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Paulina Sygulska, Founder of Grant Tree

Abadesi Osunsade

Paulina Sygulska high res.jpg

Paulina is a serial entrepreneur, a TEDx speaker and a founder of GrantTree, started with a purpose to help tech startups navigate the complex world of government funding. In the last six years the team grew organically from 2 to 30, and raised over £50m for more than 600 technology startups and more mature companies using solely government funding schemes such as R&D tax credits and Innovate UK grants. GrantTree is also an open culture company which pioneered open salary scheme, and an empowering workplace. Earlier this year GrantTree launched its own Professional Workspace with Soul in central London to help spread its cultural values and create a brilliant working environment for other companies too. Paulina is also a seed investor and startup mentor, often featured as women in fintech speaker and panelist. 

Which quote do you look to when you need an extra push?

Michelle Williamson's reflection on our inner power as something that we are deeply afraid of really speaks to me. I do a little songwriting in my spare time and currently working on a tune around these powerful words :)

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. (...) And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Whose story inspires you to take action?

All stories of people fighting through adversity and finding their own path to wellness and higher spiritual ground inspire me. Being in the startup world I hear them every week. I hear from people who against all odds insist on being (or creating, through their startup) the change they want to see in the world. Nine times out of ten they fail but the most stubborn of them try over and over again. This totally beautiful "arrogance" is what attracted me to the startup in the first place and keeps me from wanting to be anywhere else. 

What's the last book you read that really connected with you?

I loved Matt Haig's Reasons to stay alive, incredibly accurate and creative "debate" with depression. I've suffered from mental health issues myself (depression, anxiety, eating disorders) and so it inspires me massively to see people talk openly about this. I've recently given a really vulnerable interview about mental health in the workplace in front of the camera for James, founder of Sanctus. If you are passionate about breaking the taboo of mental health issues at work, you must check out what they do!

What are you proudest of?

Recently I had a beautiful moment in the speakers room at Uprise Festival in Amsterdam. A guy approached me and said, "Your company saved my company's ass. Thank you". Turned out his startup's equity funding round was delayed and a grant we helped secure literally saved them from bankruptcy. Because of us this really cool company is still going and actually doing really well these days! My knees went slightly soft when he said that and I gave him a bear hug. 

I'm proud of quite a few things though! In my entrepreneurial career that would be switching from survival startup mode to purpose driven scale-up mode. Letting go of control (and greed!) to be able to help create the open culture that we have. We are one of the companies on the forefront of what I see as a general shift to a more conscious and purpose focused capitalism. The way this looks in practice is that, as an example, we have completely transparent company financials, individual determined salaries and run Holacracy as operational and governance system which gives us tools to self manage. We're really passionate about how and why we do what we do. And about our own development in the process, brought on by commercial challenges that we face. 

Which new books / authors are you reading?

An author not so new, more oldie but goodie. Ricardo Semler, creator of what could be first truly open company in the eighties. Also Robert Kegan - "An Everyone Culture" is a must for anyone interested in evolving organisational consciousness and wants to be inspired by detailed studies of established companies who achieved incredible things on the culture/management system front. Things that make you excited about future of the workplace globally. 

Which blogs and podcasts are you into?

I'm not big on blogs and podcasts actually - I know I may be missing out! I do my best to take more time out to be with myself, my friends and do other things that develop me instead. At the moment my "Board of Supporters" consists of my therapist George, massage and reiki specialist Ali (she's fab, ping me for contact details :), my herbalist Laurie, friends I do circling with (a form of group meditation) and my awesome girlfriends I can bitch to about absolutely any topic at any time. Or turn up randomly at their place to get awesome food, beauty treatment of some sort and/or tarot reading and a heart to heart chat. A sisterhood like this is the best thing in your life! Quite a team, right? I'm actually really happy I have so many means and ways of self-care in my life. It helps me to put my own wellbeing first which every entrepreneurial woman (and every woman in general IMHO) should do!