On parade

The University of Bath alumni blog

Tagged: alumni

Getting Connected in Hong Kong

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📥  Get Connected, International, Uncategorized

Alumni panel - Get Connected Hong Kong

Alumni panel - Get Connected Hong Kong

This was a week of firsts, from my first landing at Hong Kong Airport in a Level 8 typhoon to my first Thai iced tea (somewhere between an iced coffee and pumpkin juice).

The purpose of this trip was to bring a new offering to our graduates living and working here. My mission? To deliver Hong Kong’s first ever Get Connected event. From Bath to London to New York, we have had great success with these alumni networking evenings, but now it was time to look even further.

With some 1500 Bath alumni living and working in the city, we have a wonderfully strong and enthusiastic community here in Hong Kong with a great breadth of experience and sector knowledge. Despite being some 6,000 miles from Bath, there is a real sense of family amongst out graduates here and this is what it’s all about. The Get Connected events are about making the network ‘work’; utilising the alumni ‘family’ to learn and get ahead and I was really excited to help them do this.

So on Tuesday, with the Typhoon disappearing north and the normal humidity returning to the air, I head over to Exchange Square, the illustrious home of the city’s Stock Exchange, where we are lucky enough to be using the auditorium for our panel discussion. As guests and alumni panel members start to arrive I’m told by many that being allowed inside this building is an experience in itself, adding a great buzz to the atmosphere! This alone goes to shows the power of the Bath community, having been offered this amazing venue by one of our Honorary Graduates in Hong Kong, Sir CK Chow.

The panel seated on the stage is made up of five graduates, all of whom are incredibly successful in their respective fields. Each was kind enough to give up their evening to share their professional experiences and insights and they didn’t disappoint. With 40 eager faces in the crowd we kicked off the discussion, hearing from each panellist in turn as they imparted the best and, indeed, worst points of their careers and their sound advice for starting out and progressing in the world of work.

The audience was a great mix of graduates from across the years (including a 1970’s engineer!) and I was really pleased to see a number of our third year placement students in the crowd as well. Questions from the floor were plentiful and judging by the unwillingness of people to go home, I think it’s fair to say that a huge amount was gained by all.

In true Hong Kong style, business cards were swapping hands left right and centre, then it was back out into the bustling metropolis to fight off the humidity on the journey home. I have a feeling that this Get Connected Hong Kong will be the first of many.

This event wouldn’t have been possible without the help and enthusiasm of Chapter President, Vivian Ching,

Get Connected Hong Kong

Get Connected Hong Kong

and our fantastic Chapter Committee and, of course, our panel members: Mickey Ko, Martin Cerullo, Andy Li and Susan Khua.  I’d like to thank them all again for their support.


From Claverton Down to Silicon Valley

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📥  Uncategorized

Alumnus Amit Kothari is the CEO of a business process automation software startup called Tallyfy. This is a story of how he got there, starting with his wonderful years at University of Bath.

Life as a student

My start at the University of Bath – in the year 2000, was ridiculously mad and exciting.

I missed the entire dot-com-boom-and-bust. Social networks were huge at the time, and I hadn’t even heard of business process automation. I had wonderful housemates – we lived in Eastwood 44 on campus – which must have changed a lot now.

Freshers week was a blur, and all I remember is destroying a perfectly good bowtie and tuxedo in that first week, and 'Game On' nights on campus. It was truly awash with glittering eyes that (like me) - realised “I’m at university now!”

One of my housemates set up the kickboxing club as a university society, and despite my frame, I joined. I set up the creative writing society. Let’s say the two didn’t really mix. That’s when I got my first taste of “setting my own thing up.”

People don’t realise, but it only takes a bit of personal pride in something you created which other people also want to be part of, to smell the coffee and go on adventures that can lead anywhere. A university society is one of those things.

The societies that were more fun to talk about went on big benders in the beginning. The picture below is from an “initiation” in 2001 for the kickboxing club.

