Embracing the Circle: Being a Learner, Challenge Owner, and Serial Entrepreneur
Meet Bianca Gfrei, a remarkable individual embracing three distinct but interrelated roles, two within our university ecosystem. As a student, a challenge owner, and an entrepreneur, Bianca embodies the spirit of innovation, curiosity, and adaptability defining our community.
Today, we explore her unique journey, delving into her decision to pursue these roles simultaneously and the synergy between education and entrepreneurship in her life.
Who is Bianca and what is her path?
Let’s begin by understanding Bianca’s journey before joining ToU as a Master's Degree learner studying Sustainability, Entrepreneurship, and Technology.
Vision has always been her superpower. Growing up in the Austrian countryside in a working-class family, she occasionally felt out of place due to her visionary and unconventional approach to life. Driven by a creative and questioning mind, much to the annoyance of her family and younger sister, she discovered inspiration in every corner. This inherent curiosity motivated her to explore unconventional solutions to problems, a quintessential trait of an entrepreneur.
While still at university, she co-founded her first tech startup, Kiweno. Inspired by real-life struggles with the conventional medical system, she and her co-founders aimed to make diagnostic lab testing easier, more affordable, and accessible. Their potential caught the attention of investors, propelling the company from a university project to one of Austria's most hyped start-ups, with an eventual exit in 2017.
Participating in the prestigious NYC Techstars accelerator, she connected with influential entrepreneurs and learned invaluable lessons during her tenure as CEO. Notably, the bi-monthly CEO circles, hosted by program director Alex Iskold, left a lasting impact. In a supportive and safe setting, she saw something remarkable happen. A group of CEOs from early-stage tech companies, facing similar struggles, opened up in a way she hadn't seen before. The usual masks of high-powered individuals disappeared, and she distinctly remembers getting goosebumps from the depth of their shared experiences. It was a special moment, and even now, she recognizes the uniqueness and impact of that connection.
Shortly after, life threw her a curveball, facing health issues and the pressures of leading high-growth startups, Bianca took a bold step. Leaving NYC, after several entrepreneurial years, she delved into studying the human nervous system, holistic coaching, meditation, and yoga, currently training to become a trauma release facilitator. Blending her entrepreneurial background with psychology and neuroscience, she redirected her path, deeply committed to ethical, emotionally intelligent leadership.
Now, as a coach and systemic leadership consultant with Framechangers, a diverse expert team, Bianca guides transformational leadership experiences for clients like Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen. This venture circles back to her impactful experiences in the US, emphasizing the importance of safe and trustworthy spaces for leaders.
Bianca's entrepreneurial spirit extends to her involvement in new projects and investments in sustainable tech startups, reflecting her commitment to making a positive impact.
Time to check Bianca’s journey at ToU now.
The "WHY" behind embracing three roles
Bianca's decision to juggle student life, challenge ownership, and entrepreneurship stemmed from her thirst for learning, growth, and impact. Asked about her return to studying, she simply stated, "Life took me there." Life brought her to a stage where she was seeking fresh input and new perspectives, and after finding out about ToU, she was drawn by the sustainability pillar of our university and saw in the curriculum a combination of what she embodies already.
As per her nature, she was also curious to see how this new kind of education at ToU would feel and look. But being a student to find out wasn’t enough, and quite organically she became a challenge owner for the challenge Resilience Training for Responsible Leaders, Responsible Leaders and Responsible Organisations (AKA she’s now giving classes to our learners).
Becoming a challenge owner naturally complemented her role as a student, contributing her expertise and shaping a responsible curriculum for future change-makers.
The synergy of roles
Bianca's roles as a student, challenge owner, and entrepreneur have intertwined, enriching her growth and professional success. As a challenge owner, she shares knowledge with students while learning from them. Her academic pursuits provide fresh insights for her entrepreneurial endeavors, influencing her approach.
Her Master’s thesis on leaders' consciousness delves into transitioning from ego-centric to eco-centric perspectives, aligning closely with what she does professionally.
And there you go, what she describes as the “beautiful whole connection between the roles that’s a circle in a way”, is there for everyone to see.
Despite finding the “whole connection” and being intrinsically motivated, juggling three roles can be overwhelming at times, and Bianca didn’t deny it. Her antidote is that she has found ways to balance her commitments effectively.
Over the years, she has built her own toolbox of strategies and techniques to prevent conflicts and ensure that each role receives the attention it deserves. She has learned to prioritize her time, to say no to things that don't align with her goals, and to let go of perfectionism (living in South-West Portugal she even manages to squeeze in a sunrise surf every other morning – one of her main balance outlets). She not only embodies all of these principles but also passes them on as a mentor and coach to other founders and leaders.
Self-reflection guides her, asking pivotal questions like "Who am I doing this for?" to avoid unnecessary pressure and ensure alignment with her goals. She needs to pause regularly and ask “Is this really necessary right now? Would I let someone down if I postpone it or don’t do it?”.
She states that stressful workload detours can be endured temporarily if we are sure we know how to come back from them. Powerful words and concepts that Bianca and Anna exquisitely embedded in their challenge at ToU.
Overall, by finding the connections between her roles, seeing how they all come together, and knowing herself, Bianca has been able to create a beautiful whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Bianca's story is a testament to the power of curiosity, drive, and adaptability. Her passion for learning, her commitment to making a positive impact, and her ability to balance multiple roles are an inspiration to us all. We are proud to have her as a member of our university community and look forward to seeing what she will continue to achieve in the future.