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19 November 2023

Sophie Chandauka’s Q&A: “Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ gets me in the zone”

The entrepreneur on our failure to regulate AI, the West Wing and dancing with her father to Abba.

By New Statesman

Sophie Chandauka was born in 1978 in Zimbabwe and began her career as a corporate finance lawyer. She has worked at Morgan Stanley and Meta and is a founder of the biotechnology company Nandi Life Sciences.

What’s your earliest memory?

Four years old, dancing with my father to Abba, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Marley and Motown classics. My father remains the life of the party.

Who are your heroes?

As a child, my parents, who were both teachers. To pay for my unbelievably expensive private-school education, they improvised. My father toiled with metalwork in his garage, creating children’s playground equipment to sell to nursery schools, and my mother wrote children’s books. My adult hero is my grandmother, Eileen Charumbira. She was a housemaid in colonial Rhodesia who worked hard to ensure that her daughters all received an excellent education.

What book last changed your thinking?

During the pandemic, I was struck by the lack of black representation in decision-making spaces in healthcare and the life sciences, and the implications for patients with unmet needs. I was nervous about whether I had the chops to become a biotech entrepreneur. But Peter Kolchinsky’s The Entrepreneur’s Guide to a Biotech Startup gave me the confidence to collaborate with my brother, Tinashe Chandauka, to establish Nandi Life Sciences as co-founders.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Nelson Mandela, due to his remarkable ability to reconcile a deeply divided nation, dismantle apartheid and inspire the world. I admire his unwavering commitment to justice, equality and forgiveness.

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What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

Entrepreneurship. I know how to hustle and build. 

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

In the future. It’s not been such a great time for black people in most of the past.

What TV show could you not live without?

The West Wing, because of its compelling storytelling and memorable characters.

Who would paint your portrait?

Kehinde Wiley, the first black artist to paint an official presidential portrait.

What’s your theme tune?

When I need to get in the zone, “Lose Yourself” by Eminem.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Watch your actions, for they’ll become habits. Watch your habits, for they will forge your character. Watch your character, for it will make your destiny.

What’s currently bugging you?

The fact that we had to go to America to raise capital for Nandi Life Sciences. It’s a shame that the UK government is not creating the conditions and incentives to ensure that we are winning in biotech.

When were you happiest?

In Cape Town in 2014, when we had an amazing family reunion and wedding.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I’d be acting on Broadway, or a news anchor or talk show host.

Are we all doomed?

If we carry on the way we are – operating in a world in which alternative facts are treated as truth, failing to regulate artificial intelligence and not taking serious action to address the climate crisis – then hell yeah.

Sophie Chandauka is the chair of the Black British Business Awards, which celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2023

[Listen now: Is Britain really great? With Armando Iannucci]

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This article appears in the 22 Nov 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The paranoid style