Renee Watson, founder and Head of Explosions at The Curiosity Box

Photo of Renee Watson

Renee is the Founder and Head of Explosions at The Curiosity Box. Having discovered a love of science early in life, Renee has been on a mission to make Science, Tech, Engineering and Maths (STEM) awesome and accessible to ALL children. She established her first company, WATS.ON in 2008 and in 2016 launched The Curiosity Box, the UK’s first STEM subscription box. Since then Curiosity Box has grown to a team of 5 and has just closed its first funding round.

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

I was born about 100 years too late for my dream job as an explorer but then I discovered science and realised it was basically the same thing. From the ripe old age of 6 I became driven by a desire to explore the world through the lens of science. I don’t find it surprising that a lot of people think scientist are weird because I grew up in a small town, knew no one who had been to University and science was a dirty word, especially for a girl. It was probably this start in life that set me on my mission to make science real and relevant to as many people as possible. While studying Biochemistry and Molecular Biology I worked in a mortuary assisting with autopsies and setting up a museum of body parts for the public to visit. It was hugely popular and gave me my first insight into the power of science as a tool for inspiring people to be curious about life and the world. Since then I worked at The University of Oxford, in the team starting up the National Translational Cancer Research Network and MalariaGEN. I loved the startup environment and felt it was the perfect way to rapidly and flexibly push forward on my mission, in a working environment that fit around family.

What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Curiosity Box Logo

Entrepreneurship is just a fancy word for having the courage to take your wildest dream and make it a reality.

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

After I had done some competition analysis and market research. Though in a way I had been gathering that information over the decade of growing WATS.ON so it wasn’t a snap decision.

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

A proper honest love of what you are trying to achieve

What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?

Just one thing!? It would have to be creating a working environment that attracts the most awesome people and helps them to be motivated and happy.

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

David Attenborough. He is an internationally recognised and trusted “brand” who is incredibly successful whilst always giving back to the community and generally making the world a better place.

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

I would want to know what he felt he has done that has made the biggest impact, why and how he balanced a desire to do good with commercial pressures.

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

Oh where to start!?I have made so many mistakes, luckily none of them have been completely disastrous. I think the biggest lesson I have learned, particularly pertinent here in Oxford, is that qualifications

How have you funded your ideas?

WATS.ON was a service based business that was profitable from day 1 so it helped having that stability when I launched Curiosity Box. I was offered some seed funding prior to launch of CB, received a bank loan and have just closed our first funding round.

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

We have won a women in business award, the WOBA 2017 Innovation Award and the WISE Toy of the Year award. We are applying for a grant at the moment.

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

It is brilliant to be a STEM business in Oxfordshire to have access to amazing science and tech happening here, to the bright minds at the Universities and the support from local organisations like OBS. The down side is that it is a very expensive place to live so can be hard to get the best talent if they can’t afford to live here. It is also much harder to access the high net worth networks that are abundant in London.

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

I would send them to the FAB accelerator, OBS and get them to find a really good mentor.

Any last words of advice?

Make sure you are completely clear about WHY. That will keep you going through the tough times and bring people along with you who share your values and buy into your vision.