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Founders Anonymous circles

How imec.istart cares for the well-being of its founders

Since the beginning of this year, imec.istart has expanded its program offering by focusing on the (inter)personal topics that frequently confront founders. Next to the 'Leadership & Team Dynamics Workshop', Founders Anonymous circles were brought to life. 

Our Founders Anonymous circles are bi-monthly gatherings that tackle the personal and team-related issues of startup life. Such as how to keep your passion burning, finding a work-life balance, struggling with investors, and discussions on the impact of startup life on your health, and many other topics.

A maximum of 20 startups at a time meet in a group designed for open discussion and moderated by professionals at Shots of Ginger and Rubicon, which are masterminds in challenging founders with transparent feedback. Sometimes, circles open with talks from field experts like Korneel Desmet of Re-Treated, who shared insights on team efficiency and tools. Dr. Gosia Kozusznik, Professor of Organizational Psychology at the University of Madrid, has also shared insights from her research on startup stress and provided tips on how to positively and constructively use it to boost creative energy and promote team growth. Always seeking to address issues affecting founders openly, the last circle was a unique, online edition for the Spring 2020 cohort, which focused on their atypical start within our program due to COVID-19. 

We started organizing circles in response to feedback from some imec.istart graduates requesting more focus on team dynamics and the interpersonal aspects of doing business. The input of participating startups has been laudatory so far, which confirms that soft skill coaching is as important as educating startups on hard business topics, like sales, IP, and finance.     


Usually, founder events emphasize successes, and far less the difficult moments with which we have to cope. That’s why I found the Founders Anonymous circle very refreshing. In my opinion, such events also make the bond with fellow founders much stronger.

Here are some key takeaways from some of our other founders:

  • “We face similar challenges and struggles. It helps to hear that others have the same concerns, issues, stress, and difficulties and openly talk about it.”
  • “It’s essential to have open conversations with the team about how to manage team conflicts and stress.”
  • “Remind yourself to be aware of the team dynamics and personal/private issues that are often overlooked due to the continuous sprints of startup life. Take a few minutes each week to reflect again on the team and its members.”
  • “It is reasonable to take breaks. Find methods to relieve stress; it became clear that everybody needs time for sports/meditation."

Given the great success of the circles, we will keep organizing them and, as such, hope to help our founders cope better with the mental struggles of startup life.