Ilham Said – from student to CEO

Ilham Said addresses a conference

Ilham Said – from student to CEO

Ilham Said (MEng Aerospace Engineering 2020) set up a group chat to support other engineering students while studying. E2E is now an award-winning business. She told us how it all started.

E2E stands for engineer to engineer. I had the idea in my second year for a safe space where engineers can ask questions and everyone can benefit from sharing knowledge. When I started university, I was quite shy, never the person who spoke first. If you don’t have a study group or friends on your course, you don’t experience peer-to-peer learning, so I decided to step out of my comfort zone and build a support network using WhatsApp. Someone would always be around to answer your question, regardless of the time. I guess a lot of us were up late studying so we’d help each other outside of office hours! The group grew to around 50 aerospace engineers, providing support and a soundboard for ideas. Lots of people would come up to me and ask to join so I decided it was time to take the next step. Now it’s a website where engineers can ask questions on themed forums and search for answers to similar questions.

How did you go from idea to reality?

Ilham Said
Ilham Said
I spoke to lecturers including Steve Bullock, Sean Lancastle, David Drury and Oscar Benjamin. They were really supportive and suggested I look into grant funding from the University. From there, I reached out to my co-founder, Dogba Djaze, who was also studying aerospace engineering and together we crafted a way to launch our idea cheaply and simply. Soon after, we entered the New Enterprise Competition run by the Basecamp Enterprise Team at the University who support students with start-ups.

With funding from the University, we launched the website in 2019. It’s grown to support almost a thousand Bristol University students, focusing specifically on electrical, mechanical and aerospace engineers. We secured a further £40,000 of funding as People’s Choice award winner finalists at the Founders of the Future ‘F Factor’ competition. Our team has grown to five members and we’re releasing a major platform upgrade soon, based on feedback from current users, lecturers and the engineering community. We’re also exploring links with industry and how people can form connections based on areas of interest rather than just areas of study. We want users to benefit from the site after graduation.

How did you feel going from starting a WhatsApp group to being a business owner?

Honestly, it’s so surreal! I didn’t go to university to start a business, I went to get a degree! There were fewer risks when I was a student as it wasn’t my primary focus. Now the stakes are higher, the meetings are more serious and people aren’t treating me like a student entrepreneur anymore but as an Ed Tech professional. I’ve had to teach myself about things like financial projects, valuations and exit strategies. I’ve had a lot of advice from SETsquared as part of the incubation programme. People said it was going to be a hard and lonely journey, but I’ve had so much support that I’m really thankful for.

You also work full-time as an engineer. How have you found working in your first job whilst running a company?

I’ve been working full-time as an aerodynamicist since July 2020. I’m a daytime engineer then CEO of E2E after work! I applied for employment because working in Ed Tech can be a long process. Despite multiple job rejections in my second year and not securing a place on a graduate scheme, I gained experience in other ways. I went to six different countries, did a training course with the European Space Agency, did space mission design in Austria and went to China to learn about electrical vehicles. All of that has helped me in my current job.

What do you love about what you’re doing now?

E2E ambassadors
E2E ambassadors
I love learning while working at the same time as being an entrepreneur. It would have been hard to go from student to full-time business owner without understanding what being an employee is like. It’s really important to me to be a good CEO and seeing the other side helps. I’m putting every single thing I learnt during my four years of study into practice. Even things that aren’t directly related to my job can be applied in different ways. When I worked on blade dynamics in my first week, I messaged the lecturer who taught me dynamics of rotors to thank them because what I’d learnt from them helped me work something out.

What drew you to Bristol to studying Engineering?

Aerospace engineering felt like an area where engineers could make a big difference. I love physics, worked hard to be good at maths and was really interested in what was happening in the aerospace industry with space missions, satellites and rockets. It’s a really innovative field. Having grown up in different places around the world, I knew I didn’t like places like London that feel crowded and stressful. Bristol was the perfect city for me. You have the city life and it’s a great place to be a student.

What else did you learn at Bristol that’s helped you to get where you are today?

I built up a great network and I’m still in contact with a lot of people. I try to keep in touch with lecturers and my friends who are based all around the world now. I learnt to work smarter rather than harder and that’s something I’m carrying with me into my career.

Who inspires you?

It’s a cliché but my Mum. She has such a strong work ethic, she’s passionate and very wise. Whenever I have any problems, she’s my go to person. Her motto is ‘if you can help someone, do it. Don’t second guess it or wonder what you’ll get in return’ and I’m taking that idea and making it part of our company culture at E2E.

More information

E2E website  – Bristol students can sign up using their university email address.
The team at E2E now includes:-

  • Samuel Hervas  –  Digital Marketing Specialist (Computer Science student from UWE)
  • Kiren Chopra – Strategic Partnerships intern (Electrical engineering student from Bristol)
  • Jakub Chaloupka –  Front End Developer (Drama student at UWE)
  • 10 ambassadors from six UK universities (Bristol, UWE, Cranfield, Warwick, Exeter and Strathclyde)