Mihaela Gruia is supporting academics who want to spread the word about research that could change the world. She met Deputy Business Editor, Greg Wright.
HER work helps to illustrate the harmful economic consequences of failing to support people with mental health problems and it also acts as a rallying cry to stop genocide.
If your research relates to a complex humanitarian problem, then Mihaela Gruia and her team will bring it to life for the layman.
Ms Gruia has established Research Retold, a business that works with academics to get their message across to a wider audience. Research Retold has supported scholars who are spreading the word about international agreements that aim to protect people from acts of genocide, like those committed in Rwanda in 1994.
The Leeds-based company has also carried out projects for academics who are finding new ways of assessing how people with mental health problems can be re-integrated into the world of work. Vast swathes of academic data are transformed into concise documents with eye-catching graphics.
Ms Gruia has always relished a challenge. Her life changed forever when she decided to leave her native Romania to study at the University of Sheffield.
She recalled: “I went to high school in Bucharest and I made the decision to continue my studies in the UK. I had friends who had taken this path and it really inspired me.”
She decided to study politics and international relations because she knew it would provide her with a rounded world view.
She said: “Sheffield was the perfect primer for me in terms of British culture. It was small enough to feel safe, manageable and homely. But it was cosmopolitan enough to make me feel connected to the world. My first impression was that I could feel at home there.”
As part of her degree, she carried out work experience in Brussels, where she monitored policy and legislative developments from European Union institutions and media outlets. The experience made her aware of the importance of presenting evidence in ways that are accessible to policymakers.
“It really started my interest into how you communicate complex information,’’ she said. “The most important question is, ‘So what?’ It’s like a puzzle. You find all the pieces and you try to put it together.”
She believed there was room in the market for an agile business that could help researchers tell the story about their work using plain English and striking graphics.
“I didn’t jump into starting my business straight after university,” she recalled. “I wanted to test if this was the right path for me. I applied to the New Entrepreneurs Foundation. It’s a year-long course that immerses you into what it’s like to work in a start-up.
“I got the entrepreneurial bug. I decided I was going to try and set up a business on my own.
“It was very much a calculated risk. I am always growing and learning as I develop the business. I thought a lot about the kind of offering I wanted to produce. I prepared a pitch about what my company was going to do and what it was going to offer.”
She entered a contest in which budding entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas to an audience that included leading academics.
She recalled: “In the audience was an academic, Dr Adam Hill, and after the competition, he approached me and said, ‘I want what you are offering’.
“The vision for Research Retold is to bridge that gap between research production and research implementation; to enable researchers to present their findings in an accessible, visual way and then help them to engage with stakeholders.”
Ms Gruia is passionate about improving mental health. Research Retold sponsored the Thriving Minds conference in Leeds, which highlighted the devastating economic consequences of failing to invest in mental health training. The event was hosted by Jodie Hill, who has established a campaign to make mental health first aiders compulsory in the workplace.
Ms Gruia added: “Following projects you are passionate about gives people a sense of who you are beyond your business persona.”
“This is why I got involved with the Thriving Minds conference because mental health is a cause close to my heart. I hope my legacy involves businesses taking action as a result of the workbook we produced on the day and they start thinking about mental health within their organisations.”
Her work has also brought her into contact with a global organisation that aims to stop workers being exploited in developing nations. Ms Gruia added: “We work with the monitoring, evaluation and learning unit within Fairtrade International, based in Bonn in Germany. They have impact assessment reports to assess the impact of their organisation in producer organisations.
“They have approached us to help them communicate the findings of their reports into two-page visual summaries which they can disseminate. We work with researchers from universities across the UK, such as the University of Sheffield, Leeds, Derby, Warwick, Birmingham and Queen Mary. These are researchers who work on projects such as the effects of music on sleep problems, the effects of social housing on wellbeing or the comparison between the UK nations’ public health systems.
“We’ve got 13 research communication specialists. There are two types – the first type will process information and pull out the key findings and summarise from, say, 10,000 words to 1,000 words. The second type are designers who will turn the words into visuals.
“Leeds has got a welcoming entrepreneurial community. I’m based at the Natwest accelerator programme which is in the heart of Leeds. They have supported me with mentoring, coaching and business support so it’s been fantastic to be part of the programme.
“We’re always trying to find ways to take the research produced inside universities into the world for the public to engage with and for decision-makers to see and act on it . So my legacy would be around making knowledge more accessible to people.”
Ms Gruia believes that free flow of knowledge can improve the quality of life for millions of people.
Name: Mihaela Gruia
Title: Founder and CEO of Research Retold
Date of birth: January 9, 1992
Education: BA Politics and International Relations with Employment Experience (University of Sheffield); MSc Data Science (University of Sheffield)
First job: Giving out flyers for an online photo album company
Last book read: Personal History Katharine Graham
Favourite song: Nuvole Bianche by Ludovico Einaudi
Favourite holiday destination: La Bisbal d’Emporda, Catalunya, Spain
Car driven: Classic 1967 Mercedes
Thing you are most proud of: My ability to make meaningful connections with people