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Entrepreneur in Residence: Anna B Sexton on supporting students

We spoke to one of LSBU’s Entrepreneurs in Residence, Anna B Sexton, about her role as Entrepreneur in Residence and why she enjoys putting her creativity to good use

Anna B Sexton: Director, Open To Create…

Anna is an Essex-born, London-based artist whose drive is to inspire everyday creativity via Ignite Your Creativity Retreats, Get Lost Walks and Open To Create…, which began life as Open To Arts in 2006 and evolved into Open To Create … in 2011. Their motto is ‘you don't have to be an artist to be creative’.

Anna is passionate about the power of creativity to inspire self-esteem and boost confidence. She is a practising artist and been a freelance creative consultant since 2003. Clients value Anna's "openness, honesty, and her ability to shake things up with new ideas, thinking and fun activities – she is a breath of fresh air!"

Here she tells us how she likes to use her ideas and creativity to help LSBU students as an Entrepreneur in Residence.

I love seeing the students and graduates shine, whether it’s a perceived ‘small’ step such as learning their pitch after being very shy/fearful of speaking in public, or more sustained leaps in businesses when an investor signs off a deal.

- Anna Sexton, Director, Open To Create...

Why did you become an Entrepreneur in Residence?

I knew Linsey Cole via our work together at Centre of the Excellence for Women’s Entrepreneurship at UEL, so when she invited me to consider joining the scheme I jumped at the chance. I was drawn to the idea of being an Entrepreneur in Residence as it’s a play on the idea of being an Artist in Residence – I believed it would enable me to make more of a difference being on site with students, graduates and staff at LSBU. I also saw that this role could enable me to grow my own skills, networks and capacity as a SME creative business owner through being at the Clarence Centre.

What does your role involve?

It’s a varied role with a mix of creative coaching one-to-ones with either student start-ups or more established graduate entrepreneurs. I work with different Research, Enterprise and Innovation (REI) team members to co-design talks about creative freelancing, short workshops about creativity and design thinking for Social Care School students, or I might be judging the shortlist for the Make It Happen pitching competition or SPARK courses. I am invited to meet academic and support staff and seek ways to collaborate across the LBSU Schools.  For example, I have worked with the School of Arts and Creative Industries on joint events such as Celebrating Successful Female Creative Leaders which was a top 25 UK Global Entrepreneur Week-listed event.

Why do you think this role is important?

The role and the growing Entrepreneur in Residence team is vital for students and graduates who can learn from doing alongside Entrepreneur in Residence who are at differing stages in their SME journey. I see the student entrepreneurs growing ideas through informal chats in the Graduate Entrepreneur office space, learning how to pitch in small and safe pitching workshops and gaining amazing opportunities to network through access to such wide-ranging skills bases in the Entrepreneur in Residence team.

What highlights have you seen so far?

I love seeing the students and graduates shine, whether it’s a perceived ‘small’ step such as learning their pitch after being very shy/fearful of speaking in public, or more sustained leaps in businesses when an investor signs off a deal. Here I am thinking of Simon with Fit2Trip and Ben and Tom with Falcon HQ; seeing these business owners find creative ways to sustain themselves and push through to succeed is so rewarding.

Are there any challenges that you have had to overcome?

Making sure the topics and themes I share are relevant to an ever-changing student body from diverse backgrounds, keeping up with changes in technology and supporting students to keep motivated when they have such challenging timetables to deal with as students, entrepreneurs and family members.

What has made you most proud to be an Entrepreneur in Residence?

The big win LSBU secured at The Times Higher event in November 2016 to become Entrepreneurial University of the Year 2016. Winning such awards is the pinnacle of each step that is taking in each day, week, term, year… to do so within 18 months from a standing start is a real marker of all the team’s input and gives REI and whole university a benchmark of the enterprise and entrepreneurship innovations they are co-creating.

Any final thoughts?

It’s important to say that it is not just the REI team and overall LSBU ethos towards enterprise and entrepreneurship that makes being an Entrepreneur in Residence a joy, it is the Clarence Centre too. I find working in the offices, hub and break-out spaces so easy going and perfect for thinking and making new ideas happen.

I try often to put my finger on why the space works so well – definitely the superb, friendly reception teams, the cafe teams and the outdoor space help. I just think it’s such a vital ingredient is the overall success of REI and Entrepreneur in Residence. My clients love coming to meet with me at the Clarence Centre.