Isabella Palmgren

CEO Mimbly – Gothenburg, Sweden

“The Challenge Programme is not just educational – I met inspiring people who are destined to become future industry leaders as well as lifelong friends and colleagues.”

Life doesn’t always turn out the way you planned. I followed in my father’s and my brother’s footsteps, studying bioengineering at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg and thought working in a lab could be a career option for me. But I soon realised I was more of a people person and changed my study direction, opting for an MSc in entrepreneurship and business design instead. Although the competition was intense, the professors must have seen something in me because I was awarded a place not only on the course but also on the IDEA League Challenge Programme.

At the time, I had just spent an amazing semester on an exchange programme in Indonesia and was keen to travel again. So, the chance to mix with a diverse group of talented students from Europe’s leading technical universities was very appealing. And it came natural to me – with Mum being Columbian and Dad Swedish, intercultural communication is the name of the game at home!

“The programme is geared towards students who want to connect, lead and find innovative solutions to society’s problems”.

I expected to learn, of course, but the programme exceeded my expectations. I also learned that our voices matter. We were put in groups to discuss and tackle real-life problems, using actors to test our leadership and negotiation skills – attributes I now need every day in business. The feedback I received helped me realise my strengths and weaknesses and created an inner drive to reach my full potential. My voice mattered!

I was particularly inspired by the workshops on sustainability at TU Delft and remembered living in Central and South America as a child where drinking water is scarce. The discussions inspired me, and I later embarked on my startup journey with the green-tech product Mimbox: an add-on recycling device for industrial washing machines that not only saves energy and water but also captures microplastics. I am now the CEO of my own company, Mimbly, and have won numerous awards, including a place on the Forbes 30 Under 30s list for social impact in 2021.

But the Challenge Programme is not just educational. It’s also fun and provides an opportunity to make useful contacts. I met inspiring people who are destined to become future industry leaders as well as lifelong friends and colleagues. Their friendship endures to this day. Our alumni group is still in touch, and we often act as each other’s sounding board. It’s great that I have a solid network in place, which also comes in handy when I travel for work.

My advice: Don’t be afraid! Push yourself to be open-minded and make connections. The IDEA League Challenge Programme taught me that we need different types of people and perspectives to tackle society’s problems – but we can have fun while doing it!