by Theodore Pang (2013 Byron Fellow)

Dear 2014 Byron Fellows,

Last year, I was sitting in your place, listening to wonderful ideas and sharing mine. From experience, I can assure you that you are in a space of exciting possibilities – so sit tight.

The idea I shared at Byron was to set up a free marketplace (I studied Economics – so pun intended) of second-hand items, to help students at my university (University College London, or UCL). Unlike some universities where such services are provided for free by either the Students’ Union or the college administration itself, we didn’t have something similar. Hence, virtually everything that each graduating batch of students tried hard to dispose of was exactly what each incoming batch of students needed, but these different groups were not connected. Students had to use all other means, when the solution could be right at our doorstep – hence the idea of UCL Marketplace was born.

During the Byron prototyping session, I shared my idea openly, along with what I had done, what worked and what didn’t. The Byron Fellows at my table gave their suggestions, and helped by drawing up a plan of action – what actions I hoped to have done in the next week, the next month, and so on. I left with a greater sense of purpose, equipped with my plan of action.

Post Byron, I returned to London and pursued my plan with greater vigour. I spoke with everyone in UCL that I could think of who might well-suited to support the UCL Marketplace – including Student Society leaders, the Dean of Student Welfare, and even the then President and Provost – Sir Malcolm Grant himself. I was also speaking with social business advisors and pitching for funding. Along the way, my idea started and restarted in somewhat different form as new opportunities came along, or when I realized something (or someone) was not working. What I have learnt is to appreciate the iterative nature of the process, and to see these challenges as guides to point you in a better direction.

After some iteration, I have now partnered with staff from other universities in the Bloomsbury neighborhood. We are launching a Bloomsbury Bazaar, a bigger scale project for the benefit of all university students in the area. I am also talking with a homeless centre for youths, to see how we can use the Bazaar as a platform for entrepreneurship training for the young people, while getting their help with key services at the Bazaar – hopefully a win-win opportunity for all parties.

It’s heartening to know that you will have a supportive Byron community to connect with, even after the six days at Byron. Even though I’m based in the UK, I have kept in touch with friends on the other side of the world to keep them posted of my project. I am also privileged to have received a grant from the Byron Fellowship Educational Foundation to launch an online version of the Bazaar, with the possibility of serving local businesses when enough users get on board.

And it all starts in Byron. Come in with a laterally-inspired mind – you will find diversity among all the ideas, and there might be elements in others that might be helpful to yours. You will be challenged to define, refine, and go beyond your comfort zone to keep iterating until you achieve yours. Sit tight, for this experience brings exciting possiblities.