paula skokowski


Entrepreneur Paula Skokowski (St Edmund Hall, 1980) shares how joining an alumni group can make a positive contribution to the world

Published: 6 June 2023


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Tell us about your time at Oxford

I was one of the first two women engineering students at St Edmund Hall, matriculating in 1980 along with Faith Wainwright.  My time at Oxford was exhilarating, challenging, transformative and launched my life. Being a female engineering student in 1980 definitely felt like being in the vanguard.

Reflecting on my experience I find it truly remarkable how pivotal my tutors, Joe Todd and Basil Kouvaritakis, were in providing me with the confidence and resilience to take on a career in technology. There is still much talk about the under representation of women in technology, yet from my personal experience Oxford was ahead of its time in encouraging and supporting women to pursue careers in STEM.

Tell us about your career journey from Oxford to where you are today

My career journey has enabled me to be on the front edge of technology, bringing new applications to market in robotics, voice interfaces, AI, location intelligence, and cybersecurity. I have helped to build a series of emerging technology companies from the ground up, as an early employee and part of the executive team, and have experienced firsthand the venture-backed startup world. More recently I have shifted gears to being an investor and advisor to early stage companies, including the co-founding of the Oxford Angel Fund.

Your first involvement with alumni volunteering was through The Oxford Entrepreneurs of the Bay Area, can you tell us more about this?

In 2017 I received an invitation to join an event for the newly formed Oxford Entrepreneurs of the Bay Area, spearheaded by Gauthier Philippart and Chris Mammen. I was delighted to be among fellow entrepreneurs who had the shared experience of studying at Oxford. I was impressed with the caliber of the founders. It was the beginning of the formation of the Oxford Entrepreneurs Network which was formally recognised as an official alumni group by the University of Oxford in 2019 and now has over 3000 alumni members. 

What has been your most rewarding experience volunteering with the group?

It has been particularly rewarding to see the sustained growth of the Oxford Entrepreneurs Network and the willingness of alumni to share their expertise and talents to help founders grow their ventures. I particularly enjoy listening to founders pitch their ventures, hearing their stories on why they chose to focus on solving a particular problem. It is inspiring to hear alumni describing the solutions they are creating across a wide variety of disciplines including healthcare, education, climate, AI, transportation, and housing, and hearing their commitment to making a positive impact in the world. Volunteering with the Oxford Entrepreneurs Network provides me with the opportunity to be a part of bringing these solutions to market.

You were also a founding member of the Oxford Angel Fund, how did the idea for this come about?

The monthly pitches by the Oxford Entrepreneurs Network were so good that the idea of investing in the companies came up, and led to the formation of an Angel investment fund for Oxonian alumni investors to help Oxford alumni founders move their ventures forward. Neil Wolff, Cameron Turner and I now co-manage the Oxford Angel Fund, with over 70 limited partners, all of whom are Oxford alumni. We are currently investing from Fund 2 with plans to launch Fund 3 in late 2023 to invest in US and UK based companies founded by Oxford alumni. Networks are vitally important to founders for advice, investment, warm introductions and hiring. Other leading universities, including Stanford, Harvard, MIT, UC Berkeley have strong networks to support their entrepreneurs. The Oxford Entrepreneurs Network and the Oxford Angel Fund are filling that gap for Oxford alumni.

What are you looking for in a start-up when choosing where to invest, with your money and/or your time?

It has been fascinating to see how different people assess startups. For me the most important criteria are whether this is truly a problem that needs solving, and will it actually make the world a better place. Once I have been convinced of that, I then place strong emphasis on the founders and their qualification and demonstrated commitment to solving this problem. The Oxford Angel Fund invests across a range of industries. My current interests lean towards cybersecurity, AI, and quantum computing.  After helping to build a series of companies I know firsthand that growing a company is a journey and will take many twists and turns. Working on solving a significant problem makes the challenges worthwhile and the victories even sweeter. 

What are your top three tips to being a successful entrepreneur?

Use your intellect and talents to solve a significant problem and make a positive contribution to the world. Always stay positive. Be honest in facing challenges.

How did you come to serve on the Oxford Alumni Board and what does your role involve?

My work with the Oxford Angel Fund and Oxford Entrepreneurs Network rekindled my connection with the University and I was interested in understanding and contributing to the strategic plan for the University.

What do you see as being the greatest value of the alumni network and why would you encourage alumni to get involved with an alumni group?

Oxford is a world leading university with the opportunity to have global impact on our current and future world. Alumni are an important component of the University’s impact and provide the touch points around the globe for making positive contributions based on interests and talents. The Oxford Entrepreneurs Network brings together alumni interested in building new ventures, similarly the Oxford Alumni Artificial Intelligence group brings together alumni working and contributing to this important new technology area. The alumni network and groups offer the opportunity for alumni to contribute and influence the world we live in.

You have chosen to use your skills to help others. How would you encourage Oxford alumni to apply their skills and experience to supporting others in the Oxford community?

Get involved in one of the alumni groups - it is an opportunity to engage on topics that are important to you and put your brain and talents to work.

How did Oxford change you?

Studying at Oxford was a transformative experience,  it launched my life, it set a high bar for achievement, it helped build my personal resilience, and it gave me the confidence to face life’s challenges and embrace the opportunities. For me, the question “How did Oxford change you?” should be accompanied with the question “How is Oxford impacting your life today?” I am proud to be a part of a university with such a long history and tremendous impact on the world.  As alumni we all have the opportunity to contribute to building the history of Oxford for the twentieth and twenty-first century through our work.

Entrepreneur Paula Skokowski is co-founder of Oxford Angel Fund,  a group of Oxford-educated investors with the common interest of investing in Oxford educated entrepreneurs.

The Oxford Entrepreneurs Network (OEN) launched in 2018 to take global the very successful Oxford Entrepreneurs of the Bay alumni group, which started in the San Francisco Bay Area. The OEN now comprises close to 2,000 members around the globe and is growing rapidly.

Oxford University Alumni Board is a community of advocates, supporters and influencers who contribute to the long term health of the University and the wider alumni community by sharing their expertise, experience and insights.