Paulina Sygulska Tenner is the Cofounder and director of GrantTree experts in R&D Tax Credits, TSB Smart Grants, SEIS and startup funding in the UK.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I’m an entrepreneur, an Angel investor, a speaker and an author. I’m currently an advisor to my company GrantTree, which has grown to a point it doesn’t need me full time any more. I can focus on personal projects such as investing in startups, promoting my new book Laid Bare: what the business leader learnt from the stripper and may get involved in another startup soon! 🙂
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Not at all. Things unfolded in a really interesting way, I was actually planning to be an actress but when I didn’t get into the school I wanted to back in Poland where I grew up I have instead taken the opportunity to go on a scholarship to study at University College London for a year instead and that changed the course of my life and the trajectory of my career. Initially I wanted to get into advertising but when I started meeting people from the startup space I knew this was the place to be! I started my first company, then my second and haven’t looked back since.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
A journey without challenges is not a journey. Over the years I’ve faced challenges to do with eating disorders, mental health and many business challenges too (which can hardly compare to personal challenges though). At one point I discovered that a close friend I brought into my company had set up a competing business behind my back and was effectively stealing clients from us. That was heartbreaking.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Starting and scaling a business with my then boyfriend now husband, and still having a healthy enough personal relationship. Helping to create a culture where people set their own salaries and financials are fully transparent (which is the case at GrantTree) while still achieving commercial success. We are effectively on the bleeding edge of cultural revolution in business.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Our strong values and a desire to create a workplace which isn’t just commercially sound but is wholesome, treats people like adults and is genuinely an interesting company to work for. My cofounder was really insistent on us sticking to this vision, particularly when times got tough.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I think it’s crucial to take advice from those who are smarter and/or more experienced than you and I have done at a lot of different points of my life. I currently have both a therapist and a coach, I consider this a crucial part of my personal development. I also love to pay it forward by giving my time to founders who are earlier on in their journeys. I have mentored startups as part of various accelerators and hackathons such as Startup Bus or Cherie Blair’s Foundation. In the run up to the publication of “Laid Bare” I have an offer where I’m happy to find half an hour in my diary for any founder who pre-orders my book on Amazon () and sends me an email with a screenshot () to confirm.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
Introducing transparent financials on a regulatory level for all companies to adhere to. When salaries are transparent for all team members to see, all pay gaps to do with gender, ethnicity, economic background etc self-correct. And instead of “empowering” women, how about we pay them fairly?
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Trust your intuition and the process of life as a whole. It will take you to unexpected places and it will be an exhilarating ride! Also, if you have a complex problem, learn to sit with it and allow for the solution to emerge instead of pushing for it. Develop your feminine leadership qualities just as much as much as the masculine ones.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
The next challenge is a successful launch of “Laid Bare” (I’m aiming for 1200+ copies sold). In the future I will have invested in a hundred technologically and socially innovative companies and helped them shape the future of the world we live in.