Academia & Entrepreneurship: what it’s like to run a business while doing your PhD

Frankie Lewns, a PGR in the School of Dentistry, and Paris Lalousis, a PGR in the School of Psychology, have started a business alongside their research programme. In this post, they share the secrets of their success! For more from Frankie and Paris, register for the next UGS Talks: Postgrads Being Enterprising.

It all started with the opportunity to solve a real-life challenge for a client through the University of Birmingham Virtual Consultancy Challenge, an online training programme and competition for Postgraduate Researchers. Our client was the Centre for Mental Health, and our challenge was to find a policy or practice to help small businesses support and improve their employee’s mental wellbeing. Upon winning the challenge, we decided to further develop the idea and cue the birth of Bloomwise! We help businesses create a space where their workers’ mental health can flourish, and our mission is to instil a fundamental cultural change for mental health in communities. We do this by providing a Mental Health Plan™ for businesses and workshops for both businesses and communities. The Mental Health Plan™ can be thought of like a business plan, but instead of business objectives, aims and goals – it’s all things mental health. We want to address the stigma around poor mental health at work, encouraging open and honest conversations about mental health in the workplace.

As full-time PhD students, we were not in the position to be able to invest into our business. Fortunately, we were able to obtain two rounds of funding through B-Enterprising within the University of Birmingham’s Careers Network. The funds were a game changer for us; we were able to pay someone to design our website, create marketing material, and cover other legal costs. We also receive business support and guidance from the University of Birmingham Elevate, a start-up support programme at The Exchange. Additionally, the programme also gives us access to opportunities for investment, networking and intern hiring. The resources and support provided by the University have helped us feel more confident and turbo boost our trajectory.

In terms of managing our Bloomwise lives alongside our research lives, we use project management and communication tools, enabling us to work on different parts of the business at different times to each other, while keeping track of our progress and the process. Secondly, we value team collaboration and currently have an amazing workforce – the Bloomies. We currently have two people working on a voluntary basis, one trainee, and two interns recruited through the University of Birmingham. We have been able to increase our rate of trajectory by delegating tasks, but also been able to give students and graduates the opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge in a professional environment, as well as gaining work experience. More importantly, we always hold open conversations and therefore communicate effectively about our workload and the expectations we have from each other.

If you had asked either of us two years ago if we ever thought we would have co-founded of a business, you would have been met with a firm shake of the head. Two years on, Bloomwise has become an integral part of our everyday lives and we are more passionate than ever to making the world a flourishing place!

One thought on “Academia & Entrepreneurship: what it’s like to run a business while doing your PhD”

  1. What a wonderful piece of work. Something badly needed in not only the work place but the whole of society. Your aims and objectives so clearly set out. You should go far your passion shines through and obviously working along side you phd demands a tremendous amount of time and energy. We wish you well, you deserve to go far.


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Helen Kara

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