Aliya Grieg is the Founder and CEO of Cosmos City and Human Cosmos app: startups that make space closer and more understandable. A 2008 alumna of the International Marketing Department of the Graduate School of Management of St. Petersburg University (GSOM SPbU) told how to stop being afraid and turn a dream into your life's work.
Why did you choose GSOM SPbU?
After school, I looked at many educational institutions in Russia and abroad. I understood from the reviews and rankings: GSOM SPbU is the best Business School in our country. I was sure that with such an education I would be able to develop my professional skills.
From the first year I went on internships to the universities of Dublin and Milan. This is how I began to understand international approaches to doing business. When you get to know the culture of another country, it expands your understanding of creating global projects.
GSOM SPbU students can undergo internships in large companies. So, for example, I got a job at L'Oréal and RUSAL — Sayan Foil to delve into the peculiarities of their work situation. These observations helped me — including building my startup.
And in the end, the Business School really gave me the knowledge and skills that I still apply in business. This is complex project management and the ability to look at it from different angles. It's about managing people and building strategies. By the way, employees admit that an integrated approach to a project, a vision of a strategy is my strong point. Understanding our competitors and customers, the ability to add value to their products — I learned all this at GSOM SPbU.
From Business School to space — how did this transition come about?
- At GSOM SPbU I studied the creation and subtleties of luxury brands management — then it was a new direction for Russia. After graduation, I had no problem — where to go. I just started trying: in a yachting company, I worked with cosmetic brands.
But it was important for me not just to make money. I wanted to create new technologies that will change our world. The topic of space has always been close to me. Mom is an astrophysicist, and worked as the chief designer of the Pulkovo Observatory. So at the age of 25, I started creating my first startup — renewable energy technology. Energy was generated from fuel cells that are used in space to produce oxygen. This was my first step towards a space dream.
Then our team sold this project, and we got involved in another startup: we developed a new alloy for the aerospace industry. Our partners were Boeing, Bloom Energy, Mitsubishi. I also launched three spacetech startups: a printer for 3D printing in space, a technology for creating small satellites, and a light launch vehicle. Of all the projects, only one technologically "did not take off", the rest turned out to be successful.
Our team also created the Human Cosmos self-development application: it works on the basis of artificial intelligence.The Astra virtual assistant acts as a personal mentor to achieve goals, helps one to cope with fears and anxiety, and understands the emotional state of a person.
From the very beginning, I dreamed of developing opportunities for the presence of private initiative in space. But, unfortunately, the legislation of our country is not ready for such changes.
What do you have in mind?
- In our country, space is a closed topic, we do not have enough legislation in the field of access to technologies and private development, to landfills and tests, and obtaining funding. Everything connected with the venture business is underdeveloped in Russia — there is only Skolkovo, but this is not a panacea.
Therefore, I decided to create Cosmos City in Los Angeles: an innovative hub for startups and a unique educational and entertainment center where everyone can learn new skills, develop hidden talents and create space technologies. It is important to do this in a single ecosystem in order to develop technologies and at the same time give people knowledge about space.
Why is it so important for you to make space closer and more understandable to people?
- Space is a catalyst for the development of science. If there were no human flight into space, there would be no technologies that we use on Earth: new types of alloys, robots, even a Teflon coating for pans. Space has accelerated the development of science.
And space is also a dream that at first glance is inaccessible to many. And it is important to support it as something open to others. So people get an incentive for development, creation. And I want to give this opportunity to touch the dream.
There is an expression: "We are all travelers on a spaceship called planet Earth." This important metaphor shows that people need to come together and create what will move our planet forward.
How to combine several startups at once and not forget about the rest?
- It seems to me that emotional burnout occurs when you do not take care of your own business. But having work-life balance is also important. Project life management — is what I would I call it.
There is a clear plan for when I work and relax, spend time with my family or alone. For me, the best rest is a change of activity: freediving, painting, sports, creativity — including the books that I write. And I always have time for this - every day, not once a month.
Can you give advice: how not to be afraid to change the world and think independently?
- You need to feel a dream: what is sincerely important for you, what drives you — and go for it. Celebrate your successes step by step, watch how you develop and improve people's lives. Not just saying “I want a startup!”, but starting from a dream. After all, everyone has a topic or area of knowledge that arouses the greatest interest, a desire to fix something.
This is exactly the peculiarity of GSOM: it gives a non-standard approach to the world and the opportunity to experiment. I never had a "frame": you need to take some path, work in a company, develop in your position... You can make mistakes, because non-standard actions are part of the experience.