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Rewarding sustainable start-ups and inspiring future business founders at QE’s entrepreneurship festival

Hundreds of sixth-formers were involved in a two-day entrepreneurship festival hosted by QE that featured a pitching competition where real money was offered to real entrepreneurs.

As well as a workshop and presentations, the festival incorporated the final of the quarterly Startup Competition run by LSE Generate – the London School of Economics and Political Science’s entrepreneurial hub. This included a Dragon’s Den-style pitching competition.

Year 12 pupils from QE were joined by counterparts visiting from North London Collegiate School. QE frequently collaborates with NLCS as part of an academic partnership between the two schools.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “It was an inspiring couple of days! Hosting the event provided a brilliant way of celebrating innovation and leadership among entrepreneurs of all backgrounds, giving our boys an insight into the worlds of business and seed-funding.

“The workshop got the students working together to think about how they can empower themselves and others to solve the problems they see in society.”

The workshop was run by entrepreneur Nikita Khandwala and the LSE Generate team. Nikita, who read Spanish and Linguistics at the University of Oxford, is a freelance writer and consultant, who is also Head of Partnerships for the London Interdisciplinary School.

Assistant Head (Pupil Involvement) Crispin Bonham-Carter outlined some of the highlights of the festival and the numbers involved.

  • “Sixty Year 12 students from the two schools workshopped key entrepreneurial skills, guided by the wonderful Nikita Khandwala;
  • Six real-life start-up founders gave an inspiring after-school presentation;
  • Over 200 boys watched the pitching competition itself;
  • Another 50 boys took part in an impromptu Q&A with the entrepreneurs during the judges’ deliberations.”

Several start-ups were allocated funding, with the top prize of £6,000 going to Haja Isatu Bah, who runs Uman4Uman, a social enterprise that focuses on the issue of period poverty in Africa, providing young girls in Sierra Leone with reusable, sustainable sanitary pads.

Haja said afterwards: “It was an honour to showcase our mission and vision alongside seven other remarkable startups, each striving to make a positive impact in their respective communities.”

The £4,000 second prize went to Prakriti Gautam, who runs agricultural business Khetipati Organics, which works with smallholders in Dhankuta, Eastern Nepal, offering them fair prices, while also providing opportunities to young people. Third and fourth prizes were £2,000 apiece, with £1,000 awarded to the four runners-up.

All the businesses had to explain how they are contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The sixth-formers even had the chance to allocate some money themselves: those observing the pitches in the competition were able to put their questions to the participants and vote – resulting in the award of a special £2,000 grant. This was added to the prize money awarded by the adult judges.

This vote for the best presentation went to one of the four runners-up, The Corporate Law Academy – described as “the largest community for those entering the legal profession, with over 20,000 members”. Its founder, Jaysen Sutton, later said he was “grateful to have won audience favourite and grant funding”. He thanked the organisers for giving him “the opportunity to talk to a very engaged group of school students”.

To view photos from festival, click on the thumbnails below.

Careers Convention offers guidance on corporate finance, the creative industries, consultancy, chiropractic medicine and the civil service – and that’s just the Cs!

It’s not just about what you know, nor even who you know…you have to learn to build trust and communicate well if you want to get ahead in your business career.

That was one of the important messages at the School’s 2024 Careers Convention, held as part of the new QE Futures programme.

Dozens of Old Elizabethans and other supporters turned out to help Year 11 find their path during a day that featured morning talks and a series of workshops, as well as a careers fair, where boys had the opportunity to gain one-to-one support and guidance.

Assistant Head (Pupil Destinations) James Kane, who heads QE Futures, said: “The day provides insights into a range of careers from those already embedded in them. We find that the large number of our alumni who help are especially able to understand the current boys and their perspective.

“Naturally, the guests do share some role-specific guidance during the day, but many stressed the broader skills that are highly valued in their wider sector. It was notable that all those who spoke about careers in business, finance and insurance emphasised the importance of being able to communicate verbally and successfully build personal relationships – that those being most successful in these careers are the people who can build trust with their clients and colleagues.