Personal photo shared by Amit Kothari, taken in 2001. Amit is the one with a white and yellow jacket on, he is on the far left with his back to the camera

Personal photo shared by Amit Kothari, taken in 2001

I really feel for the non-university residents of Bath - they had to put up with our madness and energy. It often ended up at The Huntsman, which if I remember - was open late. Or some club - wandering around and crashing into mirrors. Then clambering into whatever vehicle looked orange and large - back up that hill and into bed. Daytime was no better. I hope nobody is still putting washing-up liquid into the fountain at Laura Place?!

All this aside (which is more a rite-of-passage I guess!) - I had an absolutely tremendous time at Bath. I took a year off in my degree - and eventually made it to the Abbey for graduation, a proud moment. I’ll be honest and tell you that I felt very uncertain at graduation. The “structure” of the past was being left behind - with the Big Wild West ahead.

Life after Bath: Workflows and Process Automation

What ensued over the next 15 years was a life worth living (at work) - and it kept me glued to a mission of growing and scaling my own business in the area of workflow management and process automation.

I spent my first two years after graduation at a large consultancy firm. I realised quickly that what people called a “career” in some firms is really just a lock-in to maximise revenue from selling young people at a large daily rate and then slowly increasing their salaries to make them feel like they’re making progress.

I guess I was trying to fit into a hole that wasn’t for me - but I wasn’t cynical. I have progressed from being a rebel-without-a-cause to a balding 35 year old who knows when to feel, when to think and when to act. In my focus area - business process automation - experience is mandatory.

I didn’t enjoy shuttling around various hotels and cities doing anonymous things I didn’t really care about. I left that first role, and then joined a very small firm in London that was thinking about the future of collaboration software in large companies. Facebook was just taking off in general in the consumer world, so this was fairly cutting edge.

I was there for six years, and it was awesome. I learned a lot, and met some of the edgiest minds in collaboration and workflow automation. I launched my first startup, which failed. I learned one specific thing - don’t change a formula that’s already working just because “it might scale.” Get in touch if you’d like details.

My second startup also failed, but I really put myself on the line on that one. I learned about product/market fit and moved up the learning curve.

Startup Success with Business Process Automation

In 2014, my wife and I pitched an idea to Startup Chile - which funds any scalable idea with equity-free grants. The catch? You have to move to beautiful Santiago, Chile for at least six months. My wife and I left London, but there was still no company. Tallyfy had not yet been born.

After some experimentation, we realised that some large forces were at play that we could easily ride for natural momentum in Tallyfy:

  • Businesses can only scale through repeatable workflows. Such repeatable workflows are not the same as a project, or a to-do - which are one-off (not repeatable).
  • A repeatable workflow is mostly locked into a document or flowchart - you can’t track it, it’s hard to improve and nobody follows it. You especially can’t look at a flowchart on a phone - the screen’s too small.
  • You can’t improve a process unless you’re tracking it - because you have no data on who does what, how, when and how long it takes. You also can’t automate a process unless you track it.
  • The existing BPM/Business Process Management market is worth billions, but only sells to IT people - because ordinary business folk can’t make any sense of it.
  • If we could automate workflows and make business processes easy enough for anyone to create and track on the cloud, we could not only conquer new markets - but we could disrupt existing ones.
  • About five years ago, you had to be a coder to write integrations between apps. Nowadays, services let you create point-and-click integrations with no tech know-how. This means we don’t need to spend money building integrations.
  • People are just googling what they want and using apps. Nobody is asking IT anymore.
  • Customer-facing workflows are a massive opportunity to improve customer and client relationships - and yet nothing easy exists to help professional services firms with that.

After all the above - we pitched and won a $50k grant through Arch Grants in St. Louis, Missouri. We stayed within our mission - making business process automation easy. However, it took 6 months to get a US E2 work visa with their help. It was the most amazing thing that ever happened to me, hands-down. I’ve grown to love St. Louis and the US too.

