Shivani Lamba, Founder of Brightlobe, shares her coaching experience as part of the Women in Innovation Programme

Posted on: 11/01/2021

This is where I felt I benefited the most: gaining an understanding that several of our questions come hand-in-hand with answers – if only we give ourselves the time and space to listen.

Earlier this year, as Covid-19 loomed like a spectre over startups in the UK, I decided to apply for coaching offered as part of KTN’s Women in Innovation programme. After being selected as a participant, I was fortunate to be introduced to Victoria Coxen: a highly-experienced leadership coach working with a range of clients – founders of seed-funded startups to C-suite executives leaderships in multinational corporations. 

It certainly seemed like the right time to try something new. Startup founders are generally praised for their ability to show resilience in even the most difficult circumstances. This resilience works in tandem with preternatural resourcefulness. Trying to unspool my mind with a supportive coach alongside me felt like a particularly powerful way to leverage KTN’s resources. It would be a way, I thought, to stay balanced personally and effective professionally. 

And there was another motivator: I’ve long-nurtured an interest in sports psychology and have found that the propensity toward developing similar interventions for startup founders are strangely rare. This has always struck me as an obvious oversight. Though the differences are too numerous to mention, there are some key similarities – especially an unending self-inflicted and externally-supported demand for optimal performance.

It struck me as the perfect opportunity to liaise with a coach, the same way an athlete would, to find the bottlenecks in my performance and address these directly. 

Embarking on a new journey

When I began, my main challenges were ones faced universally by all startup founders: product design and development with a small team and a limited budget; and earning traction as a newcomer in our market. As a founder, there is the unceasing workload – but also the management of the highs and lows of various wins and challenges. Covid-19 had also added an extra dimension of uncertainty. 

My first coaching session with Victoria didn’t begin with any expectations. I entered with few preconceived notions but had a strong sense that I wanted to hone in on any aspects of my beliefs or attitudes that limited my performance as a founder. The first session, of course, began with setting an intention for the rest. Several sessions began with guided self-reflection. This time to reflect – ordinarily so elusive for startup founders – was extraordinarily effective.

“So what would you like to focus on during our time today?” Victoria would ask. Each session provided the space to recollect the major events of the previous four weeks (as each session was held monthly) and enumerate the points where I’d encountered curveballs. Each time, through a series of pointed, honest questions, Victoria was able to elicit the stream of thoughts that would transform challenges into opportunities for growth. 

Reflections on the experience

What was particularly intriguing to me about these sessions was how skilled Victoria was at eliciting the answers to challenges without too much oversight or overt guidance. There were very few moments during these sessions where she would step in to offer her viewpoint – instead, she opted to skillfully direct the conversation toward an organic solution. Though I initially found this quite challenging – as an engineer, my natural inclination is to simply calculate the optimal solution (and there again, discover this as quickly as possible) – it proved to be incredibly valuable. 

There’s a tendency sometimes to move too quickly. We hear a lot about “failing fast”, which certainly has its place– but these sessions provided the space to think more expansively before iterating again. It was a space to simply think before making another attempt at a difficult problem. This is where I felt I benefited the most: gaining an understanding that several of our questions come hand-in-hand with answers – if only we give ourselves the time and space to listen. 

Due to the success of the pilot programme, the coaching team have agreed to an ongoing special coaching package of 33% off their normal rates for a limited number of women within the Women in Innovation community. Find out more here.

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Women in Innovation

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Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation programme was launched in 2016 to address underrepresentation of women in business innovation and to encourage more of them to apply to Innovate UK’s funding opportunities.


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