“The day was very positively received by the boys and by our visitors. My thanks go to all who gave their time: we hope to see you back at QE soon.”

The day started with an introduction by Mr Kane in the Main School Hall and plenary sessions on Keeping an Open Mind by performance coach and motivational speaker Kam Taj (OE 2004–2011) and on Appropriate Alternatives to University by Annice Abanda, an adviser with the Education Development Trust for the ASK Programme (Apprenticeship Support And Knowledge For Schools And Colleges).

It was, Kam said afterwards, “wonderful to return” and speak to the 180 pupils. He shared three ‘takeways’:

  1. You are not meant to know your future path, provided you know your current goals and ambitions and can move on when they change.
  2. Celebrate when you find something you dislike, because this discomfort supplies the impetus to ask what you want to do and to change your situation.
  3. We are constantly changing, so reject norms that no longer suit you, embracing change and honouring your growth.

The boys then went to their chosen talks in two half-hour sessions before lunch. These covered careers in areas including: Medicine; Entrepreneurship; Business; Finance & Insurance; and STEM.

The afternoon’s careers fair in the Shearly Hall enabled the boys to practise their networking skills as they sought more information about the different options available to them.

Among those advising on careers in Engineering was Rahil Shah (2012–2019), who shared with the pupil delegates about his own journey towards his current role as a software engineer at Bloomberg. After the convention, he reflected on his experience there: “I met a lot of bright, driven students who had ideas of going into STEM at A-Level, university and beyond.

“Some students had more clarity on this future trajectory than others. But that is PERFECTLY OK! Reading Computer Science at university was a leap of faith for me. I must have changed my mind on what I wanted to study at least five times.”

Held in parallel with the two careers fair sessions were several workshops. Among those proving popular was the one entitled Preparing for university and the world of work led by Arvind Raghu, Sujan Boddu, Vishruth Dhamodharan and Akshit Varkala.

  • Click on the thumbnails below to view photos from the day.
Fired up and loving their STAARring roles!

Five QE boys got to grips with cutting-edge aerospace technologies at a summer residential after triumphing in a spring competition.

The group headed to Shropshire for the Summer Time Advanced Aerospace Residency (STAAR), at RAF Cosford, near Shifnal, and the nearby RAF Museum, learning from industry experts in a packed five-day programme.

Head of Digital Teaching and Learning Michael Noonan said: “It was fantastic to see students take the initiative and independently apply for the STAAR programme. The five were amongst a wide cohort who applied for a place on this highly prestigious residential, and from speaking with them on their return from the holidays, I know it has only further ignited a passion in them for careers and study in STEM-related subjects.”

The organisers of the event included education technology consultancy Tablet Academy (TA) Education. After the camp, its Head of Training, Samantha O’Leary, wrote to Mr Noonan full of praise for the QE boys: “They are a funny, confident, thoughtful, and intelligent bunch who integrated incredibly well with the students from the other schools. So much so, you wouldn’t have known they were from different schools at all. They were fantastic representatives for the school, and it was a pleasure to work with them.”

The QE five were among only 40 winners of the competition, which was open to those in Year 9 in 2022–2023. They were Keeyan Shah, Kyle Goldband, Neil Kulkarni, Keshav Aggarwal and Ishaan Mishra.

Keeyan said: “The STAAR residential was greatly enjoyable. We had an action-packed week filled with fun activities from coding a drone to flying a plane simulator. It was an amazing experience.”

Neil said: “We did quite a few activities at the residential, most of which included extremely high-tech tools. These included some things such as flight ‘sims’ and wind tunnels. We also had a chance to see roughly what living in an RAF base was like, with the mess hall and gym and things like that. Overall, it was an extremely fun, informative and unique opportunity and a highlight of our holidays.”

Keshav described the camp as a “a hands-on experience showing aerospace engineering and aeronautical design”. It was, he said, an “an eye-opening experience which will stay with me forever”.

Neil added that it was not just the academic aspects of the trip that he enjoyed: “Meeting people from other schools who had won the competition was very cool, talking about their school and just meeting new people in general. And then the residency itself – living with our friends – was very fun and the responsibilities of living without parents to help was a big realisation.”

