Bryan Baum, 25, is the founder of Prizeo and Represent.com, companies that raise millions of dollars for charity through micro-donations, partnerships with celebrities and merchandise. He was named in Forbes' 30 Under 30 list of social entrepreneurs in 2014.
When and at which university did you study in the UK?
I was at the University of Oxford from 2009-10.
Which course did you take?
I took a year of Politics, Philosophy and Economics.
Why did you choose the UK as your place of study?
I chose the UK because I had a friend who had studied at Oxford and he recommended the university to me. I did some research into it and thought it would be an incredible experience.
I was majoring in Economics at Swarthmore, the liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, USA, and had completed all my courses. Plus I had never been to the UK before and I was really interested in game theory, the study of strategic decision-making. Oxford has some top game theory professors.
I thought that the Oxford system of individual tutorials – being one-on-one with your professors – would be really enlightening and stimulating. And I was right, it was one of the best experiences I had had. I was familiar with going to classes and taking exams at Swarthmore but I had never had the opportunity to argue with a professor face-to-face about the books they had written. That was pretty inspiring.
What are your best memories of studying and living in the UK?
Oxford opened my eyes both academically and intellectually. There were more opportunities to hear interesting speakers and to network than I had had in the USA. It was all wholly new to me. I had always wanted to live in Europe and this gave me the chance.
I was at Wadham College, which is more than 400 years old, and I was struck by its rich history. Coming from Miami Beach, Florida, you see buildings that are 50 years old, but not hundreds of years old. To be able to study in a place that was so ancient, and where Tolkien lived and worked, was incredible.
I was amazed by how diverse the study body was. There were students from so many different countries – China, France, Slovakia and Russia – and almost no Americans.
Did you do any paid or voluntary work while in the UK?
While at Oxford I co-founded and directed the Aloysius Society, a philanthropic group that raised more than $1m in a year. We put on large-scale charity events that involved bringing together celebrities and other people and auctioning off once-in-a-lifetime prizes. An example was the Oxford Red Dress Ball where we got a lot of top designers such as Chanel and Armani to hand-make red dresses that were auctioned off. We got Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue, and Graydon Carter, of Vanity Fair, to write about it.
What path did your career first take after university in the UK?
After Oxford I established Prizeo in the UK to encourage people to donate to charity by giving them the chance to meet a celebrity.
How do you feel your experience of studying in the UK helped you in those first career steps?
Coming to Britain to study gave me a global perspective that I didn’t have before. It opened my eyes to what was going on internationally and introduced me to differing viewpoints. It definitely gave me a leg-up.
How do you feel it has helped you in the longer term, both in your career and personally?
Interacting with Oxford professors in tutorials improved my skills of argument. I had to learn how to think on my feet and that has helped me as an entrepreneur. I have learned how to defend my case, which is useful in a competitive situation where you are a new start-up in the market. I am ready for problems.
How do you feel your home country benefited from the knowledge and experience you gained from studying in the UK?
I am now running a successful company in California, which I would not have been able to do without the UK experience.
What contacts did you make while studying in the UK that you still maintain today?
I met my co-founders at Oxford and they are with me now in California.
How often have you returned to the UK since your time studying there?
I am in London all the time for my work: we have an office in London.
Do you have a favourite memento or souvenir from the time you’ve spent in the UK?
I have embraced aspects of British culture. I love football and support Tottenham Hotspur. And I proudly have a miniature Union Jack on my desk at work.
What would be your advice to anyone in your country who is considering studying in the UK?
Do it. It will open your eyes to the world.