Mila Kayukala (centre in photo) studied MSc in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership (2014) and has now applied everything she learned to form her new venture, OffWeGo, promoting creative and innovative thinking, through workshops in unusual locations and special team challenges.
Tell me about your time at Cass!
The Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership (MICL) was an amazing choice! When I came to the degree (I still remember the night when I first read the course description and could not sleep because of excitement) I had tried lots of different industries. I did a BSc in Teaching English and German and I had lived and worked in countries like Belarus (where I’m from), Russia, USA and Singapore.
I needed a new turn in my life and career as most of my cohort (MICLers) who eventually set up their own companies, launched successful Kickstarter campaigns, joined great startups and got promoted in their companies. I am grateful for my MICL network influence and my course content which motivated me to get out of my comfort zone and start my own creative business. That was a big shift in my mindset and an overall amazing experience.
I studied full time, which was certainly an immersive experience. My course included modules at The City Law School, Cass Business School, the School of Arts and School of Social Sciences, the School of Mathematics, Computer Science and Engineering and studying at five schools at the same time was mind-blowing! For example, we were writing film scripts and short stories, facilitating creative problem solving workshops, designing new apps and analysing IP court cases all in one semester! It allowed me to “taste” each discipline and bring everything together in my research project.
I developed an Innovation assessment tool for highly innovative companies and applied it to 3M, Virgin, Samsung, IBM, Castrol InnoVentures and Barclays. Cass gave me the necessary access to big companies. It was really challenging to analyse those companies’ innovation through interviews with the Heads of Innovation, R&D departments and report back saying “You’re great but you can still improve this and that”. I needed strength and nerve to do that and my supervisor and advisor supported me throughout my ambitious journey. I was trembling but I did it. Half way through the project I realised that I was acting as a consultant and that gave me more confidence and valuable experience which is at use now.
Do you keep in touch with any of your MICL cohort?
We do and not only socially but professionally as well. We meet almost every month for our MICL Innovation Hub where we do presentations and share experiences with each other as we have common interests, plus we support each other and ask for help or even do joint projects!
I understand you need a visa to stay and work here?
After completing this course, for the first time in my life I considered working for myself and established my business. I’m very fortunate to have been put forward for a graduate entrepreneur visa, which needed to be endorsed by the university, so thanks to Ben Mumby-Croft, who believed in me. I’m now in the 2nd year of my visa, and thanks to Alex Elkins who supported my visa extension, I’m the first student at the University to do this. I have just 10 months left to prove that my business is worth of getting a full-time entrepreneur visa! I’m under a lot of pressure but I’m looking at it as a creative trigger to push me forward and make me achieve my goals faster.
My visa, new knowledge and skills, business opportunities, unique MICL network as well as a free co-working space and mentor sessions – I have gained all this in doing my course at Cass and City University so I am very happy with my ROI of £20k – which was a big but 100% worthy investment, which changed my life as I aimed for.
How did you come up with the idea and why creative thinking?
The idea came directly from my degree: we had several modules on creative problem solving, using art for business, creating a climate for innovation. So I decided to combine it all together and make a ‘package’ of workshops and challenges. I believe people can be happier plus more efficient, and businesses can succeed faster by using creative thinking more often and applying it to various aspects of life and work. And I am proving it with my OffWeGo services.
Also, I strongly believe everyone is creative. There is no need to be in arts, or the start-up world to be a “creative type”, it just requires belief and wish to try new out and implement creative ways of doing usual tasks more efficiently and pleasantly.
My approach is that I kick-start new thinking with ‘Out of the Office’ workshops. At museums, galleries, and parks there are no post-its, no whiteboards, no walls, basically, no room for traditional thinking and teamwork, we are constantly on the go – hence the name, OffWeGo. I use museums and art in a new way to inspire new thinking and to learn about ourselves.
Usually, workshops are combined with bespoke creative challenges for teams to stimulate gradual changes. And outcomes differ from team to team, for some – creative approaches implemented in working processes, for others – creative problem solving skills gained, or internal and external communication improvements, or team climate shift.
I think OffWeGo has great potential. Some companies offer creative workshops in traditional office setting or rented museum boardrooms, but nobody is doing it my way at the museums on the go.
You have to have energy and charisma to do this job, which is challenging, but when people appreciate themselves and their colleagues and art in a new way it is rewarding. It’s been an interesting journey so far! I don’t really know where I’m going! Currently, I’m focussing mainly on universities and hotels, but my workshops can be used in various contexts. There have been many changes from the initial idea as I tailor my workshops to each team. This project is like a new little child who keeps growing and changing and I keep on adjusting and improving, looking for new opportunities and new partnerships with museums and galleries.
I’m also looking at developing a longer programme, probably together with my MICL network. It’s ok to be working as ‘one person company’, but joint effort is much better. My fellow cohort has such a variety of expertise, skills and knowledge that I want to tap in and create extended programs together.
Another direction I want to focus on is offering more online services. At the moment, there is only a free seven-day Creativity@Work challenge sent to the subscribers by email and it is a taster of what team challenges could look like. I am planning to prepare ready to use team challenges so that leaders can purchase online and then proceed with customised versions and ‘Out of the Office’ workshops.
What have been the biggest challenges?
Overcoming my inner “gremlin” who likes to discourage me, doubt my capabilities and goals is the number one challenge. I keep on shutting it up and I’m getting better, as now I have a couple of great mentors, peer support in my co-working space and positive feedback from OffWeGo participants, some of whom have gone to become my ambassadors and “angels”. It’s very encouraging. Actually, keeping on doing it no matter what helps most to strengthen my confidence, especially as I have no business pedigree or business education apart from my Masters.
Recently, I started to attend more female entrepreneurs’ events – ladies have similar struggles. While many men tend to project themselves as superheroes and their businesses as the best ever, most ladies are timid when presenting their business ideas and sharing successes.
Developing OffWeGo on my own is challenging as well. I keep on talking to myself aloud when making decisions as I’ve nobody to bounce ideas off and I suspect with a co-founder I could have moved faster. So attracting a like-minded person is a possibility I am considering.
Do you have any advice you would give?
I wish I had a business partner next to me all the time! So if you are by yourself, a mentor or a coach is of great help and moral support.
Also, I’d advise you to talk to as many people as possible, sharing what you are doing not asking for approval or feedback, but just sharing what you are working on, what challenges you have. Speak up and ask for advice. If you don’t ask people don’t know what you are looking for that. There are opportunities in every chat, event, presentation or seminar.
I would also say, just get going and start up! I’m still developing my product and to do this I’ve offered 10 workshops for free, to both large and tiny groups. Before, I wasn’t ready to realise this awesome thing, but now I’ve spent six months on development when if you get input and information from others you can really speed up the process.
You can be an ‘average specialist with an average product or service’ and be very successful because you have spread the word about your business, you let the world know about you and how helpful you or your product is. Marketing is everything, as well as self-belief and confidence.
And the last bit of advice: accept the fact that your success and happiness is you’re your responsibility. Once you fully understand it you would start acting and believing more in your own capabilities.
Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!
Favourite place in London: Hampstead Heath, but I also like to explore new parts – Harrow-on-the-Hill is my most recent find.
Favourite holiday destination: Mexico, I truly enjoyed learning about the Mayan culture in Yucatan and visiting their ruined cities.
Must-check-every day website: Tim Ferris podcasts
Dream travel destination: To explore other ancient civilizations and countries in South America like Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Chile
Cheese or chocolate: My autopilot response is chocolate, as I have a sweet tooth, but I’m trying to reduce carbs so I’ll choose cheese, especially if it is goat’s cheese!