The competition to secure their places involved completing four STEM tasks relating to: decryption/encryption; reconnaissance; creating a CAD model, and creating a team presentation.

Organised in partnership with TA Education, the camp was sponsored by Northrop Grumman – a huge American defence and aerospace company formed by Northrop Aircraft’s 1994 acquisition of Grumman Aerospace, which built the Apollo programme’s lunar module.

The boys stayed with chaperones and followed a course delivered at both the RAF Museum and RAF Cosford by: the museum’s STEM Ambassadors; industry experts from Northrop Grumman; TA professionals and RAF STEM personnel.


Entrepreneur Arian passes on lessons from Silicon Valley

3D printing entrepreneur Arian Aghababaie, co-founder of California-based Holo, shared insights into the latest developments in additive manufacturing and gave advice on engineering careers when he led two inspirational events at QE during a visit to the UK.

After working for global software firm Autodesk, based in San Francisco, Arian (OE 1998–2003) raised venture capital and successfully spun out its additive manufacturing team to form Holo, while also transitioning its technology from the 3D printing of polymers to metals. Six-and-a-half years later, Holo is at the forefront of innovation, using its proprietary digital platform to enable the manufacturing at scale of high-performance parts across a range of materials, including metals, ceramics and composites. Holo is supported by top-tier Silicon Valley investors and strategic partners.

Arian’s morning at QE began with a tour of the School, before he led a Sixth Form additive manufacturing workshop, with five of QE’s own 3D printers on hand. Later, he delivered a lunchtime talk, giving his take on careers in engineering and 3D printing.

Head of Technology Michael Noonan said: “Arian provided Year 12 with a workshop which firstly covered his professional journey to date, from his early days post PhD working on founding his own company (The Invention Works) through to his position as Senior Principal Engineer at Autodesk. Most of the workshop, however, focussed on his current company, Holo. He explained that he and the other co-founders could see the enormous potential to create a viable business in this area and so pursued it as an opportunity.”

Arian went on to explain the details around the scale of production, the materials used and the fidelity of the products which Holo’s machines can make through its own PureForm Technology.

“His technologies have a unique advantage over competitors, and he works with many major companies in the healthcare, consumer electronics, robotics, and automotive sectors, to name a few,” said Mr Noonan.

He even set the Year 12 boys a challenge to develop a product using QE’s own 3D printers. They should design (and perhaps build) a scaled-up, minimally invasive surgical instrument. His requirements were that:

  • The instrument should have six degrees of freedom
  • It should be able to be cable or gear-driven
  • The boys’ work should include the design of at least two custom end-effectors (the devices at the end of a robotic arm, designed to interact with the environment)
  • They should determine its size and features based on the capabilities of their own printers.

Bonus points were offered for the designs with the fewest components and if the end-effectors could be easily changed within the same clevis pin (part of a fastener system)!

Two examples of the boys’ work in response to the challenge are shown here.

In the lunchtime talk to Year 10, Arian took a more personal look at his story, beginning with his time at QE, when he was in Stapylton House and was a musician and prefect.

After first presenting a version of his life which had him gliding seamlessly from his first engineering degree at Bristol to gaining his doctorate, also at Bristol, moving to San Francisco in 2016 and then founding Holo the following year, he next spoke about “what it’s actually been like” – a narrative that includes leaving QE early, dropping out of university, the financial crash and the huge impact of Covid.

The lessons he learned included “stay true to your authentic self” and “don’t fear failure”.

The visit came about after Headmaster Neil Enright struck up a conversation with Arian on LinkedIn.

Mr Noonan said: “It really was a tremendous day. One of the boys involved said to me afterwards: ‘Sir, are you aware that Arian is working in the job we all dream to have one day?’ I am immensely grateful to Arian for taking the time to give back to his School and for giving our students something amazing to aspire to.”


If I were you…getting the inside track on university life

Large numbers of last year’s leavers returned to QE to support current pupils at the School’s University Convention.

