Overcoming the pressure to take the well-traveled road, Aishling Ruigrok is now redefining success on her own terms.
In 2018, Aishling Ruigrok spent five months in a university exchange program from Ireland to Hong Kong that changed the way she saw her future. During her semester at the University of Hong Kong, she interned for OWN Academy and discovered a passion for startups. She found the industry exciting and realized it was perfect for her since she loves thinking on her feet, having a mix of roles, and connecting with people.
After college, she spent three fulfilling years working at Huckletree Dublin, a coworking space and workplace accelerator for tech startups and scaleups. Now, she just landed in Melbourne after nine months of backpacking across Kenya and Asia, and is looking for her next challenge.
Here, Aishling reflects on her journey so far and looks ahead to exciting new adventures.
Photo provided by Aishling Ruigrok
How did your OWN Academy internship make an impact on you?
I studied Business and Political Science in university and I felt like there was a lot of pressure to pursue accounting or finance after graduation. I knew that this wasn’t for me but I had no idea what else was out there. OWN Academy made me realize how many other options there are. I remember so clearly Natalie [Chan, CEO and founder of OWN Academy] telling me that it’s okay to take a minute to work out what you want and that there are other ways to be successful beyond traditional careers!
What is the purpose that drives you?
The most important thing for me is that I’m being challenged and constantly forming connections. I can see myself having a variety of different careers over the course of my life, but so long as these needs are met, I think I’ll be happy. It’s also important that my job gives me the space to enjoy life outside work—balance and adventure are so important to me and allow me to bring my best self to work!
What do you love about the startup industry?
I learned so much over the past three years working at Huckletree Dublin. When I left, there were 70 companies and 400 members in Dublin alone. The conversations you would have day to day were always so interesting and varied, so I think people are the best thing about startups.
Tell us about one major challenge that you overcame.
It’s no secret that the coworking industry was hit pretty hard in the early days of the pandemic. As the Membership Manager, I was at home trying to sell membership to companies who weren’t allowed to use it—definitely not easy. Luckily for us, our existing members were very loyal to the community we had built. We went headfirst into damage control, supporting them wherever we could. As the pandemic eased, it became about making members feel safe to come in again and re-establishing those connections between members that made the community special. It was incredible seeing the community start to thrive again with lots of new and old faces.
Which startup sectors do you want to focus on?
I’m really interested in the femtech and cleantech space. It makes me really excited that women’s health is starting to get the attention it deserves and being championed by incredible women around the world. As for sustainability, I think the severity of the climate crisis speaks for itself. There are some incredible innovations emerging and I would love to be a part of that movement.
While working at Huckletree, you also co-founded the ethical clothing line NASC. How did you juggle your multiple pursuits?
I love being busy. My friends often joke that they have to book me in advance if they want to see me. Everything goes into a Google calendar and I try to prioritize the essentials e.g., gym and cooking at the start of the week.
Although after months of backpacking, those things are very far from the radar! The past nine months have been a whirlwind for me, traveling across Kenya and Asia. I’m keen to find my next challenge so watch this space.
How would you advise young people who want to get into startups?
Think of what you’re passionate about and see what companies work in that space. LinkedIn is an incredible tool for this. Reach out to an employee of a company you like and ask if they’re hiring or ask for advice. Even if they can’t hire you, you now have a contact and some solid advice from someone who knows what they’re talking about. In my experience, people are really eager to help. It’s likely that they had support in the past and they know the importance of it.
Finding a mentor can also be incredibly useful. I signed up for a mentorship program in university, which led me to my job in Huckletree, and I’ve been lucky enough to maintain that mentor/mentee relationship. Lastly, attending events at coworking spaces or networking events is a brilliant way to get inspiration, learn from people, and build a network.
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