In the last 15 months, I’ve gone through 500 Startups and Alchemist Accelerator - two of the top accelerators in the world - and I’ve probably pitched 150 angel investors and VC’s in Silicon Valley. We’ve raised around $1m in total funding, and we aim to stay in St. Louis.

Amit Kothari pitching at 500 Startups Demo day at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley

Amit Kothari pitching at 500 Startups Demo day at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is interesting. It’s expensive, everyone has a poker face - but mostly - there’s some really awesome people. I tried to oppose the opinion that everyone feels like you have to move there if you want to be successful, smart and clever. You don’t.

I’ve learned that you really shouldn’t try to raise money in Silicon Valley (as an outsider) until you’ve got your business well off the ground and can show solid traction with a repeatable sales or growth model. I hope that advice helps a Bath alumni!

Anyway - Tallyfy is not going to end. It just began! If you run a business and are interested in automating your business processes - give it a try.

How a Computer Science degree at Bath equipped me for success in the process management industry

We learned hard principles in our degree around multi-agent systems, fundamental principles in algorithms and algebra enabled me to appreciate whatever came next. Part of the challenge with business process automation is fundamental problems in integration, data modelling and data cleansing/mapping between systems.

The hot topic at present is deep learning and recurrent neural networks. We want to use them to predict workflow delays and failures before they occur. We are exploring deep learning at Tallyfy - which would be impossible to really understand - without my degree from Bath.

Personal photo in Bath - Amit Kothari, 2012

Personal photo in Bath - Amit Kothari, 2012, graduated from Bath with a Computer Science (BSc) degree in 2004


Meeting Bath's finalist at the British Council International Alumni Awards

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📥  International

Dr Toby Jenkins, Erdem Aydin and Professor Tony James at the British Council International Alumni Awards 2016

Dr Toby Jenkins, Erdem Aydin and Professor Tony James at the British Council International Alumni Awards 2016

Dr Toby Jenkins and Professor Tony James have just returned from a whirlwind tour of Turkey, where they attended a Medical Biotechnology Workshop at at the TUSSIDE Conference Hall, TÜBİTAK Gebze Campus from 17-18 February 2016.

The workshop is part of the UK-Turkey year of Science and Innovation sponsored by the UK Science and Innovation Network and the British Council. The aim of the workshop was to build networks with the aim of applying for both Newton-Katip Celebi and Horizon 2020 funding.

Tony writes:

During our visit we attended the prestigious British Council International Alumni Awards Ceremony in Istanbul at the British Consulate. We had the pleasure to meet Erdem Aydin, a PoLIS alumnus and reporter on the International News Desk at CNN Turk, who was a finalist for the ‘Professional Achievement’ category.

Erdem was exceptionally positive about his time in Bath and grateful for the excellent support he received during his for his time in Bath. Toby - a keen cyclist - was happy to hear that one thing Erdem particularly missed from Bath was the cycle ride to the University. The traffic in Istanbul currently prevents him from cycling.

When we bumped into him he was busy getting updates about the then-breaking news about the Ankara bombing. He is a true professional reporter, more concerned about the news than worrying about the award ceremony.

While Erdem did not win the category, he is an exceptional alumnus who will continue to spread the good word about Bath as he excels in his journalistic career.


Let it snow!

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📥  Bath, On campus

One of the biggest up-sides of preparing for our fast-approaching 50th anniversary is looking at the collection of your photos from the 'old days' which you have kindly been sending in to us. We've been putting some of the best on our Flickr photostream - thank you for sharing your memories with us.

In a bid to get into the festive spirit early this year, we're looking for Christmassy photos from your time at Bath. Snowmen on the Parade, Christmas parties, you get the idea!

