Alex Hearn is a true game-changer. While studying classics at Oxford, he kept an inventor’s diary and, just weeks before his mods, founded Oxford Entrepreneurs to turn his scribbles into fully-fledged ventures. The university refused him funding but Hearn, despite being an impoverished student, went ahead anyway with a £5,000 bank loan. “I lived to regret that,” he laughs.
Oxford was not best pleased with Hearn’s new venture. “There was the question of IP,” explains Hearn. “The university saw Oxford Entrepreneurs as a real threat. They worried that members would commercialise their ideas outside of the university.”
Nevertheless, eight years on, the group is still going strong. Oxford Entrepreneurs has churned out entrepreneurs like Kulveer and Harjeet Taggar, the founders of online marketplace BOSO, which now boasts 1,000 members from over 60 universities, and Tom Savage of Blueventures, who started his not-for-profit marine conservation and research firm in 2002. Hearn is incredibly modest about the success of his first venture: “It’s testament to those who followed after me that Oxford Entrepreneurs has seen such success,” he says.
Since finishing his degree, Alex Hearn has not been resting on his laurels. He founded pharmatech business Kind Consumer in 2006. Capitalising on his background in inhalation technologies, Hearn has developed a cigarette-replacement product to help smokers everywhere kick the habit. “I can’t tell you too much at the moment,” he says. “But we’re launching the Oxette in January. And it’s going to be big.”
You don’t have to take Hearn’s word for it; the numbers speak for themselves. Since inception, the firm has attracted £650,000-worth of angel funding and a board of heavyweights including Martin Beaumont, ex-CEO of the Co-operative Group and Grant Berry, ex-managing director at Lloyds TSB Development Capital (LDC). Not bad for a pre-revenue enterprise.
But Hearn has remained true to his roots. “I’m an inventor first and foremost,” he says. “I’m constantly coming up with new ideas. The point is to take a big problem, environmental or medical, and come up with a left-of-centre solution.
“That’s what an entrepreneur is,” he says. “People who do left-of-centre things. But do them with a bit of soul.”