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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

Viola Jardon, Senior Programme Manager for CISL'S Accelerator, sheds light on the challenging journey startup founders face, and the importance of taking time for reflection on their mindset.

From the moment they start their business, founders take on a huge role. They have to become an expert in everything needed to succeed and make crucial decisions each day, often operating on a shoestring budget with their livelihoods at stake. With so much to do and a strong passion driving them forward, these individuals dedicate their entire being to their business. Yet there’s rarely anyone looking after them.

Moving so fast, without the guarantee of a paycheck each month and a lack of internal support to help guide the way, can set any business owner’s mental wellbeing off-kilter. It’s essential that founders learn to pause and take time to reflect and review - not only for the growth of their business, but also for themselves. Self-care needs to be high on the agenda; after all, they are the core of their work and its success.

What is an entrepreneurial mindset?

For founders of startups, troubleshooting is an essential part of their day-to-day job. Co-founder and CEO of, Arash Asli, sums this up perfectly in his article for Forbes: “The entrepreneurial mindset is about a certain way of thinking - it is about the way in which you approach challenges and mistakes. It is about an inherent need to improve your skill set and to try and try again.”

While this mindset helps drive innovators and their business forward, it can also lead to burnout or becoming disillusioned with ongoing challenges - which is why it’s important for founders to celebrate their success along the way, no matter how big or small. Every step counts personally and for their team.

It all comes back to grounding themselves. Taking time to remember their vision and what they originally set out to do. And, for innovators, more often than not, that vision involves something that just might change the world.

Taking time to reflect

Our Manufacturing for good Accelerator brought together 20 forward-thinking entrepreneurs from across the UK. In one of the final weeks of the programme, we took time out from talk of strategy, scaling and pitching, incorporating a session led by mindset and performance coach Freddie Birley. The aim was to help our participants look after their mindset and reflect on where it all began, their motivations and what they have already achieved.

Innovation can take seed in the most surprising of places. It comes about when faced with a problem, or when the mind has space to wander. Our entrepreneurs told us that their ideas first came to them “in the shower”, “when they broke their foot with bedrest allowing time to ‘rethink’”, that they simply “came up with the idea with two friends for fun”. All of this goes to show that ideas can come quickly and sometimes unexpectedly. But once they take root, they often escalate fast.

So why did they choose to act on it? Why not leave that thought in the shower and carry on with the day job? Common across many entrepreneurial minds is the desire to “do things differently”, to “have control” and to make a “positive impact”. Remembering why they started on this epic journey helps entrepreneurs stay true to their core mission and values, and hold on to that drive that got them there in the first place.

While every business and its founder are different, they are connected by this core mission which lies at the heart of what they do. Whether it’s to “make space more sustainable” or “reduce carbon emission in food production”, what all innovators have in common is their purpose and, perhaps more crucially, the courage to make it a reality.

Of course, when things get tough it can be difficult to be brave or stay positive. This is why it’s important for entrepreneurs to take themselves back to their original purpose and try to remember how it made them feel. When they were “optimistic”, “hopeful”, “excited” or “empowered” about the journey they were starting. When motivation fails, it can help to return to these feelings, gaining access to the strength to keep going - especially when they’re doing something that could have a huge impact.

Each step of the journey matters. Good or bad, difficult or unexpected, founders need to remember how far they’ve come, what they’ve learnt along the way, and how it’s shaped them as a person. Whether the challenges they face are “cutting through corporate treacle”, “getting funding” or “balancing work, business and home life”, all of these provide opportunities to grow and learn. Meanwhile, it’s vital to celebrate every success, from “hiring our first team member” to “raising investment”. Each step is important for the lesson it teaches, be that “resilience”, “better people skills” or simply “not to take things personally”.

Remembering the vision

At the start of a new year there’s no better time to take a moment to pause and reflect. We encourage any entrepreneur, innovator and visionary to do just that; to think about their starting point, what they set out to achieve and what brought them to become a business owner in the first place. It’s a big life decision to start a business and the driver behind that decision is something they need to come back to sometimes, to recharge.

Beyond enabling businesses to thrive and grow, the CISL Accelerator exists to encourage and support the people behind the product or service. Our new Canopy incubator, opening spring 2022, will be a space for sustainability innovators to receive holistic support that’ll allow them to thrive - both as a business and as an individual.

Find out more about the Canopy Incubator and Accelerator.

About the author


Viola joined CISL in 2019 as Programme Manager for CISL’s Accelerator, specialising in small business innovation and international networks. As a core member of the Accelerator team, Viola provides business support to small businesses and entrepreneurs to unleash innovation, and maximise sustainable impact.


Staff articles on the blog do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

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