GoAbroad Interview

Dearbhaile Heaney - Mentor

Dearbhaile Heaney - Mentor

A designer and maker with a love of drawing, Derv has been working in startups for ten years, alongside her education in art and design. She has helped launch new inventions, developed new materials, and successfully launched her own startup venture after completing the Corkscrew Program as a participant in 2014. In March of 2015, she came on board as a Corkscrew Mentor and the Communications Director.

You were a Corkscrew participant yourself, what was that experience like?

I had such an amazing time! I met 15 inspirational people from really diverse backgrounds and cultures, and learned an incredible amount in four weeks. I had been working as an illustrator in Dublin at the time and felt that it was time for me to start something of my own, but I had no idea where to start. I came to Corkscrew with an open mind and loved how enthusiastic Neil and Tom were, plus they had really practical advice on how to get started. Each day brought new challenges, all of which were fun and helped me get to know the other participants really well, we’re still in touch to this day.

I came away from the experience feeling much more confident, focused, and empowered; I was ready to launch the startup that I had been dreaming about for months.

What was the biggest achievement you had in the Corkscrew program?

I achieved a lot on the program, but the highlight was finding a business idea that would allow me to focus on what I was passionate about in life. I loved drawing and working with children, and the Corkscrew program enabled me to turn that love into a business idea that was financially sustainable and scalable. By going through the program, I did things I had never tried before, like building a website and using Google keyword planner. Before I knew it, I had things to show other people that looked professional and had been well thought out. I found out that others were excited about the idea too, which was the best feeling ever.

What led you back to Exeter to join the Corkscrew team?

After I finished the Corkscrew program, I knew they I had something very special to offer students from all walks of life. I had been involved in formal education for years and was growing tired of the emphasis on theory and the lack of relevant, practical experience we provided for students. I realized that entrepreneurship combines a set of skills that are beneficial for anyone: creative thinking, self-motivation, and confidence in leadership.

Furthermore, the Corkscrew program had shown me how to actually apply these skills to any work I was undertaking, not just my startup. When the call came from the guys, I didn’t give it a second thought! I’m really delighted to be part of the team.

Pitching a business idea

The best part of the job: seeing students pitch ideas

What does a typical day as a Corkscrew Mentor look like?

We start the day with high energy by delivering a presentation to the students on a particular aspect of Corkscrew Thinking and entrepreneurship. We keep our content engaging by showing relevant Youtube videos and TEDtalks. as well as tips on finding great ideas, solving problems creatively, and challenging the status quo. We set a challenge for the students to work through in small groups which allows them to put the presentation into practical use. The students present their ideas back to us (my favorite part of the day) and we all give feedback.

The Corkscrew students then spend time working on their own ideas before we switch over to client based work. They work on an important project for a local startup, whether it’s designing a new public campaign for them or taking a close look at how they’re using their social media channels. I provide them with support and feedback. Alongside my mentoring role, I manage Corkscrews’ social media outputs and look for new ways for us to reach out to others with the same values as us.

Your background is in art and design, how do you bring these skills and this knowledge to your mentoring role at Corkscrew?

I have a real appreciation for ideas that challenge common assumptions and/or are dealing with complex issues. Prior to Corkscrew, I felt ideas like these were sometimes relegated to the world of art and therefore limited to the reach of galleries and installations. However, I have come to see that these ideas are extremely valid and useful in business, and require an entrepreneurial spirit to have them heard. The world will always need new thought leaders. I’m also really passionate about startups that are related to promoting creativity in any form, and think that the process of starting a business is one of the most creative things you will ever do.

Lesson at Corkscrew Startup

The process of business startup develops creative problem-solving, self-learning, and leadership skills.

Based on your experience in Corkscrew Thinking and the program, what advice would you give to prospective participants?

I think the program works best if participants just come with an open mind and lots of enthusiasm. We do not set any homework prior to arrival, nor do we expect you to know exactly what you want to achieve while you’re here. The program is designed to allow you to come up with an idea at your own pace, and guides you through the process in an intuitive way. One of the joys of being a mentor here is seeing people find clarity, grow, and develop over the course of four weeks.

What important things should participants know about the U.K. prior to arrival?

That it’s great here! We have a strong, vibrant startup community that are very supportive of new ventures. Our host families are incredibly warm and welcoming, and will give you a wonderful insight into life in Devon. Other than that, we drink a lot of tea, we are normally quite polite, and we talk about the weather a lot.

What’s the most challenging situation you’ve faced as a mentor so far?

We have a large group of students arriving this summer, more than we’ve ever had at one time, so I have a feeling that my most challenging situation lies ahead of me still! I’m not worried about that though, just really excited to be working with large groups and hearing about lots of new ideas.

What makes the Corkscrew program stand out?

There are a number of things that make Corkscrew different to any other startup program or internship I’ve ever encountered.

Firstly, the program is constantly updated, so the information you are being given is always current, relevant, and up-to-date. This is key in an age of ever-changing platforms and trends online.

Secondly, the information being given to each participant is comprehensive without being too theoretical or abstract. Everything we teach is practical and to the point, and taken from years of experience.

Thirdly, the approach we have is unique (i.e. using business startup as a vehicle for learning to problem solve creatively, teach yourself new skills, and lead others to create change). Even participants who don’t follow their ideas to launch have gained so much from going through the process over four weeks.

Students in Exeter, England

Group challenges are really fun, lots of laughter

What has been your biggest achievement as a mentor so far?

My role is to support the participants in the best way I can, which is in itself a really rewarding task. There have also been moments of sheer joy as I’ve watched students pitch ideas that are really close to their hearts, serious tear-jerkers for me.

What are your goals for the Corkscrew program for the rest of 2015?

We have such an exciting year ahead! With the large numbers of participants coming to the U.K. this summer, it will be a great chance to see us run multiple programs at once. Then, as our Hybrid Internships in Berlin, Dublin, and Barcelona gain momentum I can’t wait to see the kinds of ideas that emerge from those incredible cowork spaces.

The program itself is always evolving. Our latest purchase has been a big Corkscrew megaphone for a challenge on “self-brand” day involving announcing manifestos to the general public. My goal is to make sure we keep introducing activities like this, where participants get to have their voices heard, have fun, and learn about startups all at the same time.