Meet the Team: Gabi and Wil
Get to know the Co-Founders of Metta.
Metta supports startups, industry and government with sustainable technology-driven innovation. Cofounders Gabriela Matic and Wil Benton have founded startups (and scaled and sold them too), created and led world-class innovation programmes across three continents, invested in businesses across a broad range of sectors and worked with industry leaders to help them innovate at speed.
It was great to hear from Gabi and Wil about their journey into the startup world, what they are most excited about in the sustainability and innovation space and their vision for Metta.
Q1: What was your journey into the startup world?
Wil Benton (WB): I had a bit of a circuitous route into entrepreneurship! I did a Pharmacology BSc at KCL and went from that into advertising and marketing, before working at a startup and then launching my own. I say my own ‘startup’, but it wasn’t until I moved to Newcastle in 2014 to do the Ignite accelerator that the business became a startup. We ran Chew from an idea to 400k users in 190 countries, raised some money from great investors, acquired our closest competitor, and then sold the business in 2017 as I joined the Ignite programme team. It was an adventure (and not always a positive one)!
Gabriela Matic (GM): My startup journey began during my Masters degree at Glasgow University. I got together with 3 friends from Uni and we started a business to support people affected by dementia. I remember trying to decide which — of going down the startup route or taking a “normal” job — was the better option. It became obvious pretty quickly that being a founder and building something excited me much more. I was in the fortunate position to be able to get a startup loan, so I didn’t have to immediately worry about existential questions which freed me up to take the risk of becoming a founder. Having a proper purpose and seeing how it could make a difference to people is what got (and still gets!) me going. We also went through the Ignite accelerator in Newcastle and raised a small pre-seed round. We managed to sell into the NHS, which was a great experience, and then joined the Techstars accelerator in New York. I left the team shortly after that to support founders with my own entrepreneurial experience on the Ignite programme team.
“It became clear that we needed to work with all key stakeholders in the ecosystem to really create change, which is how we ended up working more intensely with investors, industry, and government.”
Q2: Why did you start Metta?
WB: Gabi and I have been full-time working together since the spring of 2017, firstly as employees of different businesses before we decided to start Metta. We created Metta to use and build on our prior experience, using technology to drive meaningful, sustainable change. Working with our awesome team and wider clients/ network is an added bonus!
GM: Exactly, we enjoyed focusing 100% on startups during our time at Ignite, but we were intrigued about building programmes that also work with corporates and support them to work with startups in a productive and safe way. It became clear that we needed to work with all key stakeholders in the ecosystem to really create change, which is how we ended up working more intensely with investors, industry, and government. Startups are still at the heart of what we do and having been founders ourselves we understand what they need. But we do think a lot more about the big picture now!
Q3: Tell us about your previous projects. What is your experience with accelerators and what kind of programmes were you running previously?
GM: Like I mentioned, I’ve been through two accelerators as a founder — one in the UK and one in the US. They opened the entrepreneurship ‘world’ up to me. I became excited about supporting startups and using both my founder and programme experience to do things better, more sustainability and more consciously working on diversity. I ran programmes for Ignite from 2016 in London and Manchester. Wil joined shortly after that, and we designed and delivered a nationwide virtual programme (with in-person elements) and also a pre-accelerator and accelerator programme in the North East of England. We’ve worked with startups in all sorts of different industries and in different stages which has given us a broad range of experience to make use of.
WB: I went through an accelerator as a founder too, and then when my startup was reaching the end of its life I joined the accelerator’s programme team. I’ve also invested in an accelerator cohort and cohort participants directly — including Gabi’s startup — and have designed/ delivered 7 programmes so far (and worked on a further 3 as EiR/ mentor).
Accelerators are awesome tools for first-time founders to learn how to do things properly, and build supportive networks. They’re also great for more established startups/ founders looking to develop business relationships (through corporate programmes like the ATI Boeing Accelerator). Most recently, I’ve seen how useful accelerators, and the safe spaces for corporate and startup collaboration that corporate programmes create, are for established industry (and how then to paint the picture of the value they bring back to stakeholder groups like government and academic institutions).
Q4: What were your highlights from the ATI Boeing Accelerator programme?