We will be creating an album on Flickr of your seasonal student snaps and, you never know, one of your photos might even make it on to our alumni Christmas card…

If you would like your photo to be included in our album, please send a scanned or digital image (as high-res as possible) to alumni@bath.ac.uk. Please include as much information as possible, including the year it was taken and anyone you can name in the picture.

University of Bath snowball fight on the Parade

Here’s a starter for ten. Can anyone name the three combatants?


Bath alumni meet up Down Under

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📥  International

On a Spring September evening in Melbourne, around 20 alumni gathered in a suitable watering hole to share memories of their time in Bath and stories of how they ended up in Australia. We were honoured to be joined by David Hancocks , the University of Bath’s ‘Graduate No. 1’, having been first up to collect his degree certificate for Architecture in 1966. David spent most of his working life in Seattle but is now in Melbourne and enjoying life in this thriving city, recently named named the world's most liveable city for the fourth year in a row.

The three Davids

The three Davids: David Chuter ((BEng Manufacturing Systems 1992), David Hancocks (BSc Architecture & Building Engineering 1966) and David Suder (MSc Industrial Systems 1992)

Many of the alumni came to our first gathering last year so it was great to catch up with each other, share stories of trips back to the UK and talk about the changes that people have seen in Bath on their recent visits. It was also fantastic to welcome new faces, some of whom were recent arrivals to Melbourne. Some were putting their degrees to good use whilst others had ended up in careers quite different to their studies. Everyone remembered their time at Bath very fondly and looked forward to their next visit.

Australians have developed a love of cider but we all agreed that it wasn’t quite the same as the scrumpy served in the Beehive - many were sad to hear that it’s no longer a pub. We look forward to catching up again next year!

Isobel Michael (BA MLES German & Russian 1991)


Behind the scenes of the Large Hadron Collider

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📥  Bath, International

As a Bath graduate based in Geneva, and the CEO of the world’s largest cancer NGO, the link between the University and CERN is for me, a compelling one. And one which, amazingly, came about due to a chance alumni connection.

In a nutshell, engineers from my old university are adapting technologies from the Large Hadron Collider to find ways to treat lung cancer tumours more effectively.

CERN group around collider

At the Large Hadron Collider

Dr Steve Hancock, who studied physics at Bath in 1980, had been working on 3D imaging technologies at CERN for over 20 years. He had the idea that the type of imaging used to examine tiny particles moving close to the speed of light could be beneficial in medical treatments too. So when he saw a tomography laboratory at the University mentioned in an alumni e-newsletter, he was inspired to get back in touch with Bath academics.

A year on and, alongside Dr Manuch Soleimani from the University’s Electrical Engineering Department, they secured £100,000 of funding from CERN to work together on the application of his technology. Lung cancer is particularly difficult to treat as the tumours move a lot within the body due to the motion of breathing. This makes it difficult for surgeons to remove all of the cancer without damaging healthy lung tissue. Bath and CERN’s technology should help surgeons to see the real time movement of cancer tumours in the body, and will hopefully one day translate into an affordable product that hospitals around the world can use. The project has the potential to impact the lives of thousands of cancer patients and is a great example of how blue skies research at CERN can turn up incredible and unexpected applications.

And where do I come in? I founded a Bath alumni group in Geneva a few years ago, because I wanted to help fellow graduates find their feet in the city, make friends and get on in their careers. We’re a mix of generations, working in all kinds of areas, from the UN and NGOs to pharmaceuticals and corporate finance. We try to meet up at least twice a year for drinks or dinner to share our experiences of working in Switzerland, have fun, and help each other in any ways that we can, such as passing on job opportunities.

To celebrate Bath’s new partnership (and the happy accident of our living in the city where the world’s most talked about science takes place right under our feet), the Alumni team at Bath arranged a special opportunity for our group to visit CERN in July.

