Shawn McQueen-Ruggeiro is co-founder of CareerPoint and graduate from the Said Business School in Oxford. Her college was Lady Margaret Hall. The company is an app addressing something that hasn’t been addressed before – it’s the very first online career advancement platform, aimed at young professionals 5-10 years after graduating university. The app is an opportunity for anybody who wants it to receive coaching and understand the value they create in an office environment, and how to increase that value and be recognised for what they’re bringing to the company.

It’s affordable – a way of levelling the playing field, especially for those that have been historically disadvantaged. The app will offer personalised content and wisdom on a daily basis to help users understand how they can advance in their careers. The platform will also offer a live coaching component, with someone who’s been through it before and trained to help the user overcome the obstacles in the way of their own success.

What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
My background is in non-profits. I went back to school to increase my skill in order to create a greater impact in my industry, and then the pandemic happened – I worked primarily in Africa until COVID, but obviously I couldn’t do that anymore. I was invited to join CareerPoint by the founder and felt that it was very aligned to my values. What I’ve always wanted is impact and this is an opportunity for global impact, to help people all around the world, because wanting to advance in your career is universal, right?

What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is a funny thing. I guess the “official” definition is setting up your business, exposing yourself to financial risk in hope of gain. I think there is much more to it than that. I have a lot of respect for entrepreneurs and their passion. I think it’s not just to make a profit, it’s about creating and manifesting a dream, having a vision. And it’s very brave when you consider the failure rate. The country, really, the global economy relies on entrepreneurs and new businesses – what could be more important than that? Coming from non-profits of course where there isn’t that financial reward, I may have been a bit judgemental about how much some entrepreneurs earn – but now I really feel that it’s deserved understand the value they bring to and jobs they create in the overall economy.

How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
CareerPoint is based on a book that introduces a ground-breaking theory called the Employee Value Curve. The founder – because we all were in class together – brought it in, and tested it on everyone before he turned it into a real idea. He asked so many different people, he tried to poke holes in it and he couldn’t. Everyone agreed that it was a good idea so he felt compelled to give his theory wings via the creation of an App.

What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Incredible work ethic, because it will take more work than you can ever imagine.
Strong relationships. You will need a network for every aspect of building your business. You can’t be an expert in everything, you need others to help you.
You need to be super agile. As your idea/company develops, change is inevitable. You need to be able to move with the changes and new data instead of holding onto your first idea or first plan.

What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
My favourite part of being an entrepreneur is the pace. If you’re a curious person, being an entrepreneur is very satisfying. You’re constantly learning, seeking additional expertise and knowledge. It was the same with the non-profits – you never had sufficient funds, so you needed a lot of skills across lots of different departments. I got used to wearing a lot of different hats. For me, that’s something fun, exciting and as an entrepreneur it is essential.

What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
Ellevest and Portfolia are two different companies I’ve been following. Both are founded for and by women. Ellevest helps educate women on investment, how to use the resources and assets they have. It’s very personalised, you can put in your own goal and learn with their help how to get there. ​Portfolia is a capitalist fund, funded all by women, to support women-owned start-ups and projects.

If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I would ask what the best piece of advice they received when they were starting up was, so they could pass it on to me. And, stories of what keeps them going when times are tough. I imagine its passion for the mission, but I think there’s something in the DNA, something else that drives those of us in the entrepreneurial world.

What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
When you’ve created a program or framework and it works! In my career, it’s usually been an intervention to eliminate suffering or alleviate poverty or post-disaster relief – when it works, seeing the impact is incredibly satisfying. Your idea can change somebody else’s life. I want CareerPoint to be the same, having a global impact. Just changing one person’s perception – teaching young people how to recognize their value, increase their own value and ultimately how to create more value in the world is important.

What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Try not be a perfectionist. Perfectionism can inhibit your need to move forward. My team is full of perfectionists, and you know, it’s important – with a beta product, it’s meant to be a test, and we know it’s meant to be a test, but it’s still hard to be happy when it’s not quite right. Understanding that it’s about building towards perfection, I guess.

How have you funded your ideas?
CareerPoint is funded by the founder’s network. He has colleagues, customers, partners etc. from his original business, and those relationships have funded the company so far. It goes to show how important those authentic relationships are and to never burn bridges.

Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
In the Oxford environment, there’s so much available. Your faculty is a great place to start. At Säid, they were weighing in at every stage. Don’t be afraid to ask. If you have an idea for a business, start using the Oxford network sooner than later.

What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
In the Oxford environment, there’s so much available. Your faculty is a great place to start. At Säid, they were weighing in at every stage. Don’t be afraid to ask. If you have an idea for a business, start using the Oxford network sooner than later.

Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
I’m a single mum, so I feel like there’s some additional pressure – it’s extra risky for me to be taking the business on at this stage in my life, you know, I’ve got two girls in her college. I feel vulnerable. It’s definitely easier to have a normal job, but I like to believe that I’m a role model for my daughters. That’s what keeps me going. Also, I’m the only woman on the team. I’m used to that – as a female leader, you’re often not surrounded by other women. And I feel like our styles are quite different, but I don’t think we need to work with sameness, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with this team during our EMBA program and the dynamic is a really good fit. Diversity in every aspect is essential. As long as there’s respect, a diverse environment can produce great results. I’m truly excited to be part of this team and learn from my colleagues each and every day.

What resources would you recommend for other women?
Seek out peers. Find mentors. Create your own “kitchen cabinet”, find a place where you can really receive sage advice from women who have been through it before you. And honestly, Oxford offers so many resources, if you are in need it just takes some looking to find it being offered.

How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
There’s so much on offer, but it is often difficult to navigate. Perhaps they could consolidate pre-existing resources, create a singular portal where you can see everything. Säid is an amazing resource for women entrepreneurs and I believe they are getting better about communicating what they have to offer in terms of support.

Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
Female entrepreneurs may not be equitably represented yet, but those statistics should not stop us. We need women to become entrepreneurs that then become leaders and employers. Their companies will help solve problems seen their their lens, its another perspective in the marketplace. Limiting beliefs simply do not serve us so I would say be brave, be bold. Go for it.

Any last words of advice?
If you have the idea, the passion, the determination and the grit to see it through – I say go for it. Nothing could be more satisfying that creating something – what a legacy to leave.

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