This week we are delighted to welcome Athene Blakeman as Head of Legal.
A lawyer by trade, having studied at St John’s, Oxford, Athene spent the first eleven years of her career in private practice with Slaughter and May and Travers Smith. She then joined Benchmark Holdings plc, an aquaculture technology group improving sustainability in food production. Athene spent six years as Group Legal Counsel, advising and supporting the business through a period of growth. She went on to become Managing Director of Benchmark’s Nutrition division (INVE Aquaculture), leading a global business developing and delivering nutrition, health and environmental solutions to the aquaculture industry. She also served as a NED of the Great Salt Lake Brine Shrimp Cooperative in Utah, USA.
Athene has transactional, public company, and international business experience, both as a lawyer and as a business leader. Based primarily in London, she has also worked in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and as a safari guide in sub-Saharan Africa.
Commercially minded and solutions driven, Athene will head up the Legal Team, building constructive relationships within Oxford Science Enterprises and with its partners, supporting our success to maximise the impact of the portfolio in the world.
We spoke to Athene to find out what attracted her to Oxford and why she’s taken on the role of Head of Legal.
Why is it that you wanted to join Oxford Science Enterprises as Head of Legal?
The initial draw was the portfolio – its breadth and relevance is unparalleled. I looked at the technologies and could think of no other portfolio with such huge potential impact, or that I’d rather be invested in. The areas which particularly caught my eye are quantum computing, clean energy, and AI, including in healthcare; these are developments that will change the way that millions of people live in the decades to come.
I am passionate about nature, particularly the way humans perceive the natural world, and how we impact it. We need to view the natural world not as a contributor to mankind’s survival, but rather view mankind as a part of the natural world, all of which is valuable, vital, and in balance. Technology is key to improving the impact we have. I am also fascinated by the remarkable (and sometimes terrifying) things humans can achieve when working together. Oxford Science Enterprises enables highly talented people and visionaries to have an impact in the world, by bringing people together and driving ambitious technological innovation.
I also come from aquaculture , which is a young and fast moving industry. In recent years, farming in new species has commenced, new diseases have arisen and been addressed, and animal welfare and environmental impact is improving. It is new technology that has enabled this progress. Not just in aquaculture, but across many industries, there is a huge amount yet to be achieved – the right technologies have massive potential for all involved.
I also love Oxford. I studied here 20 years ago. It is beautiful and has an incredible atmosphere. You encounter people who think broadly and dream big. I live in London right now, and, in time, I would like to move out to the countryside. I wouldn’t mind living somewhere nearby, so hopefully that will happen in the coming years.
What is your favourite spot within Oxford?
On a dark night walking down streets in the centre of Oxford, it is absolutely magical. It’s dark, quiet, misty or drizzly, and the streetlights are reflecting off wet cobblestones – I just love that feeling.
When you were studying in Oxford 20 years ago, did you see yourself working for, somewhere like Oxford Science Enterprises?
My ambition to work in an impact space came a bit later, when I started meeting organisations that are changing the world, and management teams who care passionately about what they do. I realised, this is very important, but also, it’s fun to work with people who care intensely about what they’re doing. It is very helpful if an organisation has a wonderful vision – teams are highly motivated, much more aligned.
In your role as Head of Legal, what is it that you’re going to be doing day to day and longer term as well?
The role of Head of Legal is about driving the success of the business, by understanding the challenges we face and working with everyone involved to find commercial solutions.
The first thing is to build trusting relationships, internally and externally. Get to know people, learn what their world looks like, what their passions and interests are, where they see challenges. That is the best way to understand everyone’s perspectives and needs, and to find a way forward that works for all involved.
I am really interested in the relationship with Oxford University. I see the interests of Oxford Science Enterprises and OU as being very aligned. We are both trying to enable incredible technologies to realise their potential, in order to have a positive impact in the world. I hope that we will work ever more closely together as true partners.
Oxford Science Enterprises will change over the coming years. There will be more capital, more companies in the portfolio, and the organisation will grow and evolve. All that will deliver much variety and interest – this is not an organisation which stands still.
Your LinkedIn says you’re very solutions driven and you’ve used the word solutions there are a couple of times. So, I guess we’re getting a little bit of a flavour of what it is that you’re going to be bringing to Oxford Science Enterprises…
I really enjoy having a difficult challenge and navigating a way through that leaves everyone feeling fairly treated. As an in-house lawyer, you spend a small amount of your time actually practicing law, and a big amount of your time evaluating structures and possible outcomes, understanding challenges and perspectives, and working out how you can help everyone achieve their goals. That’s where most of the excitement lies, working as a team to do that.
We’ve just seen Oxford recognised in an article in The Telegraph for the record-breaking investment into spinouts from the university in 2021. And hopefully in 2022, we’re going to continue with that upward trend. Why did you want to be part of this now?
There are several brilliant universities around the world, and Oxford is right at the top of its game. The relationship Oxford Science Enterprises has with OU, and the opportunity that presents, is unique. It is inspiring to see what Oxford Science Enterprises has achieved since 2015, in terms of the number of spinouts that have been created from academic work at the university, and the amount of funding which has been put into those. It is really great to join an organisation that is already achieving success, but has so much more potential. We are in a very privileged position.