Ihan Jayawardana is president of the Entrepreneurs Interactive Club at Imperial College Business School. After working for a large manufacturing company in Sri Lanka, M&S being one of his major clients, Ihan picked Imperial College Business School to study for his MBA because of the strong courses in entrepreneurship!
With Imperial’s world-renowned science and engineering faculties and strong ties to external institutions like the Royal College of Art, it presents the ideal place to discover new businesses ideas.
What is the name of your club? What does it do?
“Entrepreneurs Interactive Club - This year we are focused on creating an entrepreneurship journey for the members where they can learn about idea generation to financing!”
What are your Club’s big initiatives this year?
“Last year, the team organized for speakers to come in, but in a fairly ad-hoc way. This year we have launched the ‘entrepreneurship learning journey or learning curve’. We’ve tried to put it into a framework and bring some structure to the event schedule. We planned 12 free events at regular intervals throughout the year, mapped out to start with idea generation in the first few months then on to business planning, financing and funding.
For each event we find two or three experts in that topic to come and speak. For example, for the idea generation class we found a consultant with experience of working with entrepreneurs on a regular basis and discussing different product ideas.
It’s easier to find entrepreneurs and experts in a particular area. E.g. For a tech entrepreneur we targeted people already speaking at tech events!
At the end of the year the club hosts the business plan competition, the culmination of our yearlong efforts.”
Tell us more about the business plan competition…
“We have a start up module as part of the MBA called ‘Entrepreneurship, innovation and design’, a course that runs for 6 months. You start with an idea and the ideas can come from anyone – the course is tied to the local Royal College of Art and to the Imperial College’s well-known engineering faculty who contribute business ideas, also external companies can contribute but it has to be at a start-up level.
The MBA’s are then tasked to bring this company to fruition, with help from coaching sessions and mentors. After 6 months, the business plans are submitted and there’s a presentation where a group of judges select which groups go forward.
Then Club and the academic staff are responsible for organizing the panel of competition judges. Usually the panel is comprised of two angel investors, a venture capitalist and one entrepreneur.
The final groups will then need to do an elevator pitch and a winner is chosen. There’s the big end of year event with guest speakers & a prize giving - a financial prize which allows the company to start-up for real.
Last year the prize went to a venture that created solar panels for mobile phones, launched in Jamaica.”
How many members do you have?
“There are 7 in the committee but they’re not only full-time MBAs. Imperial College Business School has three MBA streams (Full-time, distance learning & EMBA) and many MSc courses so we have a good mixture of promoters, as this is one of the main clubs for the b-school.
We have 300 club members, some alumni and some current students. We publicize events at Imperial’s other faculties and departments too, such as Mechanical Engineering. Those outside Imperial are also welcomed at the events; we’ve invited students from LSE! On average we have between 50-75 people coming to the events.”
Why would someone join the club?
“If you want to be an entrepreneur and learn from mistakes and find out how to do things right then this is the ideal place. You can learn from the other students, this networking is one of the main advantages. Also mentoring - you can mention your ideas to speakers and other members to get feedback and ideas.
We also offer pitching training with an external group called ‘Flagons den’, a small group of entrepreneurs have a lot of experience in pitching ideas. They tour around and come to Imperial once or twice a month and allow people to pitch their ideas, get some practice and importantly receive feedback.”
What is the biggest perk of running the club?
“Networking and ability to meet other students, speakers and industry experts and to improve my knowledge, it’s been a good learning process. I also enjoy being able to give something back to the school.”
What is or has been the biggest challenge for your club so far?
“Getting good speakers is always a challenge – luckily this year, after the first couple of events, speakers have recommended people and we’ve got some good line-ups.
It’s a lot of work making sure you have a full house - our events are held after lectures and are not assessed so we really need to market them to get people in. We send email bulletins to our mailing list, we print leaflets, posters and send larger emails through the official channels – we also rely on word of mouth.”
A bit about your personal background: what were you doing pre-MBA?
“I did my BSc in computer science and business at Warwick and then went to Sri Lanka to work for one of the big manufacturing firms for 7 years – I was responsible for clients like Marks and Spencer.
I’m a food lover and I noticed the mobile food concept was not well established in Sri Lanka. Along with a few other directors in the company I created a mobile hot dog stand, that could move from place to place, we had between 6/7 trucks. It didn’t go well for lots of reasons, one was the high charge for parking permits, plus it was very hard to have a full-time job and fully commit to running a startup.
I chose Imperial because of the strong entrepreneurship aspect of the MBA and Imperial’s brand is very well recognized in south Asia, so I saw the advantage of coming to the UK.”
What's the most interesting trend in the world of entrepreneurs?
Variety! We see lots of different start-ups – a restaurant, a charity, a website – I’ve noticed a trend in the general interest of start-ups but low cost start-ups is KEY – bootstrapping.
The other trend is CSR, sustainability, social entrepreneurship; we’ve had an event about it. How can a start-up be successful financially and useful socially? We’ve noticed as part of many MBA programs there are courses on sustainability. Last years prize winning solar powered mobile phone is sustainable!
Is there anything else you'd like to share with the global b-school community?
Come along to our events it’s a good chance to meet students looking for business partners and external people are welcome.
The Club was successfully sponsored by Tata last year, so this year we’re looking for a new corporate sponsor to get involved!
Entrepreneurs Interactive LinkedIn page
A few photo's from one of Entrepreneurs Interactive's recent events:
Talk by Imperial alumni & music industry entreprneurs 'Who Sampled'
Hustle & Hack your way to success!
Ihan himself, introducing the Entreprneurs Interactive Club Launch Event!