Zuzanna was the president of CUE in 2016-2017. She was the CEO and co-founder of the start-up Sixfold Bioscience - which went through Y-Combinator W18 and raised over $10 million.
Currently, Zuzanna is the Senior Director at Eli Lilly and Company, working in Corporate Strategy and Business Development.
What inspired you to start your own company?
During my time at Cambridge, I was lucky to come across and spend time with academics and Cambridge alumni who were engaged in cutting-edge research on the one hand and, in many cases, successful businesses that were based around applying that research to tangible, real-world problems on the other hand. Seeing the magnitude of that translational impact, made me want to pursue a similar path.
Another factor was my experience at CUE, especially the week-long CUE trip to San Francisco, during which we held meetings with venture capitalists, accelerators, and leading corporations. The trip had a big impact on expanding all participants’ professional networks, filling us with tremendous energy and perception that starting a real business was a very realistic prospect in most of our cases and allowing some of us to break into the US start-up ecosystem.
What would be your advice for young people looking to start their own businesses?
Before you start, spending time and effort on proper due diligence on your team, the problem and competitive landscape is very important. Then, starting a business based on your in-depth knowledge and/or experience is going to give you an advantage. Taking this risk early in your career can be a good idea given how much there is to learn and potentially gain, and how relatively little there is to lose from “failing” with your first start-up.
Also, I would encourage people to find a good mentor - someone who has built a successful business before and someone who you can truly respect and count on for hands-on, reliable advice. At the same time, minimizing distractions, e.g. participating in too many accelerators and competitions, can be beneficial. Quality over quantity when it comes to advice.
Lastly - and perhaps most importantly - keep reminding yourself to focus on what’s truly crucial for the company, i.e. the underlying product or service.
Do you have any advice for one to develop their confidence?
I think it often starts with taking the time to realise what you are good at. Try to become an expert in what you are doing. When you are building a business, you will likely have to participate in multiple meetings and you will soon realize that - more often than not - you may know much more than the others sitting in the same room. From each such meeting and each such interaction, seek feedback and analyze your performance. Over time, you should be able to improve, notice the difference, and gain additional confidence.
Also, you need to be prepared for a lot of “No’s” - expect lots of rejections and remember that they can be a build-up to your first, big “Yes”.
What do you think are some of the challenges to building a business, or mistakes that one could make on their journey?
There are many challenges - those are part of the fun! I can highlight two: I think it’s important to concentrate on building a good product or service, and not get too pre-occupied with less value-add activities. Secondly, something that is really important for the long-term, and can often be overlooked at the beginning, is good governance. Governance that promotes transparency and trust, and can help avoid major disputes should they arise.
Any recommended resources?
I value my network and so would recommend starting to develop your own early. A good free online resource, is the YC library: https://www.ycombinator.com/library
CUE aims to educate and encourage students to consider entrepreneurial careers, and is renowned for hosting some of the most successful student-run business creation competitions in the world.