We caught up with Talita Holzier CEO of Going Far, a
- What area of Diversity and Inclusion do you advocate for?
All of them! I really believe that intersectionality is key when advocating for diversity and inclusion. I have always been passionate about it, being a woman in tech and also part of the LGBTQIA community. In 2014 I started to work on a project to promote inclusion to people with disabilities, and that motivated me to found waytoB, a startup that develops assistive technology to make the world more accessible to everyone. In 2018 I started GoingFar as part of Startup Week Dublin, to support diverse migrant professionals in Ireland. We have since become a non-profit that provides mentorship, workshops and other services to the migrant community. By working in these different areas of D&I, it became really obvious how important it is to address inequality issues experienced by different groups within each of these initiatives, and not separately.
- How does a Brazilian Engineer become an Irish entrepreneur?
I am a Manufacturing Engineer by background and I can probably write a few lines of code if I had to, but my interest has always been more in the creative side (UI/UX design) and business side. I came to Ireland in 2014 for an exchange programme funded by the Brazilian government. I studied Engineering with Management at Trinity College for 1 year, then went back to Brazil to work for a management consultancy firm. I wasn’t happy at my job, as I didn’t find it very fulfilling and I knew I wanted to work with something within the D&I and social impact space. I had the opportunity to come back to Ireland in 2017 to work on waytoB, which was initially supported by Trinity and then by Enterprise Ireland.
- Why do so many migrants in Ireland open their own business?
Globally, immigrants make for some of the most successful entrepreneurs. Several studies show that the ‘immigrant mindset’ is a major asset they bring to companies. There are many skills and personality traits that you should have to be able to leave your home country, such as resilience and patience. Migrants are also more likely to be risk-takers, to understand other cultures and tackle problems from different perspectives. These are all incredibly important skills/traits for entrepreneurs, which creates a favourable environment for migrants to become self-employed. Another important point is that many qualified and experienced professionals come to Ireland and struggle to find employment in their area. There is usually an adaptation period, where the individual focuses on learning to speak English, or to simply fit into the culture. Many then find it challenging to return to the workforce because of this gap in their resume. A lot of companies don’t recognise or value certifications from other countries, which also puts migrants in a difficult position. They need to seek education and experience in Ireland before being able to secure a job they are already qualified for. These barriers also push migrants to start their own business as a viable alternative.
- Who are some of your favourite examples of migrants in Ireland who have opened their own business?
Hanan Swan, who founded SlunchBox is a great example of an entrepreneur who is able to adapt to environment changes. Her school lunch business was in a difficult position due to COVID-19, so they pivoted into soup and dinner deliveries for people trapped in their homes by lockdown restrictions. She launched a GoFundMe campaign and raised €20,000 at the time, which allowed them to deliver over 7,500 meals in Dublin and Cork. Hanan actually started her business after our first GoingFar event back in 2018, where she received advice on how to take the first steps. There are many others I could mention here – Leyla Karaha (YourY Network), Ellie Kisyombe (Our Table), Furkan Karayel (DiverseIn) and Fernanda Lopes (DivorShe) always come to mind.
- This isn’t your first venture into entrepreneurship? How has your previous businesses shaped Going Far?
No, I co-founded waytoB in 2019, a tech startup to support people with intellectual and learning difficulties to become more independent. As CEO, I had to learn a little bit of everything – from design, to sales and company management. This experience has really helped me navigate the entrepreneurship world when I founded GoingFar (although running a non-profit is quite different). Having a business mindset was key – I always approached both waytoB and GoingFar as businesses, even if the goal is social impact. I never wanted to depend on donations and financial support from the people we want to empower, so coming at it with a business approach was essential. Understanding how to become financially sustainable was critical so we can scale our impact.
- Why did you decide to set the business as For or Not For Profit business?
For waytoB, we went with the for-profit approach. The reason for this is that we would need considerable investment to make our vision a reality (the development of the technology itself took years). Also, there was a huge opportunity to penetrate a market that was being ignored, and we came up with a solid business model where we provide our solution to local authorities instead of directly to families. For GoingFar it was different. We had already been running it as a voluntary project for 2 years when we decided to register it as a non-profit. We have a team of volunteers who drive it forward and therefore don’t need private investment to continue our impact. The non-profit status seemed more in line with our goals and also allowed us to apply to certain grants that should open many doors for us and help us reach more people.
- What supports have you received since setting up the business this way
We haven’t received any financial support for GoingFar yet. We are currently looking for corporate sponsors to allow us to scale, and will also be applying for government grants in the area of D&I.
- How did the pandemic impact your businesses?
Unfortunately most of the services we provide were in-person and it took us a while to adapt to the changes brought by COVID-19. We used to hold events with our partners, like Microsoft, and mentoring programmes. We had to start offering these virtually, which was a challenge. People are suffering of ‘Zoom fatigue’, so the usual drop-out rate for in-person events of 40-50% rose to 80-90%. We realised that smaller, informal events attracted more people and gave them the opportunity to connect to others, which everyone seemed to long for during lockdown. The virtual mentorship programme also worked really well, but a lot of planning had to go into it to ensure all participants had the right equipment to make the most out of it, and that they were following the programme guidelines.
- What are your goals for 2021?
We are looking forward to launching a longer virtual mentorship programme in 2021, based on learnings from the first one. We are also planning on creating new corporate partnerships and securing sponsorship so we can hire someone to work with us full time.
- Are there any other businesses in the area of Diversity and Inclusion that you’re particularly a fan of?
Yes, DiverseIn, led by Furkan Karayel, is doing a great job to push for more diversity in Irish companies. I’m also a fan of PhoenixRize, founded by Adaku Ezeudo, who delivers D&I training and consulting to companies.