WB: There were loads! Working at the level we were at — with the UK Government, senior stakeholders from world-famous companies — was an eye-opener for me, and one I really enjoyed as the Venture & Ecosystem Director. Helping the stakeholders realise the value an accelerator and its ecosystem can create was also a highlight; meeting some of our KPIs within the first few months of our first programme!
We were fortunate to find 19 incredible startups, and 19 incredible founding teams, to work with and support over the ABA’s first two cohorts and I think we probably learned as much as they did during our time with them!
GM: I agree with all of that. It has been great fun and seeing both startups collaborate but also the big industry players work together (and with the startups) has been exciting!
The last 18 months have obviously been hard for everyone, but it’s been great to see startups make it through the period and also to see industry becoming more and more aware of (and making changes to address) topics like sustainability.
“One of the things I’ve noticed that’s really important to get right is balancing the need for on-the-ground change with strategic direction — for example, tying KPIs or outputs from something like a corporate accelerator back into the wider business’s direction or goals.”
Q5: What is the biggest challenge for corporates that want to innovate?
WB: I think it’s a tough call to try and distill everything into the ‘biggest’ challenge, but one of the things I’ve noticed that’s really important to get right is balancing the need for on-the-ground change with strategic direction — for example, tying KPIs or outputs from something like a corporate accelerator back into the wider business’s direction or goals. We work with local business units of global companies, so balancing the subsidiary’s goals with the HQ entity’s goals while delivering real-world value is something we’re particularly conscious of.
GM: Exactly. When it comes to working with startups there is also the huge challenge of different cultures. What motivates a company and how they communicate varies between big corporations and startups. Often, corporates have a champion that can act as translator and connector between startups and their company but that’s not always an easy job to do. Certain processes and the massive amount of paperwork (or bureaucracy) that comes with it are a given for most big established businesses — the champion can’t really change that but they can help navigate that space for the startups.
Q6: What do you find most interesting about working in the world of sustainability and innovation?
GM: It’s such an exciting space. Especially sustainability where we can see innovation that can change the world for the better. The urgency also feels more present than ever before — for both individuals, startups, and also big business. I also love working with individuals in this space — you learn something new every day.
WB: For me, it’s the rate of change we’re seeing at the moment. Technology is developing so quickly and bleeding-edge research is being commercialised so rapidly that it makes for an exciting time in innovation. Seeing society (both business and more broadly) slowly realising just how important addressing sustainability and climate is also making me more optimistic. I also think established industry starting to understand the value working with startups can bring is a positive shift away from the boom/ bust cycle we had with corporate accelerators a few years ago. It’s great to see the move towards a long-term commitment and not just treating it as a quick CSR win/ marketing tick-box exercise!
“Technology is developing so quickly and bleeding-edge research is being commercialised so rapidly that it makes for an exciting time in innovation.”
Q7: What are the next steps for Metta?
Both: We’ve just hired two new staff members to the team, so short-term we’re helping Heather and Dana settle into the Metta family. We’ve also got our next UK programme running in Q1 2022, so that’s keeping the team occupied at the moment. We’re in conversations with a few new clients from different industries/ governments about new projects so super excited about seeing some (or all!) of that coming to fruition.
Q8: What are you passionate about outside of work?
WB: I try to balance my time outside of work between music (I run three record labels and have a monthly radio show) and cycling — I’m gearing up for riding 1,000 miles in September and doing an 85 mile sportive around the Highlands in Scotland. It all keeps me on my toes, that’s for sure!
GM: I would say my biggest passion outside startups and innovation is fantasy (literature and other formats). I love to read and write — as well as discuss amazing books with my fellow nerds. I also speak 4 languages and am on the board of the Chisenhale Dance Space, a dance studio in East London (that I used to dance at!)
Get to know the rest of the Metta team:
Ksenia Kurileva | Programme Director
Heather Baden | Sustainability & Innovation Lead
Dana Zou | Programme Manager
Fatema Basim | Lead Researcher
Gianna Pinasco | Programme Associate
Matt Briggs | Key Account Lead
Want to learn more about Metta — and the latest about #startups, #innovation, and #sustainability? Let’s talk-
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