Matthew Wilson, one of our newest members of the group, at CERN's Large Hadron Collider

Matthew Wilson, one of our newest members of the group, at the Large Hadron Collider

Our day began with a welcome from their ‘Head of Beams’, Paul Collier. Beams, we were to learn, are what they accelerate around the 27km long ring of tunnels which lie 150m below ground, before they collide in the Large Hadron Collider. While the beams are circling the ring it is the coldest place in the Universe, due to the liquid helium cooling the giant magnetic tubes, then the hottest place in the Universe when they collide, hotter than the centre of our sun! This was the first of many awe-inspiring facts and sights.

I was surprised to learn that CERN employs many more engineers than physicists - it is the engineers who designed and built CERN’s giant instruments. One point, particularly pertinent to a university like Bath, is that without the engineering and computing behind CERN, there would have been no Higgs Boson Particle, or World Wide Web (which was invented there).

The highlight of the day was descending down the lifts to see one of the Large Hadron Collider experiments, CMS. This was special access we’d only been granted because of Bath’s links to CERN, and it was a truly magnificent, Sci-Fi-esque vision. By this point the science had gone a little over our heads, with talk of quarks, laptons and fermions, but you couldn’t help but be impressed by the human achievement. When they conceived the idea of the Large Hadron Collider, the engineers and scientists hadn’t a clue how they would turn it into a reality, but through ingenuity and perseverance they succeeded.

This event was the first of its kind in for us in Geneva, and I would like to thank everyone who made it possible for us to gain such an amazing insight into the world of CERN. I look forward to seeing how Bath’s research project progresses and hope that this partnership will be the start of something remarkable.

Cary Adams (BSc Economics, Computing and Statistics 1985, MBA Business Administration 2002) is  Chief Executive of the Union for International Cancer Control and the leader of Bath’s alumni Chapter in Geneva.


Goodbye... and hello!

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📥  Bath, On campus

Do you remember your graduation day?

It can be a bit… well… emotional, as you say goodbye to the place you’ve called home for the last three years or more. But it’s also a new beginning.

Three days of ceremonies in the Abbey last week – many presided over by our new Chancellor, HRH The Earl of Wessex – saw thousands of students become Bath graduates.

Every year, we in the Alumni Relations team take time out to greet new graduates, their families and friends, and press a goody bag into their hands. It’s one of the highlights of the year for us when, on behalf of Bath alumni everywhere, we welcome new graduates into our thriving alumni community.

Graduation 2014 goodbye

Raise a glass to that...

This year we also asked new graduates to record their “Goodbye” – what they would miss about Bath ...

... or “Hello” – what they were looking forward to next.

Graduation 2014 hello

Enjoy it 🙂

See more Hellos and Goodbyes in our Flickr gallery.


BA2: A flying start

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📥  BA2

BA2 2014 How did 140 metres of concrete contribute to Olympic gold?

On a soggy Valentine’s Day evening 2014, students, staff and sporting superstars alike gathered around the TV screens at the University’s Sports Training Village. What brought them together was Bath-based athlete Lizzy Yarnold’s final skeleton run which saw her storm to Olympic victory in Sochi, finishing almost two-tenths of a second ahead of her nearest rival.

British Skeleton has its headquarters at the University; Yarnold trains here, following in the sled tracks of her landlady, graduate Amy Williams, who won gold in the same event at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Despite not having an ice-track in the country for athletes to train on, skeleton is now one of Britain’s most successful Olympic sports. How has the University helped this unlikely rise to dominance?

Tucked away beyond the playing fields at the eastern edge of campus is 140 metres of sloping concrete. The push-start track, built in 2001 with help from Lottery funding, is the only facility of its kind in the UK. It features wheeled sleds running on rails, and allows skeleton and bobsleigh athletes to work on their sprint starts all year round, away from the ice.

Lizzy Yarnold training on the University's concrete push-start track

Lizzy Yarnold training on the University's concrete push-start track

In a skeleton or bobsleigh run, the speed of the start is crucial. It’s calculated that any one-tenth of a second advantage you gain at the top of a run can become three-tenths by the time you reach the bottom. Successful athletes therefore need to have a perfect combination of power and sprinting speed.