Organised as part of the QE’s extensive programme to support boys preparing for the next stage in their education, the morning event aims to provide detailed and specific guidance to the current Year 12.

It provides an opportunity for boys to hear an unembellished, honest account of particular universities and degree courses from those with the most recent experience possible, namely QE undergraduates who completed their A-levels only last summer.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “It was great to see many of our 2022 leavers back here to provide their guidance to the current Year 12 and to catch up with them two terms into their time as Old Elizabethans.”

This year’s University Convention, which was held in the Shearly Hall, covered a wide range of universities and courses. There was also the opportunity to hear from those on gap years.

“It is so valuable for our current students to get first-hand information – the inside track – from those studying on courses and at destinations they are considering, helping them very much with the choices that they will be making later in the year,” said Mr Enright.

“I think that the visiting alumni enjoyed it, too: as well as supporting their School, it was a good opportunity to for them to meet up with others from their year group.”

The event, which included a buffet lunch in the Main School Hall for alumni and staff after the morning’s activities, is just one of the ways in which alumni support current pupils in planning their futures.

Old boys of all ages come along to the annual Careers Convention for Year 11, while the School welcomes a succession of Old Elizabethans in person and remotely during the year to deliver expert talks on a variety of career-related and academic topics, to conduct mock interviews, or to contribute to other School events. Alumni can even sign up to make themselves available through the dedicated QE Connect alumni network.

Courting success in mock trial competition

A QE team fought off a challenge from three other schools to win a legal competition, attracting praise for their performances both as defence and as prosecution.

The 14-strong Year 9 team took part in two mock trials in the local heat of the Young Citizens Magistrates’ Court Mock Trial competition.

They won the heat, even though the verdict for the trial in which they were the defence was ‘guilty’.

Congratulating them, Enrichment tutor Kanak Shah said: “The boys’ preparation in the run-up to the heat and their performance on the day were both important factors in their success.”

Ms Shah accompanied the boys to the competition heat, along with fellow Enrichment tutor Eleanor Pickering.

The mock trials were of a defendant charged with possession of an offensive weapon – a lump hammer – in a public place. The case turned on whether the hammer was used offensively.

The boys auditioned to be part of the team some months ago. The successful candidates then prepared their case over the ensuing period, guided by Ms Shah. The team comprised not only prosecution and defence lawyers but also magistrates, witnesses, legal advisors and an usher.

The competition judges were, in fact, real-life magistrates. “We had even had a visit from Magistrate Catherina Daly previously to help us prepare our case,” said Ms Shah. And, adding further to the competition’s verisimilitude, the heat was held at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court.

In the first trial, the lawyers for the defence were QE’s Keshav Aggarwal and Soham Sapra. The ‘guilty’ verdict here had had no bearing on the judges’ scores. QE won the round, with the judges highlighting their “strong team performance”.

Roles were reversed in round 2, where the QE pairing of Aahan Shah and Shashank Devaguptapu spoke as prosecutors. The verdict was again ‘guilty’, and QE once more won the round. In their notes, the judges stated: “It was a strong performance and showed good preparation, knowing facts. Confident in delivery.”

The rest of the QE team were:

  • Magistrates – Hardik Ingale, Ishan Nakadi & Avan Khan
  • Witnesses – Shubhay Chawla, Nimesh Nirojan, Jitin Sanapala & Eesa Bhaijee
  • Legal advisors – Daniel Kollo & Orko Ghosh
  • Usher – Nafis Meah.

The Young Citizens Magistrates’ Court Mock Trial competition is for 12–14 year-olds from state schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Careering along the right path: convention helps pupils consider their futures

Dozens of Old Elizabethans and other guests turned out to advise Year 11 boys on their future paths in a new-style QE Careers Convention.

The event featured sessions focusing on specific professions, seminars offering guidance on a range of career-related topics, and an afternoon careers fair where the boys could gain one-to-one advice from alumni and other external guests.

In a break with previous years, this year’s event, spearheaded by Assistant Head (Pupil Destinations) James Kane, was held during the day and was run with a new format.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “My thanks go to the many OEs and other friends of the School who visited to support the Careers Convention. It was wonderful to see some new faces alongside veterans from the pre-pandemic years.

