05th June 2020

Resident in Focus: Laura Bernal & Cristian Hoyos, Founders of NetMinds

Each month we feature one of our amazing residents and highlight the work they’re doing within the Ormeau Baths community along with their experience within the world of entrepreneurship. This month things look a little different for a lot of our members including this month’s Resident in Focus duo, Laura Bernal and Cristian Hoyos, co-founders of NetMinds.

This week we chat to Laura and Cristian about the work they’re doing within NetMinds, their experience pivoting within COVID-19 and what advice they would share with entrepreneurs right now.

Name & role: Laura Bernal (Co-Founder), Cristian Hoyos (Co-founder)

Company elevator pitch:

NetMinds is a support ecosystem for Startups, that provides collaboration opportunities to evolve and lower their risk while getting the right expertise at the right moment. We do this by connecting Founders to specialized mentors and professionals, according to the Start-up stage and needs.

Our idea at the beginning was quite different, as we started with the concept of a platform to generate collaborations between universities and business. Therefore, the concept of collaboration has always been NetMinds motivation since the start, because after our masters in innovation we saw an opportunity to help businesses find collaborators and use it as a business model. So we started applying it ourselves.

When lockdown started, universities put us on hold and we found ourselves with no product and no clients. We only had the concept of collaboration as something important for innovation. At that moment, we started analyzing the start-up landscape under the crisis, thought about our biggest problems and finally realized that there was something to be done to mitigate the crisis. We needed to find a way to help the next generation of businesses grow, to create the jobs the pandemic was taking away. Furloughed workers were the starting point, as they had the expertise needed by entrepreneurs, but wouldn’t be affordable for early-stage entrepreneurs. We started asking people to volunteer some hours of their time to help entrepreneurs, we were surprised at the value startups and volunteers were getting and since then we have been building the support ecosystem NetMinds is today.

Business/career goal for 2020:

We are looking forward to being positioned as a sustainable business model that increases the chances for entrepreneurs to evolve under difficult financial time. A lot is said around community support when referring to helping individuals and their families. But not a lot has been said about Business to Business support, which at the end also impacts people’s lives. We aim to see impactful results that show the power of community in this respect. Business is all about people, and innovation is not different. Our goal is to enhance collaborations, have innovative companies with fewer financial obstacles and help upscale other members in the community. COVID-19 made us realize businesses need aid from each other and different members of the community.

What excites you most about your role?

Laura: See the happiness of others when helping them out. There is nothing more satisfying for me to see people happy with the value we are providing. And that comes from having the flexibility to create something that we find is important and do it to generate something for others. My role has also been great to meet amazing people and be in touch with humankind and new ideas all the time.

Cristian: I completely agree! And additionally, I particularly find exciting the infinite possibilities that entrepreneurship provides, because I have the creative and operative freedom to build something completely new and learn by doing and interacting with people.

What are some of the coping mechanisms you’ve adopted to try and stay positive during lockdown?

Laura: It has very hard, especially considering I am far from my family and I just moved to Belfast. Perhaps the most important mechanism is always remembering why. I ask myself constantly, why am I doing this and not something different? The answer always gives me tranquillity that I’m doing the right thing, therefore it will take to me to the right place. Doing Yoga and writing has also been great to process feelings and stay positive that I am doing what I can during lockdown, that this all will pass and that there will be something great coming up.

Cristian: Family and the capacity to believe in something bigger than yourself. It’s very easy to get lost in thought and concerns if you don’t have a supportive environment, while at the same time having a clear purpose of why you are doing what you are doing.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur during lockdown?

Laura: That change is a constant and you have to go with the flow. Lockdown made us drastically pivot our company. It just shows you that being open to change and unexpected situations, is the only thing you can control. Trusting the purpose and what I want to see in the world has helped to adapt while keeping focused and motivated. When you have your purpose, clear is easier to be flexible.

Going forward, has the Covid-19 outbreak impacted your approach to business and entrepreneurship?

Laura: It has. I believe for an entrepreneur is very easy to live in the future. You are always working towards a vision and something that one day will happen. COVID-19 showed me the present is what matters. It is gold, I think more about what it is I’m doing today to generate an impact. I have stopped thinking too much about the future. I am more focused on the present now. It makes you more resilient.

Cristian: Yes! But more in the way of reassuring that entrepreneurship is an amazing solution to thrive and overcome any financial or worldwide crisis.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs right now?

Laura: I would advise them to really think why. Being an entrepreneur is fun, but it is also very hard. When tough moments come there has to be a reason above yourself to keep you in track and flexible. I would also advise to believe and leave fear behind as much as possible.

Cristian: Alongside that, the next best advice is to take advantage of the situation, and don’t be afraid to reach out everyone you think can help you around the world. The pandemic has changed the way the world is communicating and networking, which is opening up a world of opportunities to connect.

If you had to enter into a talent show what would you do?

Laura: I would sing and perhaps dance. Both are things I really enjoy doing. Actually, both are things I have done in my living room during lockdown. Hope my neighbours don’t mind me singing.

Cristian: Completely opposite for me! (terrible singer and barely decent dancer). It would probably do something around cooking because I love doing it, but never follow a recipe, I’m always experimenting (and friends and family seem to like it)

Tell us something people would be surprised to know about you

Laura: The number of random jobs I have had. My first job was as Barbie on kids parties, then I worked promoting Disney movies in malls, was a lifeguard in Snoopy’s theme park and then I started my profession as a radio host in one of the biggest media companies in Colombia.

Cristian: Most people are surprised to know that I have been married for 9 years, but even more surprised when I tell them that getting married is the best decision you can ever make. Reach out to me if you want any help or advice on that, happy to help!

If you could pick up a new skill in an instant what would it be?

Laura: Know how to code or design, 100%. It would save me so much struggle and money.

Cristian: Additional to coding (which I have been studying irregularly and awfully during my whole life) I would love to learn how to play the guitar, to be that guy in every friend’s party.

Who is your dream business mentor?

Laura: Evan Williams. Founder of Medium and Twitter. Created great communities to learn from

Cristian: I could name some business entrepreneurs that I follow (Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Vlad Magdalin…), but even beyond that, the mentors that I enjoy the most and also see the bigger value, are the ones that resonate with our purpose of collaboration, which is not that easy! Most business people have a competitive mindset that doesn’t allow the required openness to realize the potential of working alongside others.

Name one resource (book, podcast, publication etc) that has had an impact on your approach to business

Laura: Doughnut economy by Kate Raworth and Sprint by Jake Knapp. Have made me different around how a business model should work and how to make processes more effective.

Cristian: I would recommend the book I’m reading right now, which explains in a very good way the importance of having a collaborative mindset and how to work on it: The Outward Mindset by Arbinger Institute.

For more information about NetMinds, check out their website netminds.uk. Follow @netminds_ to get involved or to register with the platform.