The push-start track has an impressive track record (pardon the pun). Athletes who have trained here have won four skeleton medals in four successive Olympic Winter Games: Alex Coomber (bronze in 2002), alumna Shelley Rudman (silver in 2006), then back-to-back Olympic champions Williams and Yarnold.

Now the concrete track is becoming a star in its own right. Since Yarnold’s golden achievement in Sochi, the University, British Skeleton and British Bobsleigh have been inundated with enquiries from people wanting to have a go on the track themselves.

The University’s sports facilities already attract 1.3 million visitors a year, ranging from members of the local community playing a game of tennis, to Olympic and Paralympic athletes such as alumni Samantha Murray and Ben Rushgrove.

Stephen Baddeley, the University’s Director of Sport, says, “Bath is such an attractive university for aspiring young athletes because they are able to combine study with sport, whether it’s swimming, hurdling or skeleton. Successes at the Olympics and Paralympics have raised the profile of what we do here.

“It was terrific to have the opportunity to cheer Lizzy on to gold. Her success was testament to her own effort and also that of her support team. And of course, we are proud to host the headquarters of both British Skeleton and British Bobsleigh.”

Watch Guardian journalist Barry Glendenning try out the track before the Winter Olympics:




BA2: Memories are made of this

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📥  BA2

BA2 2014Did you know that in an overlooked corner of the Library is a treasure trove of University history, which tells the story of our campus and its inhabitants over almost 50 years? Molly Conisbee finds out what’s in the University Archives and Research Collections.

Tucked away at the back of the University’s Library is a veritable treasure trove: from photographs, magazines, old exam papers, student newspapers and letters, to official records, meeting minutes, payroll and pension files, prospectuses and more. All of this is overseen by University Archivist, Lizzie Richmond, who, since 1998, has been the guardian of this fantastic repository.

University Archivist Lizzie with assistant Adrian

University Archivist Lizzie with assistant Adrian

Lizzie is responsible for managing, maintaining and properly cataloguing the University’s archives. In doing this she must draw on her training as an historian to make decisions about what actually constitutes a valuable and ‘archive worthy’ object or document. “There are certain routine official documents that must be kept for legal, regulatory or operational reasons,” explains Lizzie, “but we also get sent lots of more unusual things that need to be sifted and assessed, to establish their value as an historical record of the institution.”

One of the hardest things to capture in an archive is some of the more ephemeral paraphernalia that might seem trivial at its moment of production, but can actually tell you volumes about how life on campus felt during certain eras. Amateur photographs, protest posters, information about gigs and concerts and sporting events, leaflets, flyers and student magazines are often amongst the best expressions of their zeitgeist.

An exciting new project hopes to digitise and catalogue a collection of old footage of campus life, mainly taken from former student TV recordings. These offer fascinating glimpses – not just at the fashions and phraseology of yesteryear – but also the changing physical features and landscape of campus as we have aged and expanded. As Lizzie remarks, “Understanding the experience of being a student here 20 or 30 years ago is much better expressed through a few short moments of fi lm than any number of meeting minutes. That’s one of the reasons I’d love to track down the keen photographers and fi lm-makers within our alumni community, to see if they have footage or pictures we can add to the collection. They offer an amazingly evocative glimpse of the campus through its history. And every year the student magazine had an ‘official’ photographer, so we know you’re out there!”

Some of the photographs in the archives – such as students swimming in the Roman Baths, or pushing a Fiat-500 around the city streets (this was apparently a popular game) – show the way that, for example, health and safety regulations have changed over time. Some of these larks clearly date from before the city was designated a World Heritage Site. Nowadays the University is very proud of its strong connection to the beautiful city of Bath, but as Lizzie notes, “It’s interesting to see how the external face of the University has changed. In the late 1960s and 1970s we were really proud of our cutting edge and modern campus and this was refl ected in printed institutional publications that tended to be quite formal. Over time our relationship with the City, which was always important, has come to feature more prominently. Now the University produces a huge amount of promotional material in a wide variety of media – most of it is heavily design-based and a bit more relaxed. This tells you lots about branding and changes in marketing techniques and how the University’s image has evolved.”

