CEO, Hannah Donaldson, on becoming an EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist

5-6 Minutes

 Can we please get a round of applause for our CEO, Hannah? 👏  Hannah Donal...

By Emily Davies

Content Writer

 

Can we please get a round of applause for our CEO, Hannah? 👏 

 

Hannah Donaldson, founder and CEO of Meet, has been shortlisted as a regional finalist (London and Southeast) for EY’s prestigious award, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2022!

 

Catching up with Hannah over lunch in sunny London, we had the chance to pick her brains about how the process has been so far…

 

 

Let’s go straight back to the beginning. How did you initially get into the competition?

 

Originally, I was introduced to the competition through our investors, NorthEdge, but was officially nominated by us as a business. 

 

The first stage is a two or three-hour-long interview with the EY team and the sponsor for the program, Julius Bear. At the time, I felt absolutely horrendous – I was seven weeks pregnant and suffering from awful bouts of morning sickness! 

 

 

Well, that certainly didn’t dull your sparkle! You triumphed and were confirmed as a finalist in June. What did the journey look like at that point?

 

From there I headed straight into the process, starting with the main assessment, which was a fast and furious judges panel, with six judges firing questions as well as a two-minute pitch. It was intense but over before you even knew it!

 

This part of the process is also laced with funny anecdotes about juggling work and motherhood. I was on holiday at the time of the assessment, staying in a family-friendly resort. To ensure peace and quiet (and no little ones interrupting!), I had to take the interview in the hotel manager’s office!

 

 

Since then, you’ve been busy attending a number of EY networking events. What was the first one you went to?

 

The first was held at the Tate, at the forever sought-after Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms exhibition. It was spectacular – not just the stunning showcase but meeting entrepreneurs from all different backgrounds with totally different stories. 

 

 

That sounds amazing! What else have you been up to recently surrounding the award?

 

Just a couple of weeks ago, I attended an EY Entrepreneurs’ Retreat held at The Grove Hotel. It was split over a two-day period and so initially, it felt like a huge time investment, particularly with train strikes and a trip to our New York office coinciding with the event. I wasn’t sure I had the capacity, but what I’ve taken away from engaging in EY events is that you really get out what you put in. It was a really, really great experience. 

 

 

We hear that Steven Bartlett (Diary of a CEO) and Linzi Boyd (One Earth) were keynote speakers at the retreat.

 

Yes, and they were excellent! Linzi’s talk was on the first day and she’s a really fascinating woman, creating a platform that is a kind of Metaverse with an ESG focus where people can connect. I found Linzi and all that she’s working on extremely interesting. 

 

I was already a fan of Steven Bartlett’s podcast, but there were tons of things I took away from his talk, in particular, just how curious he is. At one point, there was an opportunity for everyone to ask him questions and he said, ‘I’m in a room full of entrepreneurs. I totally accept that I’m young, I don’t have a family. I’ve definitely got blind spots in my journey, and I’d be really curious to know what people think they are.’ What I took from that was just real inquisitiveness about self-improvement. 

 

 

Were there any other standout moments from the retreat that you enjoyed?

 

Over the two days, there were various panels about different investment opportunities. I think my favourite was one called, ‘Is Private Equity A Good or A Bad Decision?’, which had Rosaleen Blair, founder, CEO, and chairwoman of Alexander Mann on the panel. Just last year, Meet gained investment from a private equity firm, NorthEdge, so hearing both sides of the debate was fascinating. 

  

You’ve had a remarkable career in recruitment, how have you found getting out of the recruitment bubble through this experience?

 

It’s been a super engaging, fascinating process – more so than I probably first expected.

 

I’m really lucky that I have a network of really high-performing individuals in my friends, but outside of that, I don’t tend to swim in those pools. I think one of the biggest benefits of the whole process is that I’ve now got this network of people that are involved in high-growth, investor-interested businesses that I just didn’t have before. Some are connected to Life Sciences, but actually, a lot of them are just totally different businesses. An entirely new network – that has definitely been really valuable.

 

 

Is there anything that stands out from being around those different types of people that you’ll bring with you and infuse into Meet?

 

Speaking with other entrepreneurs, I found some of them have such an evolved way of thinking when it comes to business and sustainability. It’s kind of ironic because as an individual, I am super green-minded and conscious of how my daily decisions affect the planet – I drive an electric car, am obsessive about recycling, mindful of single-use plastics, etc. I suppose I’ve never put that same energy into how that translates to how I can run the business in the most sustainable way possible. 

 

On the other hand, when you’re in these environments meeting so many different business minds, naturally, you notice certain traits in others that instil real confidence in what you don’t want to do, which is arguably just as important as knowing what you do want to do. 

 

I’ve always been people-focused, even before I went on to study psychology, and that fabric is woven into Meet’s DNA. Because I tend to have a lot of conversations that are value-centric, I’ve become even more aware that I don’t dumb down my authenticity in those types of dialogue. 

 

 

We’ve covered the professional takeaways, but is there anything personal you’ve come away from the experience with?

 

I’d say I’ve always been a little hesitant about being described as an entrepreneur since many of the entrepreneur networks I’ve been involved in, I’ve been pretty cynical about. Being a finalist and having the chance to meet so many impressive people and be a part of so many eye-opening conversations; it’s quietened those negative connotations and made me more comfortable accepting that an entrepreneur is what I am. Before I couldn’t bear to talk about it, but now I feel differently, and that's not just in a professional environment but in more intimate settings too. 

 

What’s more, I think when you’re in those types of situations, you always find yourself gravitating toward people who are most like you. As I’m currently pregnant with my second, I found myself drifting toward other women and mothers, and because of those interactions – specifically with Justine Roberts (founder and CEO of Mumsnet), Rosaleen Blair (founder, CEO, and chairwoman of Alexander Mann), and Tiffany Thorn (founder and CEO of BiVictriX Therapeutics) – my personal thought process of not only being a woman in business but being a mother in business has evolved. 

 

 

What would it mean for a woman – or a woman who’s also a mother – to win this award?

 

I think it would definitely be a really powerful example of what’s possible. The competition is about the strength of the nominations and businesses involved, but I’d personally like to see a female winner. I think the more real-life examples we have of women and mothers running super successful companies, the more it will give people confidence that it is a possibility and not something that is completely unattainable. 

 

 

You’ve spoken openly about suffering from imposter syndrome, did you feel that in any way going through this process?

 

Oh, 100%! I’ve pretty much caveated every conversation I’ve had with, ‘I won’t win it’, which is a classic imposter syndrome trait. Before I went, I definitely had self-doubt and uncertainty about ‘Do I go?’, ‘Is it going to be awkward?’, but all that stuff is natural. This is the first big networking event I’ve done in years, so of course, it felt daunting going into a room of 200 or 300 people where you don’t know anybody to say hello to. I just had to keep reminding myself that whatever I get out of this experience relies on what I put into it. 

 

 

What’s next on the agenda surrounding the award?

 

The last event was in July, so now we just wait for the winner to be announced in September. Whoever wins the regional awards then competes for the national title towards the end of the year.

 

 

Well, we wish you the best of luck, Hannah! All of us at Meet are rooting for you!!

 

 

We’ll be following up with Hannah on how the rest of her EY journey goes, so keep your eyes peeled for more from our very own Wonder Woman!

 

Meet Recruitment 2022. Meet Recruitment Ltd., Meet Recruitment Inc. and Meet Personalberatung GmbH are all subsidiaries of Meet Group (No. 13556131) a company registered in England and Wales at Irongate House, 22-30 Dukes Place, London, EC3A 7LP.
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