What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
I trained as a medical doctor in my home country of Croatia, and then went on to specialise in dermatology. An important habit that I took away from this first step in my career was long-term study and determination; medicine obviously requires long hours of studying your subject, and I soon found out that everything that you learn will help you later in life, at some point. Even at it seems pointless at that given moment. I think I was always a bit entrepreneurial, just was not maybe always in the entrepreneurial-friendly environments. My first step towards it was building laser practice in dermatology from the scratch. When I moved to US, I shifted fully to healthcare admin and business world. I then moved on to immersing myself in different cultures – I lived in both Abu Dhabi and the US. These experiences enabled me to have a 360 view of the medical world – where I had been patient, doctor and admin on 3 different continents. What struck me the most from this unique viewpoint was how little time was given to professionals to show the empathy to those in need and ability to express emotions on both sides of the equation. I felt that in the current healthcare world we were mesmerised by technology and data, and that medicine had lost its holistic element. Almost as it has lost its soul.
Therefore, as an art enthusiast, I made this link in-between art and health: art affects our emotions, and emotions affect our health – so, art affects our health. My definition of art is that it is skilled creativity – it is one’s freedom of expression, which is conveyed through a personal prism. In hospital, people are mostly in contact with those monitoring their physical objective data, leaving their emotional feeling lacking. Thus, I started shifting my interest towards the integration of art with medicine, and soon found out that there is a whole profession dedicated to addressing deep emotional issues through artistic mediums. In the US, more than 45% of hospitals use some form of arts as a service to patients and caregivers, whereas in other parts of the world it wasn’t even recognised.
In the initial stages of starting my company, I remember thinking about how art and health have always been the two most cohesive forces of humanity, and how, recently, digital had become the third one. Having all three would transcend all geographical, language and cultural barriers. I was very passionate about facing the mathematics of emotion – but how does one make a business out of it? I thought about end-of-life patients, and how they could be aided in addressing their emotions. What art does for them is that it says the unsayable – it is a medium of emotional communication which would free the patient from linguistic or social constraints. Technology came into the mix quite naturally – it was something I was passionate about and that I kept going back to during my years in consulting. I soon realised that there wasn’t a platform that connected art therapy with patients and, in 2018, Artocene Digital was born.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Like artists, entrepreneurs might spot what is invisible to others and then have passion and grit to pursue it, regardless of the risks.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
Well, you don’t know whether it is good enough, at the start. And I am still at the very early stages to call it successful. But maybe I was reassured when bouncing it off the potential early adopters who are all top notch professionals with years of experience. I sense we have a hidden gem and it came to me at the right time – and I was lucky to be in a place where I could envision it.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
1. To believe in yourself just enough to walk on a path that has not been walked on before, armed only with resilience, intuition and readiness to keep learning every minute of that journey; 2. To willing to take a risk and listen to your guts. 3. be ready to change things fast, but also to always stay kind and humble.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
The flexibility and creativity that come with it, which translate into setting up your own boundaries. But you have to believe in what you do in order to take full advantage of them.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
I was inspired by the Cleveland Clinic, where I used to work, by their business model and how they ran it. Observing it in the way that I did was one of the privileges of being an insider. Otherwise, I am grateful to many people that I have met throughout my career, and as an entrepreneur I meet more people every day. Also, having a social impact is crucial in having a shot at being successful. But then, of course, we have to ask – what is the measure of success? A lot of people will say money, and yes, it is a measure of how well your business is doing. But, for instance, I mostly want to make money in order to give money.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
When I was able to visualise its purpose; especially from a logistical point of view, since therapists actually accepted the platform and joined me. Their own belief in Artocene was the best form of validation. They all saw how, when we make this happen, there might be a child sitting in hospital after surgery, who will be able to open the Artocene app and receive art therapy. Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
I am impatient as a person, and another aspect of entrepreneurship is that, although your vision might initially seem close, it is not. You need to be patient. Doing the necessary due diligence, for instance, is extremely important. I initially underestimated the legal aspects of setting a business up, and I had to learn a lot of things that I didn’t necessarily want to learn – there is a lot of paperwork involved. I should’ve researched it more.
How have you funded your ideas?
Mostly through myself. My consulting company produced a modest amount which I then redirected to Artocene. Friends also helped, but I also made sure that I kept the company lean. I’m also hoping to be going forward with investors, and will be pitching to some soon.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them? Said Business School. What a great place with amazing bright people, and global network.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
Absolutely. If anyone says that being a woman doesn’t affect you in the business world, they’re being fake. Of course, I am only starting, so I cannot look back over a long period of time and tell you about it, but I have worked in an executive position before, and have been working jobs ever since I first graduated.
I am single caretaker for my children most of the time. Being a hands-on mum and a successful career woman is not something that the traditional business eco-systems are built around. Therefore, as women, we are expected to balance the motherhood within our professional lives, and therefor to always give something up. There is no such thing as work-life balance, it can only by – the integration. Thousands of years ago, expecting women to raise the next generation was normal, since men would go hunting to survive. But men don’t need to go hunting anymore in order to survive, whilst women are still expected to fulfil their motherly roles to the same extent, on top of wanting to achieve their own goals.
As a woman, the more you want to achieve, the more challenging it will get. You walk into a boardroom made up exclusively of men as a tired mum and refuse to attend the follow-up dinner which will go on until 1 a.m., and you might be silently judged. It is difficult, because you are expected to do manly things. And when you don’t have kids, you’re expected to have them.
As Ruth Bader Ginsburg said: Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.
What resources would you recommend for other women?
LinkedIn is getting better and better, and having one as a young entrepreneur matters. Otherwise, go online and google anything you want to know.
How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
Does anyone sustainably support women entrepreneurs? Not sure but hope so. I think that students that want to pursue entrepreneurship should have sessions with mentors and be given regular feedback and have weekly or bi-weekly sessions. I think evaluations would also be helpful – help them develop their idea, teach them how to pitch.
Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
Enter this world elegantly, and be fluid – things can’t hurt you if you embrace your sensitiveness to the point where you become ethereal. Be a warrior, but on a completely different level from the men around you. The power of softness is the biggest power. Wind and water are always stronger than fire and earth. It all boils down to purity. Be proactive and place yourself on a new level to those around you.
Any last words of advice?
Yes. The comfort zone is where dreams go and die.