Daria finished the eLab Advance program, in Berlin this past Winter. She's been working in the startup scene since 2014, starting out as a project manager and later moved into recruiting and coaching where she noticed the need for more mental health advocation in high growth startups. The rate of burnout is extremely high in these environments and she's looking to change that with her training and coaching business that she founded, Project M.
Why did you choose eLab?
I think I liked the fact that it’s an intensive boot camp style program. I wanted to be able to go from idea to an actionable business plan in a short period of time and kickstart the process of building a network and talking to customers, so I liked the length and the program components as well, everything from design thinking to agile methodologies.
What did you initially expect from the program?
I think I tried to come in without any expectations because I wanted to enter the program with a clean mind. I had certain goals for myself and from the program content, it looked like I could achieve them here. What I didn’t expect was how awesome the team, the eLab cohort, and the instructors would be. It’s a super familial atmosphere and doesn’t feel like a course at all. It feels like a safe space for like-minded people who are trying to build businesses, where we all push each other forward and encourage one another. The goal for me was to take advantage of what the program offered and learn as much as possible from the events, instructors, classes, and other entrepreneurs and combining it all together to move my own idea turned business forward, which I was able to do while I was here.
Did this course help you prepare for building up Project M? (Confidence, ideas, etc.)
I came in with just a very raw idea of the customers I wanted to work with and the problem that I wanted to solve, but I had no idea what the name of the company would be, who my market was, how to create a sustainable business model etc. I knew that mental health in startups was an issue that needed to be addressed and it’s a topic that I am personally passionate about. I got a lot of feedback from both those within my target customer group and those outside and these two combined perspectives really helped me shape the services that I would eventually provide and to quite a good level of detail.
I think an unexpected, but really key learning from the program was mapping out how I could build a business that solves not only a customer problem but is also in line with what I stand for and how I like to work. Since I’m working in the mental health field it means I shouldn’t take a conventional start-up route with long tireless hours spent working with no breaks or holidays, I knew I didn’t want to build a business in this was. Throughout the program, I was able to build a roadmap that is in line with the type of founder I want to be and really identify what I’m willing to invest in terms of money and resources and what I’m not willing to lose during my entrepreneurial journey.
I think coming from the startup field myself, a lot of incubators and accelerators don’t address this issue. The expectation is you’ll push yourself really hard, work late, and endure lots of stress, pressure, and tension which is something that I do not want to embody. That was something I realized with the help of the eLab team, but also in the Agile Team Management and Effectuation lessons taught by Klaus Kammermeier. It was a big surprise for me cause when you go through a boot camp there’s this hidden assumption that it’s supposed to be very stressful and hard, but at eLab, it was a safe environment and the tam and instructors facilitated different ways of running a company and doing things differently and that empowered me.
What did you enjoy most about your time at CIEE’s eLab?
Definitely the human component and the people behind the program. It’s one thing when you listen to a presentation or session which has really valuable information, but when the instructors presenting it are open to feedback or supporting you beyond the time we spend together in class, it’s really encouraging, especially when you are trying to build a business for the first time. When you’re feeling hesitant to ask for help or have doubts it’s helpful to feel like your a part of a strong community where everyone has each other’s backs. I think the program had a lot of ups and downs in terms of how confident or sure you feel about what you’re doing, but going through the whole 6-week process and looking back to see what you’ve done, what you’ve achieved and what you will achieve going forward is an awesome feeling.
How did the program help you reach your business goals and needs?
I think first of all it helped me establish a clear structure for how I want to run my business. One thing that’s challenging when starting off as a first-time entrepreneur is having so many moving pieces and so many potential things to work on and I think going through the program helped me clearly structure the chaos into something far more manageable than I initially thought it would be. I grew my network and met some very valuable mentors and collaborators who have given me and continue to give me good advice and valuable introductions to new people that can help me advance my business. Plus, it helped me gain confidence, knowledge, and understanding of how to run a service-based business, such as how to price it and how to stand out from the competition. It’s sort of like having your own board of directors, but it’s a board of mentors instead.
What was your biggest takeaway from this experience?
If something scares and excites you at the same time, that’s a clear sign that you should go for it. The program also helped me realize that there’s a community here in Berlin that’s a lot more open to connecting and supporting new entrepreneurs like myself than I originally thought. I suppose I definitely learned how to reach out and ask for what I need for my business as well.
Would you recommend eLab to aspiring entrepreneurs? If so, why?
Heck yeah! There’s a huge difference between trying to start a business on your own and trying to start a business with dozens of people who support you, mentor you, give you critical feedback and a sort of platform where you can learn and start putting into practice all aspects of running a successful business. I think the most important part as well is having this support of the eLab team and also the cohort. Starting new ventures can be quite overwhelming and even those among us who prefer to work alone and are good at it, benefit from building a strong support system while on the program. Through eLab you get really easy access to this and it makes everything easier and faster. So why wouldn’t you do it?
P.S. Sending out a huge thank you to the team and my cohort buddies! Just because the cohort is over, doesn’t mean our connection ends there. :)
Want to learn more about the journeys of our eLumni? Then check out our Featured Alumni page to see their stories!
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