Having worked in the start-up environment, Gaia Scalabrino shares her advice on the importance of two important elements for start-up success.

Growing a business from inception is an inspiring experience, which comes with complex challenges and requires the ability to adopt changes. Any individual who plans this rollercoaster journey needs skills to face both the ups and the downs of the ride. To navigate this dynamic start-up environment, leaders should seek two key assets: building a dream team and applying integrated processes effectively.

As I grew up across continents, comprising very different European and African cultures, I embraced adaptability to face changes and the curiosity to be surrounded by diverse and stimulating people.

This exposure probably encouraged my passion for working in vulnerable entrepreneurial settings, progressing concepts from research to product development in the biotech arena and, more recently, growing the NatPro Centre from inception, which focuses on research and innovation in the field of natural products.

Creating a dream team

I learned at first hand that succeeding in creating a top performance team with a common purpose, which relationship is based on integrity, trust and camaraderie, is a real game changer in the work environment, both to enjoy the moments of sunshine and to survive storms, together. Soft skills are much needed to complement individuals’ technical ones and professional expertise.

In a close-knit work setting, progress is driven by the connectivity between people and efficiency, always enriched with a dose of fun! Incredibly, when a dream team comes together, the journey is advanced more organically by trust, synergy and drive.

I often experienced a strong team spirit, inspired by collective curiosity and empathy, supported by productivity and resilience and celebrated with laughter. However, a high-quality team is not easy to form.

At times it simply does not come together, mostly due to divergent mindsets and objectives, which might be missed at the recruitment stage. Nevertheless, it is worth pursuing its development steadily, changing strategies according to people’s personalities and needs, as it certainly has a unique positive impact on success, when achieved.

Looking back at the relationships created when I have been part of those teams, which survived either the development of products towards the market or crashing of businesses, those connections have been a priceless win along the journey, often leading to enduring friendships.

Integrated processes

Having worked across functions and sectors, I value the creation of integrated processes across the business to deliver lean procedures, which results in accelerating solutions and offering transdisciplinary growth to employees.

Working in virtual and international teams, in particular at Trino Therapeutics with partners across Europe, Asia and the US, and then as a consultant to SMEs across EU and US as part of HiTech Health, the design and use of effective processes allowed for consistent quality systems, best practices and prevention of business risks.

Those became my gold standards in all settings going forward, which today we apply also at the NatPro Centre, as it facilitated internal processes and stakeholders’ management, from third parties engagement to investors’ expectations.

Implementing agile processes and clear communication between teams stimulated a productive route to market, especially in an environment where time is a constant reminder of money and a business can fold or needs to pivot strategies rapidly.

New businesses are like rollercoasters. Rather unpredictable and not suitable to everyone, but they can offer great rewards to the ones who dare. Riding one requires integrity and empathy, but also entrepreneurial thinking.

The personal desire to tackle challenges creatively, the appreciation to change the status quo and ultimately a boost of resilience are key. When I am in front of those situations, I often think of other adventures in life that have been challenging, although fulfilling. I can think of climbing Kilimanjaro, Misti and reaching Everest base camp with low oxygen – or more precisely, lack of air pressure – all at more than 5,000 metres above sea level!

A new expedition comes with uncertainty, which needs courage, perseverance and robust processes, alongside expertise and knowledge, to transform disruption into opportunities.

This allows for a successful climb, reaching the summit with the right partners and reliable equipment. Ultimately, the people and the shared passion are what makes the journey worthy.

By Gaia Scalabrino

Dr Gaia Scalabrino is currently executive director of NatPro, the Trinity Centre for Natural Products Research at Trinity College Dublin.

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