Our #MVPtoVIP series celebrates the inspirational journeys of some of the fantastic founders in our Farillio network. This time, we're chatting to Laura Vanessa Munoz, founder of Empowering Futures.
1. How would you sum up the concept behind your business?
We connect driven university students with startups to collaborate on marketing projects. We do this by offering a unique, 12-week skills development programme that involves online training, face-to-face training, coaching and of course, work experience with our partner startups.
This is not only an opportunity for the university students to get work experience; startups also benefit from this programme and they get the opportunity to reflect on their organisation’s culture, talent management and talent retention, as we also encourage them to take part in the clinics we run during the programme.
2. What were you doing before you set it up?
I was the portfolio manager of an innovative charity that was set up to match elderly people living in isolation with younger people looking for accommodation. It’s a great solution offering a place to live, support at home and companionship.
I also co-founded an international alumni association bringing together university alumni from over 30 countries.
And I’ve spent many years supporting others as a communications consultant and as a lecturer.
3. When did you realise that you wanted to run your own business and what led to you achieving it?
I have always been passionate about connecting people and spreading good ideas; when I was a teenager, I met a young entrepreneur in Canada and she became an inspiring role model for me.
Years later, I came to study in the UK and I had the opportunity to work for the charity sector. While I was still working, I was constantly talking to entrepreneurs and university students, and when I reflected on my own journey and professional experience, I realised there was room for a programme where both startups and students could connect, collaborate and gain valuable skills.
4. How did you find the process of launching the business?
It was exciting and terrifying at the same time. I had lots of questions and at moments I had no idea if I was on the right path. I took it one step at a time, but I do wish I’d have had a one-stop place to go to solve all my questions. It was really time consuming!
5. What is the most challenging aspect of being a business owner?
Every entrepreneur faces different challenges, depending on the nature of their business and sector. Empowering Futures has been growing organically without external investment or funding, keeping up with the pace of the competitive marketplace is trying!
You also have to strive to provide the best customer service for all your audiences. With a small team, we always have to manage priorities while making sure we provide value for all our stakeholders.
6. Do you have any advice on the cultural and other benefits to small businesses of working with interns and work experience graduates?
There are big benefits – to culture and on other aspects of running a business.
We live in times where the marketplace is disrupted easily, and great teams, packed with diversity, will make the difference between having a company that will be standing strong in 50 years or a company that survives only 5 years. Diversity brings different ideas, perspectives, skills, cultural influences and richer collaboration.
Startups need to think about building organisational cultures that are diverse and inclusive, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it makes business sense. With a diverse team, you’re far more likely to spot fresh opportunities, challenge yourselves and your existing thinking and practises (which might have become a bit stale, or out of date), to be able to attract talented people – and of course, you’re more likely to appeal to business partners, an increasing number of whom these days have diversity as part of their procurement or partnership process. All of this creates a strong brand reputation in the market and a positive impact on the bottom line.
7. What does the future hold for your business?
I’m excited about our future. We have partnered with two organisations, one in Birmingham and one in London to run two pilot programmes based on our methodology. We strongly believe in the power of collaboration and we are advocates of social inclusion and diversity.
In Birmingham, we are working with the amazing NCOP programme at University College Birmingham and we are connecting college students with startups to understand where a career in digital marketing could take them!
In London, we partnered with Foundation for Change and we are training people that have been out of work for several years but now are ready to get back to the workplace and through and training and work-placements they will get ready to create the life they want to lead.
I’m really looking forward to revealing the results - and the impact we’ve had on the people taking part in these programmes - at the end of this year.
8. You are one of the most connected people we know. What's the secret to building a great network and why is it so valuable?
Your network will make you or break you. It’s as simple as that. If you are an entrepreneur, you will always achieve your objectives faster and more easily if you have the right network.
And it is never too soon or too late to start building.
Do not be afraid to reach out to people to ask for advice and share a cup of coffee or tea with them – you might be surprised, but in my experience, most people will share valuable information with you, if you ask.
I genuinely like people, I like to hear their stories and I’m a big believer in helping others, often by connecting them with other like-minded individuals, without expecting anything in return.
9. What’s the most important piece of legal advice you’ve ever needed?
For me, as the founder of a social enterprise, it was extremely important to choose the right legal business model for Empowering Futures. I needed to know the benefits and responsibilities of each option; at the same time, I needed to think about the future and what format would allow us to grow in the way we expect to. So good advice on this was something that I knew I needed from the outset.
Recently, it has been very important for us to define the right collaboration agreements with our partners, and these are the things that you don’t think about until you need to do it; there is a lot of information on the internet, but nothing beats having what you want all in one place – and I always like to talk to a professional I can trust.
10. What’s the one legal document you wish you’d had when you were starting out?
I struggle to mention one document, to be honest. It took me a lot of time to draft our confidentiality agreement, which is where most businesses start, because when you speak to others about what you’re doing (which you often need to do many times over). You want to feel that your ideas and your plans are being as protected as you can make them, and that people you share them with will treat what you share in good faith. Besides that, I’d have liked an easier process to put our terms and conditions together, and definitely also the documents for when I got the first member of my team on board.
11. What’s the next piece of legal advice you predict you’ll need?
As an immediate need we need to work on our data protection policy to make sure all our team is aware of and complies with GDPR.
Want to read more inspiring startup stories? Join the conversation using the hashtag #MVPtoVIP.