Alex Barnes, co-founder of Lanterne

Photo of Alex Barnes

Alex is a DPhil Student in International Development at Pembroke College. Alex co-founded Lanterne with Yohan Iddawela, a PhD Student at the London School of Economics.

Lanterne is an online platform which enables NGOs, charities, businesses and individuals to make informed decisions about their safety in conflict zones. Whereas Google Maps shows the quickest route from A to B, Lanterne will show the user the safest routes possible. Our vision is zero international worker casualties in conflict zones. 

What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I was an analyst at the Australian Department of Defence for several years, focusing on Afghanistan, where I deployed several times. Yohan also lived and worked in Afghanistan, and we both saw first-hand how our friends, colleagues and locals’ lives were constantly at risk. We decided to pursue our entrepreneurship journey to address this situation – in other words, we believe this product will save people’s lives.

What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Lanterne Logo

For me, entrepreneurship is the process of recognizing that things could be done better than is currently the case, identifying a creative solution and implementing it!

How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?

Once we understood how recent advances in machine learning had been applied to similar domains with considerable success, we decided our idea was worth pursuing.

What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?

Communication – both to the team and to investors, advisors and customers.
Strategy – deciding what path to take, what goals are most important and how to spend your time.
Perseverance – it takes a lot of effort and time, particularly when you are trying something new.

What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?

I’ve been able to meet and work with some amazing people on a project that I co-designed – its incredibly rewarding and creative, unlike any other work I have done before!

What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?

I’m hugely inspired by humanitarian and development workers who are willing go to dangerous places for years to improve people’s lives.

If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?

What can I do to help?

What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?

I have occasionally been too cautious, which risks slowing down progress. Lesson learned: make well-considered decisions as quickly as possible.

How have you funded your ideas?

We began by boot-strapping, but we have now won two competitions with funding. We won the Oxford Foundry All Innovate competition award for Best Postgraduate Idea and the London School of Economics Generate competition. We are also receiving grant funding through the Big Data Corridor.

Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?

The Big Data Corridor grant is really helping – it is a sector-specific grant that provides innovation support to small businesses.

What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?

There are plenty of other startups that you can bounce ideas off, as well a lot of smart people that are willing to help.

If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?

I’d send them to the Oxford Foundry, there are numerous events which are helpful for entrepreneurs that are just getting started.

Any last words of advice?

Go for it. It will likely be harder than you imagined, but also incredibly rewarding as well.