The Entrepreneurial Spirit of St Andrews

Alumni Relations
Friday 19 November 2021

Alexandra Williamson (MA 2019) describes how St Andrews gave her the support and opportunities to ‘look through a different lens’ and bring a business idea to life – and how that idea reached the semi-finals of the Santander Entrepreneurship Awards. 

A little ancient beach town

I spent the whole of 2013 in an intense competition with myself to try and see 100 concerts in one year. This quickly became a costly pursuit, and even after getting a part time job to help fund this ridiculous (albeit thrilling) endeavour, I found myself running out of money. One night during a Portugal. The Man gig I caught a glimpse of the perfect solution: the next day I became a concert photographer, and by the end of the year I had attended 103 gigs.

Before my final year of school I moved to New York to join CITYterm – an experiential learning programme – so I could continue this photography work. As it turned out, the experience provided a much more valuable opportunity to view both academic and personal life through a new lens, allowing me to throw myself into the unknown (while also providing quite a culture shock, to say the least).

When it came time to choose a university, I was dead-set on experiencing another new culture and lens. Following a visit to St Andrews it was clear: this little ancient beach town was a home to students from across the world, and I couldn’t think of a better place to spend the next four years.

The entrepreneurial spirit of St Andrews

St Andrews turned out to be far more than just a place of study. The ‘bubble’ is very much a playground for experimenting with ideas and projects that students wouldn’t be able to pursue elsewhere – it’s a safe place to be bold, take risks and be challenged.

I experienced the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ of St Andrews first-hand after joining DONT WALK, one of the student-run charity event committees. This bridge between student life and building professional experience gave me the opportunity to continue working towards my career in music – even if that could only be achieved by convincing musicians to perform at a muddy field in the middle of nowhere! To their credit, I think the team managed well, with NEIKED, AJ Tracey, Whethan and Louis the Child agreeing to make the treacherous journey in the subsequent years.

From St Andrews to Blue Rhythm and the Santander Entrepreneurship Awards

In fourth year I was in the midst of writing my dissertation on music torture when – perhaps as a result of days without sleep – I decided to book an appointment at the careers centre to discuss a business idea I wanted to pursue. After meeting with Bonnie Hacking, I became confident that this idea could actually work, and with her help I applied for the Start-Up Visa, which St Andrews sponsored.

The idea grew out of my own experience of the difficulty of navigating a mental health journey throughout my time at St Andrews. If it weren’t for Student Services, I probably wouldn’t have graduated. Having grown up around addiction and after working closely with artists who were experiencing these issues, I quickly realised there was a massive lack of support available. I learned that artists are predisposed to mental illness and addiction at staggeringly high rates: they are three times more likely to suffer, compared to the general population. I therefore set out to provide a solution.

After a year of intensive research and groundwork, we launched Blue Rhythm to set a new standard for mental health and addiction support across the music industry.

I approached another St Andrews alumnus – Jacob Øen (MA 2017) – to explain the concept of Blue Rhythm and I was delighted when he joined as Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer after completing his Masters (exploring the intersection of health-tech, wearable technologies and privacy protection) at LSE in 2020.

In Jacob’s own words: “This role gave me a chance to marry my love for the creative industries with my growing interest in consumer health services. I am fascinated by the opportunity to bring new support tools to an industry that has been fairly overlooked by traditional healthcare providers.”

Since then we have built an intensive legal framework, which enables Blue Rhythm to provide fully

anonymous services to artists and music industry professionals whether they want to meet online, in

person, or on-tour. We have acquired a portfolio of pre-vetted, accredited experts who are not only

accomplished in their fields, but who understand and have experienced the industry for themselves.

We were then invited to apply for Santander’s Entrepreneurship Competition, and during the Enterprise Awards Ceremony last April Bonnie Hacking announced that Blue Rhythm was nominated to represent the University of St Andrews. Through Santander we were joined by 80+ companies from universities across the UK for a five-month mentoring programme, which culminated in a pitching competition where we progressed through to the semi-finals. This was a wonderful opportunity and something we’ve learned so much from – most memorable of which was how to swap out zoom meetings for pitching live and in-person at Wembley Stadium.

Support from St Andrews

If you had asked me when I arrived in St Andrews as a fresher what I’d like to do after graduation, I would probably have said I wanted to work in Music. I would by no means have said I would start my own company. While the business idea came through my own experiences, the ability and confidence to go for it was a direct consequence of my time at St Andrews, and the opportunities and support the university provided. Specifically, I want to extend a massive thank you to Sheila Baillie, Bonnie Hacking and the entire DON’T WALK 17 & 18 team.

Advice to potential entrepreneurs

Starting a company after university is by no means an easy decision; it’s one of the most extreme and rewarding learning curves you can embark on. My advice would be to ensure you are passionate about your business idea, devote time to researching the problem you are trying to solve and then ask yourself – is this an actual problem? “Fall in love with your problem, not your solution” is the key advice I’ve taken from our time at Santander, and it’s something I re-evaluate frequently.

Above all, entrepreneurial endeavours are a lesson in resilience. A large part of being a founder is understanding that while one day you’ll feel on top of the world, the next you’ll feel like you’ve made the biggest mistake of your life. You have to be okay with that. You have to be resilient enough to move past it.

I strongly encourage everyone to make use of St Andrew’s Alumni network. This has been an invaluable resource and I attribute a lot of Blue Rhythm’s success to my mentor, Iain Mackay (Class of 1997) who I connected with in my fourth year and who has since gone on to advise Blue Rhythm tirelessly and selflessly – never short of advice, support and sharing his expertise. St Andrews Alumni are genuine people, so don’t be afraid to reach out. Our University has fostered a real community feeling in which people actually want to help each other. But again, you have to ask first.

Lastly, following my own advice, if you’d like to ask a question or two, feel free to reach out via: contact@bluerhythm.co.uk

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