Blood, sweat and (no) tears – what it’s like working at a start-up…

…by Phoebe / from the UK / studying International Business / 4th Year (UG)

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Last summer, I secured an internship with health tech start-up, Thriva. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew that I wanted to work for a small firm. Others in my position tend to focus on larger companies as they’re the ones with big clout and the budgets to come to career fairs. However, the lion’s share of employment opportunities are found within small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) like Thriva; the interesting organisations that are learning and navigating the business landscape alongside you.

Thriva is a health tech start-up offering at home, finger-prick blood tests enabling people to track and improve their health. Like most Brits, I am a big fan of the NHS, but unfortunately it doesn’t have the resources to provide preventative healthcare, which is where Thriva comes in – allowing people to take control of their health and make changes before any serious problems arise.

A few weeks into my internship, I was tasked with planning and executing a pop-up shop in London’s busy Old Street station. It was a daunting but incredible experience. I ensured the smooth running of the shop from 7am until close every day, organised evening events, and co-ordinated social media. The pop-up successfully allowed Thriva to increase brand awareness within London and serve as a point of engagement with potential customers, gaining valuable insights into their views and concerns about the product.

I learnt a lot in my time at Thriva – and not just that I have an Omega 3 deficiency! If anyone else is looking at entering a start-up, or weighing up whether they’d rather work for a big business or SME, here are my tips:

  • Networking is so important – Thriva’s co-founders seemed to know every other start-up and entrepreneur in London and beyond! This was so important for the pop-up as it meant the area was busy for the whole week.
  • You have to work hard and there’s no room to hide! You get the chance to speak to the founders every day. Yes, it’s a little scary but it means you learn so much, so quickly.
  • Things are always changing – in just two months, the company grew from seven employees to 12!
  • It’s all about getting involved at the right time – start-ups are constantly evolving, changing and going through funding rounds. That means sometimes they have the money and capacity to employ someone, but sometimes they don’t. If you think you’d like to work for a start-up, remember they may not be able to commit to anything until closer to the time.
  • If you’re more comfortable with clearer hierarchies then a start-up probably isn’t for you. Start-ups are all about flexibility and getting the job done. I was amazed that the co-founders made time to complete a shift alongside me at the pop-up!

So, that was my summer of (lots of) blood, sweat and (thankfully absolutely no) tears! I know for certain that I’d like to return to the start-up world after I graduate. My time there taught me a lot and has even inspired me to set up my own business with some friends – Sanitree, a social enterprise tackling period poverty in India!


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