This week we meet UCL alumnus Chitraj (Raj) Singh, who’s founded mental wellbeing startup MindHug. Here, Raj walks us through the inspiration behind his startup and chats to us about taking risks, exploring London and getting chased by a tribe of wild monkeys.
What did you study, why were you interested in this subject and what do you plan to do in the future?
I studied an MSc Entrepreneurship at the UCL School of Management in 2017-18. After working for over a decade within financial services in the city of London, I wanted a change. I was all geared up to follow the crowd and apply to business schools for an MBA. There are two things in life I have always been passionate about: medicine and entrepreneurship.
Until that point, life happened, ideas remained ideas, and both of the passions remained simmering on the back burner. Coming from a family of academics, civil servants, lawyers and bankers we have stayed clear of entrepreneurship for generations! And as a risk specialist, I was conditioned to not venture blindly into something I knew nothing about.
As I was exploring business schools, the little excitable entrepreneurial boy in me wondered "Is there such a thing as a Master’s in entrepreneurship?" Google was magic and brought up UCL and a few other universities. I read up on the different courses and the academic staff and immediately felt attracted to the programme at UCL. The focus on creating entrepreneurs through the structure of lean startup and key entrepreneurial tools made me feel I could learn the ropes in a safe place. The programme became my Plan A...and I had no Plan B!
Fast forward and the course completely changed the direction of my life. I founded MindHug, a mental wellbeing startup that combines my love for medicine, mental wellbeing and entrepreneurship. It’s incubated at UCL Innovation & Enterprises’ dedicated startup space in BaseKX, which has been an absolute blessing and an incredible support system. I now feel comfortable in entrepreneurship and innovation and love the journey. Irrespective of how successful the startup will be, my future direction is now definitely going to be focused on innovation, be it in strategy, product development, funding, intrapreneurship or entrepreneurship.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve done, seen or got involved with while at UCL?
I was lucky in that in doing an entrepreneurship degree, you get to be immersed in the world of innovation and are given the opportunity to explore a whole host of entrepreneurial ideas in a kind of sandbox environment. It was incredible to be taught by some seriously seasoned people within the startup and innovation space.
I was also able to attend pitch training and watch pitching competitions hosted by UCL Innovation & Enterprise at BaseKX. It was great to see the different types of innovation coming out of UCL and support some of the UCL startups. I definitely recommend the ’Launch a business startup programme’ run by UCL Innovation & Enterprise, if someone has a good idea and is looking for a bit of seed capital.
Have you discovered any hidden gems during your time at UCL?
The School of Management - for those who do not know - is located on Level 38 of the most iconic building in Canary Wharf, and the second tallest building in the UK. The views from there are breathtaking!
Bloomsbury too is full of hidden gems. Nestled a stone’s throw from Fitzrovia, Regents Park, Tottenham Court Road, Russell Square and Soho, it truly is one of the best parts of London. Get immersed in the buzz of Charlotte Street’s restaurants, cafes and bars, or wander over to the historic British Library - along the way reading plaques of famous people who have lived in otherwise inconspicuous residences.
But the cherry on top for me was UCL Innovation & Enterprise and their dedicated entrepreneurship hub in King’s Cross. They have made it their mission to provide all the support to homegrown UCL startups. If someone is interested in entrepreneurship and has an idea, I would seriously suggest applying to the UCL Hatchery incubator programme.
You are based in the heart of Kings Cross amongst Google, YouTube and Granary Square. I cannot thank the team enough for the support they have given us at MindHug. Office space in central London, workshops, consultation, advisers and other startups to bounce ideas off provides the springboard startups need - and are all free of charge (if your application is successful)!
Give us your top three things to stay sane while in lockdown:
We actually wrote a blog and had a fireside chat about this at MindHug. I think people have heard it all before, i.e. avoid triggers such as negative news and social media; be kind and check in on loved ones; live a balanced life in terms of getting exercise, sleeping and eating well.
But one thing I would stress is, treat this as an opportunity and enjoy the flexibility. Because, as we say in MindHug, one size does not fit all in mental wellbeing. Find your rhythm and what works for you. Experiment and try different therapeutic activities such as art, music, mindfulness, breathwork and yoga to help relax and get centred in the present moment. We have several free tasters on our social media in case anyone is interested.
Spend time with your family, make small goals and use this as a time to reset.
If you were Provost for the day what one thing would you do?
There are probably two things I would do. I would make innovation a compulsory module for all courses. Innovation to me is about solving challenges for society. Innovation teaches you to keep learning and applying your learnings to solve problems the world is facing. Innovation is often construed with technology, but it can be applied to every aspect of life. It’s about improving the human experience for or not for profit. You can have philosophical innovation, educational innovation, political innovation, technological innovation, medical innovation... and so on.
I think it would also be interesting to explore the possibility of setting up an innovation fund, directly investing in the brightest UCL ideas (subject to legalities and regulations). A lot of support is already provided by UCL Innovation & Enterprise, and this could just be another offering.
Who inspires you and why?
I think there are different aspects of people that inspire me, such as the ability of Steve Jobs to take existing technology, package it and market it in a way that created an army of followers, and the eccentric genius of Elon Musk to envision and work towards a future out of science fiction.
In sport, as a cricket fan, I am awed by the weight of the expectations of a billion people that Sachin Tendulkar played under for nearly 25 years! The focus, ingenuity, clarity of mind and the sheer brilliance of polymath Leonardo Da Vinci are also a class apart. My entire team at MindHug motivates me. Believing in my vision and working their hardest to make it a reality and their own is something to be seriously thankful for!
Finally, my wife, parents and brother inspire me. By sharing the burden of risk that comes with supporting the ambitions and happiness of an entrepreneur, they make me want to work harder.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
When people see me running a business, I think they are surprised to hear that I battled mental health issues for years. Mental illness will blindside you and change you! And it can happen to anyone without even a moment’s notice. But it does get better. And I am a better and stronger person for it today. It’s why I am so passionate about solving Mental Health challenges at MindHug!
In terms of a fun fact: I have been chased by a tribe of wild monkeys!