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Attending the StartUP weekend (SW) competition in November 2014 was the most useful and eye-opening experience I had as an undergraduate.

I had recently completed my placement year in Brussels working for an EU public affairs consultancy. While the job was a great experience, and living in the EU capital certainly had its advantages (gauffres and frites in particular), I realised it was not for me.

I wanted to have a go at developing my own business idea, or at least I wanted to learn more about what the process entailed, before deciding to apply for a conventional graduate scheme.

Suddenly a new appetite for entrepreneurship had opened up for me and although I hadn’t fully engaged with the University of Sheffield Enterprise beyond my role as a Social Innovation intern in second year, I had now realised the immense value it held and what it could teach me about the process I had become so passionate about.

I was sat in the Politics Department when I received Sam’s email. Written in its characteristic warm and friendly style, it instantly hooked me. I saw it as a sign to finally take a leap of faith and pursue the business idea I had come up with in Brussels. The price deterred me at first, but then I saw it as an investment in my education, and it most certainly generated great returns.

Here are a few of reasons why:

The People

Having fun at Startup Weekend!

The people I met during SW are the most important element of the event. There was a contagious positive energy in the room which made me realise that building a business can be fun and that the people I surround myself with can genuinely help me come up with better ideas (on a side note, I do believe it was the impromptu dancing session at 7 pm on the Saturday that allowed us to be natural, friendly and open).

More specifically, the process of creating a teamaround the idea I pitched was incredible. Since I had only met them that Friday night, it was challenging to align our views and build something together. We talked, ate, agreed, ate, disagreed and then ate some more, until we finally reached a group resolution and transformed the original idea into something different but exciting. Even though we didn’t win, we all felt a huge sense of accomplishment and pride for what we had achieved in just over 30 hours.

The Business Knowledge

You may be aware that the world of start ups contains one too many acronyms and business jargon which for someone like me who studied Politics and International Relations was not easily accessible. During SW I learned what many of those terms meant, i.e. USP, MVP, ROI, lean canvas, customer validation, pivoting etc, and the next time I heard them I felt really smug and cool as I knew what they meant.

The Collaborative Edge

Even though this was a competition that could have potentially led the teams to becoming the ultimate GLOBAL winner, people still managed to find the time to offer their skills to the wider group. For instance, graphic designers helped marketing folks in other teams, or web developers chipped in when others got stuck. Also, the coaches available on Saturday were extremely helpful in overcoming obstacles and thinking creatively about problems. Overall, this easily accessible pool of support created a friendly and warm environment throughout the competition.

The Pitch & The Final Presentation

Giving the final presentationThese two moments were a personal challenge. On the Friday night I decided to pitch and this was huge because I am quite a nervous public speaker. Yet, after successfully delivering the speech and passing that hurdle, I felt so much more confident and thought that if all else failed, at least I had pitched and got over the initial nerves in front of so many people. Also, on the last evening, I helped deliver the final presentation to the judges. I spoke clearly, overcame my nerves and kept within the time limits, and this made all the difference to my public speaking skills (which are thankfully getting better…)

The Aftermath

As I said, our team did not win any of the three places, however this didn’t stop me for pursuing my dreams, furthering my interest in entrepreneurship and connecting with like-minded people.

First, SW brought some really awesome people in my life who I am happy to have bounced ideas off, shared ups and downs with and get business and life advice from.

Second, it was because of SW that I worked with a client around the original idea I pitched and gained more insight into the challenges and opportunities of the process.

Third, it was after SW that I actively started searching for job opportunities and programmes related to entrepreneurship, which led me to where I am today: a member of the New Entrepreneurs Foundation (NEF) 2016 cohort and the Operations Manager of a Soho-based healthcare startup.

I applied for NEF after SW and 11 months later here I am tackling this massive journey of becoming an entrepreneur. I have used SW to illustrate a wide range of examples, skills and knowledge in my interviews, and I genuinely believe I wouldn’t be on the NEF programme having not shown some serious grit and passion during that cold weekend in November.

At the end of the day, for me attending SW was all about putting myself in really new, sometimes really uncomfortable but mostly really awesome situations, where I learned new things about myself and the world.

I strongly believe that we live in a world that belongs to learners, achievers and creative thinkers, people who can really show grit, passion and determination to make bold things happen.

SW Sheffield was a fantastic first opportunity for me to develop that warrior spirit.

Now it’s your turn. Whatever the outcome is, it holds no risk. Just opportunity.

Just do it, I know you will have an excellent time. Who knows, you might also change your life in the process and be part of that next big idea.

Perpetual peace,


Any questions you may have, don’t hesitate to give me a shout. I’m always up for connecting with interesting people. Here’s where you can find me:

EMAIL         mihaela.gruia@hotmail.com
TWITTER    @mihagruia
LINKEDIN   https://uk.linkedin.com/in/mgruia

Get involved in the next Startup Weekend Sheffield!

Samantha Deakin