“We wanted to give students the opportunity to hear from and talk to people working in a wide range of industries and professions, whether to open up new possibilities for them or to provide insight into areas they were already considering. This kind of support is invaluable as they begin to make decisions about their futures.”

Following a welcome from Mr Kane, motivational speaker and executive coach Kam Taj (OE 2004–2011) delivered a keynote speech to the whole year group on Keeping an Open Mind.

Kam shared with the 180 boys the ups and downs of his own story, including his thwarted ambition to play professional basketball, his success in gaining a place at Cambridge and the personal crisis he went through at the age of 21. “Now, six years later, I have two business – my leadership & coaching services for professionals, and my Exam Success Academy courses for students. I’m doing what I love and what fulfils me most.”

After his talk, and a session on Appropriate Alternatives to University, all Year 11 had a half-hour talk on careers in medicine. They could choose also between sessions looking at careers in law, finance and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).

After lunch, the options were for the following talks:

  • ‘Swiggly careers’ – ditch the ladder and discover opportunity
  • Essential employability skills
  • How your career can help to solve the world’s pressing problems.

The careers fair, which took place in the spacious setting of the Shearly Hall, featured more than 50 guests, most of them Old Elizabethans, covering the following areas: accounting, banking & finance; built environment; charities & voluntary sector; creative industries & media; engineering; law; medicine, dentistry & veterinary medicine; professional & business services; public sector, and science & technology.

Mr Kane, who leads on careers provision at QE, said: “There are many different pathways to success, and the day made clear to the boys that career progression may take unexpected turns along the way. We raised awareness about alternative paths to university, including apprenticeships, which is a route a small number of leavers have successfully followed in recent years.

“Part of the day was to encourage our Year 11 boys to think about careers that hadn’t necessarily occurred to them or been top of their agenda. I was pleased with how they responded.”

“In a world of wannabes, Woods is the real deal”

Until recently, Ali Woods was, as one reviewer put it, PR man by day, comedian by night.

Better known to his QE contemporaries as Alister Heywood (OE 2005–2012), he first made a name on TikTok and then gained a big boost when his debut solo show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe sold out amid five-star reviews.

Now, underpinned by his huge online following, he has given up the day job and become a professional comedian.

The very first time he was involved in performing comedy was at York, where he was reading English & Related Literature. He was part of a university ‘improv’ group called The Shambles. He then first did stand-up in London in 2015 at open mic nights. In 2017, he was runner-up in the Leicester Square New Comedian of the Year competition and was short-listed for a BBC New Comedy Award in both 2017 and 2018.

Alister won Hackney Empire New Act of the Year 2020Evening Standard writer Bruce Dessau’s quotation in the headline is from that time. He has appeared on BBC Radio 4, TalkRadio and TalkSport, alongside hosting his own podcast, All I Do Is Fail.

All of this was achieved while he was simultaneously working in PR: he is working his notice as a New Business and Marketing Executive for the Propeller Group (a global PR, content and events agency) and finishes on 21st December.

Alister was planning to do his debut full stand-up show in 2020, but was thwarted by the pandemic. Instead, during lockdown he started making videos, which soon went viral. Today, he has 153,000 followers on Instagram and 113,000 on TikTok. His online comedy sketches under the tag @aliwoodsgigs have gained millions of views and likes, and featured on LadBible and Buzzfeed UK. It is by using this audience that he has now managed to turn professional.

In his comedy, he presents a mix of the ‘everyman’ and the ‘modern man’, displaying sensitivity and a genuine interest in men’s mental health, which gives him a great perspective on the modern ‘lad’ culture. He speaks on topics such as football, the environment, and many social causes close to his heart.

Typically outspoken, he is keen to encourage those interested in creative work to pursue it and get the career they really want: “You can do it, believe that you can. I’ve done it and I’m not even funny!” It was not, he said, an aspiration that was really valued in the QE of his time. “I was never encouraged to take creative work seriously, it was seen as a facilitator for cover letters and CVs.”

