From Aberdeen to Startup Accelerator - Neil CockerNeil Cocker

MA English, 1994
From Aberdeen to Startup Accelerator

Your Time at Aberdeen

Why did you choose to study at Aberdeen?
I visited in my last year of school and it just felt right.

Why did you choose your particular course?
English had always been my best subject at school and it felt natural to continue. By my third year I was specialising in Scottish, Irish, and American literature and really loved it.

What did you most enjoy about your time at Aberdeen? Did you have any particularly memorable student experiences?
Aberdeen expanded my horizons immeasurably. I loved all of it, but probably my favourite experience was being taught by the famous Scottish writer William McIlvanney. Like all great teachers, he taught far beyond the subject matter and the confines of the classroom.

If talking to a group of prospective students, what advice would you give them to help them make the most of their time at the University of Aberdeen?
Throw yourself into it! Find a balance between your studies and social life - your degree will launch you out into the world and the friendships you make will last for life. I would also recommend finding a part-time job in the city. The factories and kitchens I worked in taught me a lot about resilience and connecting with people, and also helped me understand the city better.

Your Time After Aberdeen

What was the title of your first job after graduating from Aberdeen?
English Teacher in Lithuania.

What did your first role involve?
It was a bit crazy looking back. I took a role as an English teacher at a secondary school in a small town in Lithuania. The Soviet Union had dissolved just three years previously and Lithuania was still more or less a communist country, which was a culture shock for a westerner. I had no teaching experience so it was a tough learning curve, but the kids were great. I went back to Lithuania in 2018 with work and it was a really emotional experience to see how the country has grown and blossomed. It's a terrific place to visit and the people are very welcoming.

What is your current job title?
Director & Senior Partner at Tomorrow Street (joint venture between Vodafone and the Luxembourg government).

What is your current role?
I lead startup scouting, looking for companies for our accelerator programme. I'm also a company director working closely with the Luxembourg government.

Please briefly describe the journey from your first job after graduating to where you are now
I worked as a teacher for a couple of years but decided it wasn't for me. After a working holiday in Australia, I got a job in packaging innovation and product management at the drinks company Diageo. I spent seven years working in Amsterdam for the company, and then moved on to Luxembourg to work for the Vodafone Procurement Company. I did various roles in strategy and change management and studied for a MBA in my spare time. In 2017 I co-founded the Tomorrow Street innovation centre (where I currently work).

Was your degree at Aberdeen essential for getting to where you are now? If so, in what way?
It's funny, after I graduated in the 90s employers were often quite dismissive of humanities degrees. But I believe that such degrees teach skillsets that are increasingly relevant and sought after. For example, strong communication skills and an ability to take complex information and process it into concise written form or engaging presentations is a vital skill in the tech world. I use what I learned every day - my degree at Aberdeen laid the foundations that I built my career upon.

One Top Tip

The one single experience that will most accelerate your career development and personal development is to work in a different country and culture. The best time to do it is not long after you graduate - go for it!