UCL News


Spotlight on Lillian Shapiro

3 February 2016

This week the spotlight is on Lillian Shapiro, Student Business Advisor, UCL Advances.

Lillian Shapiro

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am a Student Business Advisor in UCL Advances, UCL's centre for entrepreneurship and business interaction, which helps anyone who wants to learn about, start or grow a business. 

My role is to provide one-to-one advice, guidance and encouragement to students, recent alumni (within a year of graduation) and some UCL staff to help them to start, build and grow their businesses.

If you have a great idea for a business, but aren't sure how to make it happen, or you've developed an interesting product but don't understand how to price or market it, I can help you. 

The Student Business Advisors provide guidance on all stages of business development, from idea creation, problem/solution fit, validation and financials to business model, team dynamics, marketing and promotion.

I can give expert, practical, impartial and confidential advice; I have many years' experience of successfully setting up and running businesses, and provide relevant, pragmatic guidance that takes an individual's personal aspirations and goals into account.

Setting up and keeping a business going is hard. It can be scary; entrepreneurs take a huge risk. When you can't see the wood for the trees, the UCL Advances' Student Business Advisor team are here to listen and be a metaphorical (and sometimes actual!) shoulder to cry on. We're experts in the territory and can help you negotiate it successfully.

I also run UCL's Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa initiative. Overseas student are not allowed to start their own businesses while on a Tier 4 visa.

UCL, in common with several other universities, can endorse up to 20 overseas students per year, those we have judged to have a credible and genuine business idea, for a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa when they have graduated.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

Five years - I joined UCL Advances in October 2010, as the first Student Business Advisor. I work part-time at UCL and previously also worked part-time on my own business - a requirement for all our Student Business Advisors; we practice what we preach.

Due to personal circumstances, I have had to close my own business consultancy, Amiba, which I co-founded in 2001. I also voluntarily advised start-up businesses as a Prince's Trust Business Mentor for 10 years.

Prior to starting Amiba, I set up and developed the European subsidiary of Harte-Hanks, a publicly quoted US CRM company, successfully merging it with an acquired company, and was promoted to International MD. Prior to that, I was UK MD of IDC, the world's leading provider of technology intelligence.

I started my career as a Unilever management trainee after graduating from Leeds University with a degree in chemical engineering. For several years, I was a judge for the British Design Awards (Computer Software) and the Guardian Innovation Challenge.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

Helping student businesses to be successful is the best reward in this job; it is very satisfying knowing that I have helped them in a small way to set off on the right foot. Examples include the following UCL start-ups who have all won a Bright Ideas start-up loan from UCL Advances:

Kino-mo: develops high tech smart visual technologies. Kino-mo has won many awards including the 2015 Virgin £1million "Pitch to Rich" competition (out of 2,400 entrants), and Dragons' Den.

bio-bean: one of the most exciting start-ups to come out of UCL Advances, bio-bean recycles coffee grounds into biodiesel and biomass pellets. Co-founder Arthur Kay was voted Guardian Sustainable Business Leader of the Year 2015 and is the youngest-ever winner of this award.

Basestone: disruptive technology for the construction industry. Basestone was crowned "Best Start-up" out of 1,500 pitching at WebSummit, has raised £500k funding and is being used on major construction projects including Crossrail and HS2.

HaikuJam: a totally addictive 'collaborative creativity' app through which people can create poetic expressions together - I strongly advise you to download the app and start playing!

The New York Times featured HaikuJam as one of the top creative apps to jump-start creative thinking and spark new ideas, and the Observer & the Guardian named HaikuJAM amongst the "50 BEST CREATIVE APPS" globally.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?

For the next three months, my top project is the UCL Advances Bright Ideas Awards, which I manage. Launched in 2008, the Bright Ideas Awards help fledgling UCL student companies to get the start-up capital they need to grow.

Fundraising can be a problem for student start-ups: few companies will lend money to individuals with no previous business experience or track record, and they are not yet ready for venture capital investment.

A total of £75,000 in funding is available to share between new businesses. It's specifically allocated to businesses that can show they can reach the next crucial milestone in their development through this funding, whether it's creating a prototype or using it to land their first customer.

Along with the prize money, winners gain access to intensive 1-to-1 mentoring from me and the Student Business Advisor team, space in the UCL Hatchery and the chance for further training opportunities through UCL Advances.

This year's award deadline is 9am on Monday 29 February.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Album: The Best of Abdullah Ibrahim. The second track, Mannenberg, is my mobile phone ringtone.

Film: Mr Hulot's Holiday. Jacques Tati is a wonderful observer of human character; this film is very funny and a joy to watch.

Novel: I don't have one favourite. Contenders would be The Infatuations (Javier Marias), The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt), Fugitive Pieces (Anne Michaels), and A Tale for the Time Being (Ruth Ozeki)

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

Have you heard the one about the agnostic dyslexic insomniac who lies awake at night worrying about whether there is a dog?

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

If it's a dream, am I allowed to name people who are no longer with us? If so, Nelson Mandela would be my number one choice. What a man, to react so generously and humbly after 27 years of imprisonment.

Dream "live" guests would include Peter Singer, the Australian moral philosopher (whose book Animal Liberation assisted in turning me into a vegetarian 33 years ago), Daniel Kitson (a compelling and entertaining storyteller) and Nicola Sturgeon (an impressive and committed leader).

I don't like big dinner parties, so that would be it apart from my lovely, intelligent husband Lionel and a couple of good friends who are excellent at debating.

What advice would you give your younger self?

"Be more cat" (to paraphrase the O2 ad!). Cats don't care what people think about them; it would be good to worry less about that.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I went to the Grand National in Aintree as the personal guest of Clement Freud. And I am a trained glider pilot.

What is your favourite place?

Kalk Bay in South Africa. My husband is South African and when we visit his family, this lovely little fishing village is our favourite spot.