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Seven Questions with Oskar Zieba

7 January 2019

Oskar Zieba is in his fourth year studying Mechanical Engineering with Business Finance. He is a business owner and the recipient of a £5,000 award from the Launch £10,000 Programme. Oskar believes business is the best way to do something good for society.

Oskar Zieba

What are you studying and when do you graduate?
I am currently doing my fourth year of Mechanical Engineering with Business Finance. I’m expecting to graduate in 2019.

Why are you interested in this subject and what do you plan to do in the future?
I have always wanted to do something good for society and I always believed business is the best way to do it. That’s why it has always been my dream to run a company facing one of our most demanding problems, such as ocean plastic pollution, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, space exploration etc. I knew that a Mechanical Engineering degree, combined with finance and economics modules, was the best way to prepare myself for that challenge.
 
What is the most interesting thing you’ve done, seen or got involved with while at UCL?
Undoubtedly it would be activities organised by UCL Innovation & Enterprise. As soon as I discovered this centre of student entrepreneurship in my first year, I took the plunge and signed up for almost all the programmes possible. I met amazing people at networking events, I brainstormed ideas with Business Accelerator Advisers, and I learnt the basics of business at the Enterprise Boot Camp. The latter was the single most useful activity I’ve done at UCL to help me grow the entrepreneurial mindset that has remained with me ever since. The knowledge I acquired then helped me when I was launching my company, Blackwood (goblackwood.co.uk).

Have you discovered any hidden gems during your time at UCL?
With regards to events, I would point to the Launch £10,000 Programme organised by UCL Innovation & Enterprise where for two months 20 teams work hard on their business ideas to bring them to life. It is an excellent opportunity to start a meaningful project. On top of that, it’s possible to win funding during the programme. I finished in second place, which resulted in my company being given £5000, accelerating our growth.

My favourite place around UCL is for sure Newman House (111 Gower Street) - a catholic chaplaincy where UCL Catholic Society holds events. It’s a wonderful place with a great vibe, a beautiful chapel with daily mass, friendly people, and the cheapest bar in London (£2 beer anyone?). 

There is one shortcut which I always take that I can recommend to everyone. If you enter the Anatomy Building from Gower Street, take the stairs down to the basement, and turn right, and in 20 seconds you will find yourself in the Print Room Café. It saves you few minutes of walking around Darwin Building and the Science Library. 

Give us your top three things to do/see/go to in London:
1.    The National Gallery on Friday evenings - I think it is a very inspiring place for anyone, no matter what they study. Those paintings, those colourful walls, that vibe. It is amazing. On Fridays the gallery is open til 9pm (usually they close at 6pm) and around 7:30pm it gets quite empty. You can wander around for an hour or two just absorbing the art in silence, without crowds. The best way to start a weekend.
2.    Richmond Park - Coming from a place where there is plenty of nature, I sometimes feel a bit stuck in London. I need some open space to take a breath, to reconnect with nature, to think. Richmond Park gives me this opportunity. Around 40 min of cycling from the campus and you are surrounded by deer running around.
3.    Les Misérables, the musical - even if you are not a theatre fan, Les Misérables is a beautiful story that never fails to move people. I think everyone should see it at least once when coming to London.

If you were Provost for the day what one thing would you do?
Where to begin…I would organise an interdepartmental Entrepreneurship Day or a one-day-long Global Citizenship Programme. As I said above, I believe business is the best way to change the world. Sadly, many people lack the confidence, they don’t believe their knowledge and skillset are enough to have an impact or to get involved in solving demanding problems. It is my dream to show all UCL students that it doesn’t matter what your background is to make cool stuff happen. It would be a day without regular lectures, it would be all about workshops, business competitions, team working activities, networking events, and talks given by many inspiring guests.

At the end of the day, I would organise a dinner with the most interesting and famous alumni of UCL to meet them, hear their stories, and discuss ways we could work together.

Who inspires you and why?
There are two people who are my main inspiration. My mother and Elon Musk. 

A few years ago my father was dying from cancer and my mum showed an incredible amount of strength. When it was getting really tough, she always kept focused and made sure me and my younger sister were okay. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Whenever I’m struggling with something, I think of her and her strength.

I like Elon Musk because he is not afraid to do things differently. And to do them all at once. I am a person with many ideas but I was always worried how I can implement them all. Seeing that it’s possible to send rockets into space, build the best cars in the world, and do some other cool stuff in your spare time encouraged me to dream big, and to work on my ideas.

What would it surprise people to know about you?
I think people are always surprised when I tell them that I run a company. Especially when I elaborate that Blackwood is a fashion brand.

Like Steve Jobs always wore his turtleneck and Mark Zuckerberg wears grey T-shirts, I only wear plain black T-shirts. It allows me to minimise the number of decisions I have to make every day so I can think on more important things. Because of this, I may appear as someone who doesn’t know much about fashion; quite the opposite is the truth! I spent two years in luxury retail and in the last year and a half I have been working on my own premium fashion brand.