Alister, who was among the guests at this term’s OE Association Dinner, therefore feels a special impetus to encourage today’s pupils if they hold similar interests.

“You can work really hard to end up in a job you hate because you thought it was the safe option,” he says. “I would like to communicate to current QE boys that creative arts are a legitimate pursuit which requires the same work as any difficult degree or discipline or career, and will truly be worth it. If you are passionate about it, and you’re willing to be consistent, put yourself out there, learn from your setbacks and not to give up: it will be the most fulfilling journey you’ll ever make.

“Don’t be afraid to take the risk. Believe that you are able to succeed in a competitive, creative field.”

Ace trader Pavan’s double triumph at hi-tech finance simulation

Year 11 pupil Pavan Kovuri came first on both days of a two-day simulated financial trading event open to Year 11–13 students from across the country.

Pavan, who already has his sights set on a career in trading, was among 20 senior QE boys to be commended for their performance in the Global Markets in Action programme.

The programme was run by financial recruitment consultancy Dartmouth Partners and Amplify Trading, who train people working in hedge funds and investment banks and use cutting-edge technology to simulate market conditions.

Assistant Head (Pupil Destinations) and Economics teacher James Kane said: “To have come first in both simulations was a remarkable performance by any standards and I heartily congratulate Pavan on his achievement.

“Congratulations also go to the other 19 boys who were commended by the judges with comments such as ‘superb trading on the sell side’ and ‘clearly understands the dynamics between [the] buy and sell side’.

“It is interesting to note that Dartmouth Partners are now keen to follow up with a number of our boys to arrange work experience in the finance sector.”

Overall, 50 QE pupils took part in the half-term event, the results of which have now been announced.

The workshop simulated the trading floor of an investment bank or hedge fund and aimed to teach participants how traders use their skills and knowledge to buy and sell stock to generate a profit. The boys had the opportunity to meet professionals from Amplify Trading and to gain practical career tips and insights, such as optimising LinkedIn and creating a CV that stands out.

Pavan came first on day one with a score of 96% for the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) simulation. On day two – the Finance Accelerator simulation – he was ranked first in the asset management side of the simulator, scoring 86%.

Pavan said: “Before participating in the workshop, I was always fascinated with the world of trading in markets, but lacked practical experience; this two-day programme provided me with an immersive hands-on experience to solidify that passion, and drive me towards a future career in trading.

“The thrill of seeing your money fluctuate with every miniscule decision was stimulating, and it was amazing how Amplify managed to capture the buzz of real-life trading.”

Other stand-out performances from the QE group included that of James Stack (Year 12) and Abhinav Karla (Year 10), who jointly took first place in the sales trading aspect of day two.

Thinking about careers? Stay flexible, says Max

Old Elizabethan Max Curtis had some reassuring advice for any sixth-formers stressing about making the right career decisions.

Max (OE 1991–1998), a corporate communications expert, visited the School to speak to a select group of sixth-formers.

Reflecting afterwards on his visit, he recognised that the Sixth Form years were often a difficult time in young people’s academic lives during which they are being asked to “make make seemingly career-defining decisions about their future. Hopefully, I was able to provide some reassurance that you don’t need to have it all ‘sussed out’. In fact, there are advantages to retaining flexibility and taking opportunities as they arise.”

After leaving QE in 1998, Max read Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge and then took his Diploma in Law at City, University of London.

He has forged a 20-year career in internal and external communications and public affairs, with a background that spans UK Government, FTSE 100 companies, consultancy and the not-for-profit sector. He has spent the last five years as Corporate Affairs Director for MTVH, a housing association with 57,000 homes across the country. Previously, he worked in communications for the Department for Transport, and before that, for Tesco. His focus is on getting teams and organisations to work together to achieve their potential.

Max thanked the School for the warm welcome he received: “It was great to be back,” he said. During his visit, he found time to take a look through the 1998 QE Year Book.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “We were delighted to see Max, and my thanks go to him for speaking to our students about his career.”

For his part, Max encouraged other OEs to follow his lead and get in touch with the Headmaster to arrange similar visits.