, is that that's the same for everyone. I've interviewed some really incredible founders of million dollar companies. You know, even people that really seem super confident and always know what they're doing. They also struggle with the same kind of questions like, oh, maybe I should have done that? Or did I do this to the best of my ability, or I made this mistake. And I think when you get to the point where you realise everyone, to some extent, is actually winging it, then I think it makes a little bit easier, you know, you still feel it. But you know that everyone is kind of in the same boat. And I found that in this ecosystem, people are super, super supportive. Now, particularly in our generation, people are becoming more open, it's more acceptable to talk about things that didn't go to plan, and to talk about your failures, to be vulnerable. And I really, really admire that in people, when they, when they can say, hey, actually, like, this didn't go so well, or that was not what I planned. Honestly, it really is everyone, everyone has those moments of wondering, what am I doing here? And why am I qualified to do this? 

I think to some extent, everyone's had to rethink their plans a little bit. Because I think if you, if your plans aren't flexible, now I think you've come to the realisation that it's not possible to have such a strict rigid plan, because things can be shaken up so quickly. And we all have to be able to adapt to new circumstances, new situations. For the first time, my life, I think I've tried to not have such clear plans ahead of me, I really love what I do at the moment with Adventure so I'm all in with that. 

Me, I actually went through a period where I didn't even know what day it was. Because I didn't take weekends, I just worked every day of the week nonstop. And I enjoyed what I worked on, actually, it was fine. I think it's about knowing what works best for you. So for me, actually, that system works best because I don't work very well in the mornings, I work very well evenings, actually at night. And that flexibility is there and so I have like the mornings and the afternoons to sort of do what I want. And then in the evenings, I'm much, much more productive. And I think being, being in a classical company where you have set hours, it works brilliantly for some people, for others that maybe work better at different times, I think this flexibility actually works really well. 

I remember before I went to Edinburgh, I was terrified of living on my own, going to university, being away from my family. I actually remember I didn't want to go [laughs]. And it was such a strange thing for me, because my very first day of university, something just changed. And I felt like I was suddenly for the first time actually in my life I was where I really belonged. So oddly enough, I only spent two years in Edinburgh because my third year was a year abroad. And then, and then COVID happened. But Edinburgh was really the first place that actually felt like home for me. So that was a big change. And I got to travel a lot in my first and second year, particularly like around Europe, and having grown up in Dubai, a lot of my friends don't live there anymore, and they live in Europe. So getting to see them and travelling around was an amazing experience for me. And that I think also brought around a lot of change. 

And then my third year I was in Amman, Jordan. And that was a whole other experience that was it was really fantastic. And also, it gave us a good chance to actually be able to use Arabic in real life scenarios. And it showed us the value of being able to connect with people, to open up different opportunities, having studied languages, because I think sometimes people I know at least like in my circles, they do question like, Oh, did I make the right choice studying a language and I think being able to go and use it actually makes you realise that being able to speak this is something really awesome and unique. And as I said, gives you like a very special connection. 

And that whole year in Jordan, I really, really enjoyed it. But it also made me super excited to go back to Edinburgh, because also I didn't see a lot of my friends that weren't on the same course as me. And so that was actually very difficult for me in my fourth year. I did Adventure entirely from from home, I wasn't able to go back to Edinburgh until round about April, actually, of this year. Then again, I think Adventure was only possible really because with everything online, I had a lot of extra time to be able to do something like that. 

If anyone is interested in entrepreneurship, and is maybe questioning whether there's a space for them, I just wanted to say that there absolutely is and they should go for it. And maybe from the outside I know it can be a bit daunting, perhaps intimidating. But once you're here there are so many people willing to help that are super excited to get new people into the space. And so I think no matter what background you come from, no matter what your experiences, I think entrepreneurship is a really unique way to tackle whichever issues matter most to you in society, so go for it.

We also ask our graduates to share a place somewhere special, somewhere we can get together when all this is finished.

I have two answers for this. One maybe it's a little bit boring but Edinburgh because Edinburgh holds a very special place in my heart, Edinburgh is also where we ran our first cohort out of. It was never in person, everything we do is online, but we were Scotland based and a lot of our team, a lot of our participants are from Edinburgh. So even logistically, that would be the easiest place. But hypothetically, if people could sort of come anywhere in the world, I would say Sarajevo in Bosnia. I didn't expect it. I hadn't really even thought much about Bosnia before I was there in the last few weeks. But it is a seriously beautiful city. I recommend it to everyone. And it has something for everyone too. It has stunning mountains with hiking trails, it has the Old City, a little bit like Istanbul with all the stalls, and it has a new city as well. And I found the people are so so nice and kind and welcoming, and fantastic food as well. So if I could bring everyone to one spot, it would be, it will be Sarajevo now.

Thank you for listening. Join us next time for another graduate and another story.

I hope you've enjoyed meeting members of our University of Edinburgh community. To connect with more join Platform One, our online meeting place for students, alumni and staff of the University. To find out more search Platform One, Edinburgh.

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