As well as being a repository of University records, the archive has been the lucky recipient of some research collections of wider, national and international importance. Hockey’s national governing body chose Bath to host the archives of the All England Women’s Hockey Association documenting the beginnings and early development of organised hockey played by women in the UK. The collection is fascinating not just to those who play the sport, it also offers an insight into social history and women’s experiences, because it tells the story of the changing ideas of acceptability in women’s dress; the practicalities of where women could (and could not) tour; the fact that the organisation was kept – deliberately – an all-women’s affair.

“It’s a wonderful resource,” recounts Lizzie. “I hope a student or academic here will explore it more thoroughly at some point, as this is an important piece of social, sporting and cultural history.”

The University also holds research collections relating to judo, rightwing politics, underwater acoustics, modern pentathlon, regional architecture, steam engines, botanical ecology, spelling reform, the SS Great Eastern, phonetics and Pitman’s shorthand.

“The archives are the University’s memory,” says Lizzie. “There are inevitably gaps in the collection, and we can’t really ever have enough things to go in it – especially the ‘off-the-record’ stuff, the things that capture the experience of studying or teaching here. “I hope our latest project digitising film footage will bring the memories of studying and living here flooding back for former students and staff. And better yet if that encourages people to send us some of their pictures or memorabilia.”

Police on campus

Alumnus Neil Jarman (BSc Building Engineering 1982) was kind enough to share some of his memories with the University archive. In his first term in 1978 he went to a concert at University Hall (many alumni remember amazing gigs they attended on campus in the 1970s and 1980s). Neil recalls, “The main act was a comedy trio called ‘Alberto y Los Trios Paranoias’. The support act was a then little-known band who called themselves ‘The Police’. The support band duly impressed all of us who attended.

“Sure that they would make the big time, I acquired one of the few posters put up for the concert. It was on my wall for a few years, including the Students’ Union President’s office during my sabbatical year.”

Neil has kindly donated his precious poster to the archive, where Lizzie has carefully stored it for future generations to enjoy.

Can you help us tell the story of our first 50 years? If you have any posters, photos or other memorabilia that you would like to donate to or share with the archive as we approach our 50th anniversary, please contact the Alumni Relations team at alumni@bath.ac.uk

Visit our 'Memories on a postcard' exhibition on Flickr


BA2: Box clever

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📥  BA2

BA2 2014Mentoring students is a great way to reconnect with your University and provide practical help that brings benefits all round, as one alumnus volunteer is finding out. Rachel Skerry meets the team behind Our Honest Foods, and their mentor.

The last BA2 magazine showed just how connected our alumni and students are, through a diverse support network which provides scholarships, offers work experience, supplies placement grants and invests in student enterprise projects.

Leafing through the magazine last year, graduate Laurence James (BSc Mathematics 1976) was inspired to get in touch to find out how he could help current students. He says, “I’ve always had a connection with the University. I’d never lost touch but, equally, I’d never felt particularly engaged.”

Laurence – who has almost 40 years of business experience behind him – leapt at our suggestion that he volunteer to mentor a student enterprise group, partly because it spoke to his own inner entrepreneur. “If I’m honest, it’s something I wished I had been able to do, but in 1976 if you were a maths graduate you either became an accountant, a teacher or you went into business on a graduate trainee scheme. I can’t recall anyone thinking ‘I’ll be an entrepreneur’– I don’t think the word had even been invented!”

