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Christmas Crazy

Posted by Stephen on 21 December 2006

We made it! Term is over and we spent most of the final week celebrating.

It started with an extremely civilised evening with the sailing club at their annual dinner. This was an opportunity for the sailors to get dressed up and to reflect on a great season of events. The event took place at the Royal Ocean Racing Club in St James with both students and alumni attending.

Santa_tubeThe next event was somewhat different. Imagine 300 students dressed as Santa, bringing chaos to central London. This was an evening of serious drinking and carol singing. We started drinking on campus before making our way to Leicester Square via the tube. We then entertained people on the tube with Christmas carols (they were very happy) and then proceeded on a pub crawl around Leicester Square. Pausing temporarily to sing more carols to the tourists in Leicester Square and to drive bumper cars. See pictures below for a better idea of what this looked like.



Santa_pub_crawl_2006_01Santa_pub_crawl_2006_04Santa_eduardo_gilLots_of_santas_3 Santa_diana_priya_steve_danSanta_drunk

Then it was our stream Christmas party, organised in part by me. We booked an area of a local pub and took lots of cakes and champagne. At some point the drink turned into tequila and we were only saved by the antiquated British closing time - 11.00pm.

And all this a week before Christmas and New Year has even begun.         

Tunisian adventure

Posted by Sean on 17 December 2006

Img_0830_3I’ve just come back from my trip to Tunisia, which you may have read about in my last posting. The trip was excellent, and really exceeded my expectations. Ashley (fellow researcher and classmate) and I dragged ourselves out of bed at 5am after the Santa Claus Pub Crawl to make it to the only direct flight from London to Tunis on the 10th. It wasn’t easy but what we encountered was worth the early morning pain. The dreadfully early flight time at least allowed us to use the afternoon for some touristy things in the area. After we arrived, we spent the rest of the day with a private taxi driver going to all of the sites in nearby Carthage. It was pretty cool to see civilization dating back thousands of years.

We had a full agenda lined up for the week, and got started with our research at 8am on Monday. On Monday we visited with one of the largest Private Equity firms operating in North Africa. They told us about their business, the challenges that they faced in the region, and their plans for growth. They were one of the pioneers of the market when they started in 1994 and have seen it evolve tremendously since then. After that quick meeting, we hit the road to check out some of their portfolio companies. First, we saw a company manufacturing computers intended to be affordable for the average Tunisian household. Their entry level computer package runs for TND 700, which is about £280, and affordable for the country’s large and well-educated middle class. After that we hit the road to Sousse, for a visit to a mattress manufacturer.

Our second day was even more of a whirlwind. We met with a seed stage venture capitalist named Alaya, who has an amazing level of energy and passion for entrepreneurship in Tunisia. He shuttled us quickly from company to company (6 different companies in one day), and enthralled us with stories of his life’s work of developing Tunisia through funding new businesses. If you’re an entrepreneur, and interested in launching your business in Tunisia, let me know and I will get you in touch with this great man.

On Wednesday we spent more time visiting companies, and interviewing firms. We were able to get some free time in the afternoon and went to the old central Medina in Tunis to visit the Suuq, a traditional market for Tunisian wares. Ashley and I practiced our negotiation skills and came away with some good deals on interesting Christmas gifts for our family and friends. Here's a picture of Ashley in the suuq. Look out vendors.Img_0976_one_way

Overall, we had a wonderful trip. It is always fascinating to step into a totally different culture. I was completely amazed by the accommodating nature of the Tunisian people. Everyone we met went out of their way to welcome us to their country. We were hosted like old friends, taken out to dinners and shown local treasures. Now we need to work on the sponsors to let us check out the Venture Capital market in West Africa… Stay tuned.