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