The enterprise group in question were final year students Charles, Giles and Joe. Each had aspired to run their own businesses from an early age, cutting their teeth on enterprising schoolboy ventures. Giles sold sweets, Charles went door-to-door mowing lawns and Joe made smoothies in the Food Technology classrooms at lunchtime, recalling, “I was usually late to classes because I was scraping strawberry pips off the ceiling”.

Thrown together by the University’s highly competitive BSc Business Administration programme, they quickly sought to channel their different talents into a shared ambition. Fast forward to 2013 and, with a fledgling business plan, the soon-to-be graduates were looking for guidance.

Our Honest Foods

Bath graduates Giles, Charles and Joe, with their alumnus mentor Laurence.

The University’s Student Enterprise team arranged for Laurence to meet the group and he was bowled over: “I could see I would benefit from all their passion and energy – it’s infectious. I was very excited about the whole prospect.”

The team’s initial business idea was to supply Bath Freshers with a welcome pack when they arrived on campus, filled with essentials such as toothpaste, shower gel and Cup a Soup. ‘My Student Box’ hit the rocks when they discovered that they couldn’t get access to a sufficient number of company contacts to pitch their idea. Thankfully, they were brimming with other ideas, and with Laurence’s guidance, they changed course.

In autumn 2013 Charles, Giles and Joe launched Our Honest Foods, delivering boxes filled with snacks to offices and homes. They’re called Honest because they started off by leaving an ‘honesty box’ in each office where they delivered, so customers could pay for each snack individually. All the snacks in the boxes are British and most are sourced from small companies, which is something they are passionate about. They do everything from designing the packaging and marketing and sourcing the products, to making the office deliveries and selling at markets.

The group agrees that having a mentor has been invaluable, and the dynamic of their relationship with Laurence has changed as the business itself has evolved. Early formalities were soon abandoned in favour of a more relaxed approach: “Now we just go for beers!” observes Charles.

Laurence agrees. “I don’t think we’ve had many formal meetings. It’s more on demand. They say ‘We’ve got some things we want to talk through, can we get together?’ and we’ll perhaps spend an hour at my place and go for a beer. But it works.”

Joe says, ”We joke that it’s like counselling, but at the same time keeping that informality makes it cathartic for us. What comes up in conversation after just five minutes is usually the biggest issue that’s facing the business at the time.”

Each member of the group brims with confidence, acquired in part by coming through a tough business degree with flying colours. So what does their mentor add to the equation? Charles reckons, “The business degree teaches you the language of business, but not necessarily the strategic side. You do get taught theoretical strategy but when you’re in the real world, it’s different.”

On Laurence’s part, he feels he is contributing the benefit of his business experience: “Having been in corporate life for so long, it’s difficult to suddenly think as an entrepreneur. I tried to do it myself and went through a big learning curve. Also if you’re going to be an entrepreneur there is no better time than when you’re fresh from university because you don’t have the commitments you have later in life.”

So what’s next for Our Honest Foods? Thanks in part to local publicity, they recently secured a deal with the Bath Abbey hotel for a snack box to be left in every guest room, and they’re thinking up ever more innovative ways to get their tasty products out into the market place. Making Bath their business base is also helping them to open doors locally and, as Giles says, “Having the University of Bath tag is a real advantage for us.”

Accolades are coming thick and fast. Recently they won a Shell LiveWIRE award and in April they won the University Business Plan Competition, sponsored by Deloitte, which will see them head to New York to meet leading alumni in business.

Whatever the immediate future holds, they and Laurence have no intention of parting company. Giles says, “The University has been brilliant because it set us up with a great mentor and then let us be. There hasn’t been a necessity to fill out a form saying ‘We met on this day’, or have a regular monthly catch-up. It has been in ours and Laurence’s hands.”

And, as Laurence says, self-effacingly, “I would hope that they remember me when they go public!”

Are you inspired by what you have read? We have a variety of ways in which you can help current students and recent graduates, including becoming a mentor like Laurence. Please get in touch at alumni@bath.ac.uk to find out more.