Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I like the quote: “You become what you think about most of the time!”
My name is Darren O Connell. I’m from Cork in Ireland and currently reside in Shanghai, China since October 2015. I’m passionate about exercise, curious about business and forever inspired by entrepreneurship. Because of this I have spent almost 5 years studying in 5 different schools, earning 3 degrees ranging from:
– Sports & Exercise Management. CIT – Cork, Ireland.
– Business Studies. CIT – Cork, Ireland.
– Global Entrepreneurship Program. emlyon business school/Zhejiang University/Pace University.
As a result of my education, I now use sports and exercise analogies to understand and think differently about business…but more on this later!
What did you do after the Global Entrepreneurship Program?
After the Global Entrepreneurship Program I returned briefly to Ireland to reset from an active year and focus on completing graduate thesis. However, I chose not to settle or stay very long as I craved to learn more about business, culture, and searched for a dynamic city to start a professional career.
Maybe it’s the “luck of the Irish”, but 3 months after the program, I was offered an internship in Shanghai to work for Chinaccelerator – one of Asia’s leading accelerator and investment companies for start-ups and entrepreneurs. Without much hesitation, and 10 days after the offer, I was back in China! The internship was a mix of many roles and responsibilities and I learned a lot from the experienced team and entrepreneurs in residence. After 3 months I signed a contract to formally join the team as an Analyst, however, I admit to signing up for a role I knew nothing about. The analyst work began to drive me away from the reason I wanted to initially work for the accelerator, more on the program and with the people (entrepreneurs/start-up companies). After an additional 3 months, I decided to resign and take up an alternative role in Shanghai in business consulting, for a project I was also highly passionate about!
I worked as an independent consultant for WWF (World Wide fund for Nature) on an internal project with their International team, HQ in Geneva. It was initiated from a recent McKinsey and Credit Suisse report stating: “to meet the global need for conservation funding, investable cash flows need to be at least 20-30 times greater than they are today, reaching USD 200 – 300bn per year!” Put simply, our project was looking at alternative ways to accelerate environmental change, starting in China, through impact investing, supporting entrepreneurs and leveraging new technologies to facilitate the change.
One, among many, interesting things I found from the research is that LOTS of conservation officers, (specialists working on various environmental conservation, protection or restoration projects) are scattered across China and the world in beautiful locations….their financial models often rely on donor money and fundraising to continue or complete their work. This model is not sustainable and often slows the impact of environmental change.
In December 2016, our project funding ran its cycle, so I decided to think about creating my own venture in China to continue the mission – in an alternative way with a lot less resources!
Can you tell us more about your company? How and when did you launch it?
In February 2017 I started a company called Regeneration Labs (ReLabs.co). We collaborate with environmental NGOs in China and aim to support and accelerate their work via eco-tourism and activities.
What does that mean? It means we gather people (company team building or social groups) from Shanghai and travel in limited numbers to protected sites. I help design and implement activities that can be measured and help speed up the conservation work at particular locations.
For example, at one site in Hangzhou – an NGO has acquired forestry land surrounding 2 protected lakes. The lakes provide drinking water and irrigation for a village of 5,000 people so it’s quite important for the local economy.
When we go there, for example, we hike through the bamboo forest and cut down dead bamboo trees along the way – supporting forest management for the conservation officer. By attracting people to these sites helps to raise awareness, raise funds (we pay to go on their land) and create measurable impact as a result of our activities.
Thus, as a company, our ambition is to design and measure the impact of eco-tourism activities to support conservation/restoration work, starting in China.
How did the Global Entrepreneurship Program help you develop your entrepreneurial skills?
For me the Global Entrepreneurship Program attracts a diverse group of like-minded individuals and provides a unique opportunity to beta test different cultures and business environments through education. From the moment you sign up, you are entering a Global Network of active and ambitious young individuals interested in entrepreneurship.
The program provides a good balance of in class training and out of class activities. The universities are supportive to facilitate meetings, company visits and open their network to help you with your projects or personal ambitions.
I think this quote sums up the biggest value of the Global Entrepreneurship Program to develop your entrepreneurial skills: “Once you see the world, then you can start to understand it, and once you understand it, then you can start to change it!”
Quote credit Charles Gourdeau, Global Entrepreneurship Program classmate & friend!
What advice would you give to future students and entrepreneurs of Global Entrepreneurship program?
Entrepreneurial advice with exercise analogies:
1) Get Started. “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great!”
Starting a business is like starting a weight loss program…planning and setting goals is a great start but success lies in execution, hard work and discipline to build something great…
2) Understand the path. “Know where you are going, but more importantly, know what you have to do every day to get there!”
Running a business is like running an ultra-marathon. If you keep thinking of what you have left to do, especially when you just start, it can become overwhelming and easily lead to burnout. Break up your BIG ambitious goals as far down to day-to day tasks, point your feet in the right direction, manage your energy and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. If you’re enduring enough, eventually you’ll get there!
3) There are no shortcuts but good support systems – use them!
Business incubator and accelerators programs have boomed recently quite like gyms and sports facilities! Sign up with your idea and join their programs. They are designed to give you access to support, guidance and provide the mentorship you need to get started and get traction. However, to circle back to point one, you must remember: “just because you have gym membership, doesn’t mean you will get in shape” – when in an incubator/accelerator program, roll up your sleeves and get to work – good luck and have fun along the way!
Thanks for enduring the article, I hope you found it useful! Please do connect and get in touch – my LinkedIn is Darren O Connell, WeChat ID: DarrenOConnell1 or email, firstname.lastname@example.org
Drop me a message, it just might make my day.