Unlock your entrepreneurial potential – insider tips from Michaela Hruskova, Director of Startup Grind
Have you ever seen an episode of Dragon’s Den and thought the concept is pretty cool but ‘I could never do that’? For those not in the know, Dragon’s Den is a start-up competition, popular world-wide, in which participants pitch their business ideas in just under three minutes to potential investors. I always thought of starting a business as something totally outlandish – until I learned that a friend of mine had actually won two investors for her business in the German edition of Dragon’s Den. My curiosity was sparked when I came across social media advertisements for something called “Startup Grind” here on the University of Glasgow campus. I went along to one of the events and left inspired and intrigued by the young entrepreneur’s story. This is how I met Michaela Hruskova, second year PhD student in the Adam Smith Business School and director of Startup Grind University of Glasgow. We had a chat about some of the lessons she learned from interviewing these successful student entrepreneurs.
“It never is smooth sailing”
Michaela is originally from the Czech Republic and came to Glasgow for her undergraduate degree, and then simply never left. She remembers: ‘When I was an undergraduate, I had a lot of free time. So, I could try out other things. I was this excitable undergraduate student. In 2014, I was just finishing my second year at University, and I heard of a hackathon in Edinburgh. A hackathon is essentially an event that takes place over the course of 48 hours. You pitch your idea, you build a team and then you try to show a demo of what your product would look like.’ This was her first hands-on experience with entrepreneurship. ‘It was so exciting, so thrilling. It was a whole new experience. You start with just an idea. I was the last person to pitch, but I managed to get a team on board and at the end of the weekend I pitched it again, now including the demo, and we won!’
Michaela has always been interested in the development of start-ups and how entrepreneurs are supported along the way. In fact, her MRes thesis was on this topic exactly, mapping out entrepreneurship support organisations in Glasgow. She tells me: ‘One community I always liked was Startup Grind. There used to be only two chapters in Scotland, one in Edinburgh, one in Glasgow. And I’ve been coming along to them for 5 years now. They were really great, I loved the community, the spirit, and how welcoming they were.’ Recently Startup Grind introduced a new format of University-based chapters, and Michaela took the opportunity to launch the very first University chapter in the UK. To get over initial hurdles, she reached out and received support from several departments at the University as well as the Entrepreneurship Society.
“Entrepreneurship is about solving problems in a creative way”
When asked what she thinks entrepreneurship boils down to, Michaela explains: ‘For me, entrepreneurship is about solving problems in a creative way, and ideally in a way that brings some value. So not just solving problems, but also having a significant impact. And I think that’s something we as PhD researchers have a lot of experience with, because we solve a problem, we solve our research questions. There is a question or a problem, and we need to figure out how to approach it. Not only do we need to make a good plan, we also need to get the data, get the evidence we need and simply get it done. And I think there is an enormous potential to use these skills you learn in your PhD and take advantage of that.’ Michaela’s mission for setting up Startup Grind is to build a diverse community that supports each other: ‘The official mission of Startup Grind is to educate, connect, and inspire entrepreneurial minded people. And that’s exactly what we are doing. Ultimately Startup Grind is about helping each other.’
And how to get over that initial obstacle of “I don’t know if this if for me”? Michaela says ‘entrepreneurship and start-ups have become these massive buzzwords. There definitely might be some misconceptions about what being an entrepreneur really looks like. The way I think about business is that it’s an adventure. It’s exciting. And I think if people thought about it in this light, it might become more accessible. Quite often, you can do it from home, in your onesie, coding away on your laptop. Or getting a friend to help. You don’t need the flashy offices from day one. Scotland is also the perfect place to apply for funding. There is lots of support and lots of funding available.’
“The ecosystem in Scotland is vast”
When I asked her where interested PGRs can find support to get started, she pointed me towards several interesting organisations on campus and beyond. One way you can get involved in entrepreneurship right now is the MVLS Science Den, where you can still apply to participate until March 18th. Similar to the Dragon’s Den, you and your team of PGRs or Postdocs can pitch an innovative idea to solve a ‘biological problem’ to a panel of judges. There are many recurring and new training opportunities offered by the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science as well, for example the Research Ventures in Social Science program. And regardless of what subject area you belong to, you can participate in the UofG Research Ventures course, as illustrated in our PGR training handbook. If you just want to dip in your toes a little bit, you can listen to some of the inspirational stories by UofG alumni via the Soundtracks podcast. Recent episodes feature Corien Staels (the first speaker at Startup Grind UofG), founder of Staels Design ltd. and Kian Golzari, who manufactured over 2,500 products for brands such as Tesco, Panasonic, and Google. And of course, Michaela adds with a laugh, ‘if this sounds at least a little bit interesting, come along to Startup Grind at UofG, give it a go, enjoy the pizza, enjoy the event – and come back if you like it!’
Michaela is a PhD researcher at the Adam Smith Business School. Her research is on governance of entrepreneurial ecosystems, specifically looking at the case of Edinburgh. You can find her online via her website https://www.michaelahruskova.me and her Twitter account @MisaHruskova. For her work with Startup Grind University of Glasgow she received the “Rookie Director of the Year” Award at the Startup Grind Global Conference in Silicon Valley this February.
Header image by Anna Henschel.