In January 2020, Stephanie Gnissios co-founded Climate Risk Services, which supports its clients in responding and adapting to the physical, technological, regulatory, and social impacts of climate change. Initially trained in mechanical engineering, she went on to complete an Executive Masters of Business Administration at Saïd Business School. She actively advocates for gender diversity in STEM and business through mentoring young women.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
After studying mechanical engineering, I spent the first decade of my career in the gold mining sector, starting with project management and then moving to the business side of things. I’m originally from Western Canada, but I relocated to Greece with my family and then to Turkey, during which time I took up the Executive MBA at Oxford, eventually moving there permanently. Whilst on the course, I met an alumnus of the MBA program who had ideas about climate risk – we discussed the potential for supporting companies to re-orient their decision-making, and agreed to partner up and act on it.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
For me, an entrepreneur is someone who tries something new – it doesn’t necessarily have to be completely brand new, but new to them. They find an innovative way of looking at, solving, or processing something, and then they pull the resources together to make it happen.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
I wouldn’t say that I have always felt totally confident, but I knew that I wanted the learning experience of building something up myself. The area of climate risk is an important one for me because I have two kids who are growing up in a world which is becoming more and more challenging – I wanted to do something which was going to make a concrete change. The decision to develop my idea into a business was a huge one, but I was lucky to have supportive people around me who encouraged me to follow through on it.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
I’d say persistence, time management, and relationship building. Practising relationship building rather than networking is especially important, because instead of just looking to immediately ‘gain value’, you’re connecting for the sake of it and giving value back.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
The learning curve is huge – it’s really challenging, but it’s amazing. That’s what I value the most, I think; even if it all blew up today, the amount I’ve learnt has been immense.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
There are so many people in my life who inspire me – I’d say my Mom firstly, and then so many of my friends and the brilliant women who I mentor. One has built up an enterprise in Zimbabwe, which is probably one of the hardest places to do that; I really admire her persistence and ability to make things work no matter what. Other than that, I watch Jacinda Ardern – I think she has a great approach to leadership and she’s really living the working mom life!
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I’d ask Jacinda Ardern how she manages her time – I prioritise my kids and that means that I’m often squeezing a lot of work into the smallest time slots. I’d love her practical tips on how she manages to balance and blend it all.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Climate Risk Services had a few challenges at the start, so I learnt that it’s important for new entrepreneurs to look really carefully into what they’re stepping into. More generally, I find that I often struggle to estimate the time I’ll need to complete something – sometimes it’ll end up taking three or four times longer than I’ve scheduled.
How have you funded your ideas?
We wanted to self-fund the first stages of Climate Risk Services, so we started out as a consultancy; writing a report for WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) kicked us off pretty well, but none of us took salaries for first several months and my co-founder beyond that. Since then, small consulting jobs have helped with cash flow and our understanding of the market and our clients’ needs. We haven’t looked for any external grants yet since the company is pretty new; we wanted to make sure we had a solid view of where we wanted to go with it first.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
Being nominated for the Women of The Future Awards last year was amazing for me personally because it expanded my network massively. I was able to solidify some existing relationships and create loads of really valuable new ones.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
Although Climate Risk Services is technically based in the Netherlands, my co-founder and I agreed that I would stay in Oxford to work. That was a really positive decision, since a huge part of our success as a business comes from maintaining the support networks of people working in Oxford, particularly at the Business School. It’s great to be able to engage with the University at a close range.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
I’d send them to Enterprising Oxford! Oxford University Innovation and the Imagine If! Program are also great for more science-related ventures, but it’s hard to give a single answer since it all depends on the person’s interests. I do think, though, that the most valuable thing you can do is talk to people in the field, so I’d try to give someone some useful contacts and then stay in touch to see what they needed.
Any last words of advice?
Just go for it! There will be rough days where you’ll need support, and you might – or, probably will – fail sometimes, but think of it all as an adventure.