Emerging leaders

Momtrepreneur’s key to work-life balance? Supportive life partner

Miren Gallastegui is the mastermind behind a new startup project called HIRIKI, which develops mobile partition walls for private apartments. The mechanical engineer from Basque Country, Spain, recently returned to university to pursue an architectural degree part-time, all while working full-time for another engineering company. In an interview with W Insight, Miren discusses time management, motherhood, and the importance of family support.

You have a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. However, a few years ago, you also decided to return to university to pursue architecture. Why? 

I am from Basque Country. I’m 37 years old, and for the last 14 years I’ve been designing railway interiors. I grew up in an area and community that has a strong manufacturing sector. We have several factories, and the ideal employee profile around my hometown is an engineer. So if you’re good at school, you’re expected to pursue a mechanical engineering degree. And that’s what my parents suggested, and that’s what I did. But when I graduated, I realized I still wanted to become an architect because it has always been my dream. So five years ago, I went back to university to pursue a master’s degree in architecture.

Miren Gallastegui (photo: private archives)

What challenges did you face in this process?

First, I continued working full-time as a mechanical engineer for the railway manufacturing company. Then, on top of that, every two weeks, on the weekends, I traveled to Madrid to study architecture. And in my second year of studies, I got pregnant. So I did work, university, and maternity, all three simultaneously.

That sounds intense.

Yes! With my partner, we’re just starting to see the light at the end of the dark tunnel (laugh).

Did you have a moment when you wanted to give up some of the activities you took up? 

Yes and no. There were very short moments like these. 

What made you keep going?

Becoming a real architect has been my dream since I was six. I want to improve people’s quality of life by designing nice spaces for them. 

Do you feel supported by the people around you?

Of course! My husband is here for me and he has supported me 200%. And my parents too. At first, they were shocked that I wanted to go back to university. They wanted to become grandparents, and they seemed sad when they thought that might not happen. It did, eventually, but even before they understood my decision. My dad passed away this January. But he saw that I finished my bachelor’s degree in architecture. He couldn’t see that I’m studying in the master’s program right now, still, I’m really happy that he could see that I was working on my dreams.  

Tell us more about the startup HIRIKI that you’re growing. 

The world population is moving to metropolitan areas, and getting a proper home that you can afford is becoming a challenge. HIRIKI’s idea is to include in the layouts of small apartments (below 60 square meters) mobile partition walls that can add an extra room or make it disappear depending on the needs of the people. We want to create spaces in which people can pause, retreat and reconnect with themselves. 

Interesting! I was living in 20 square meters for about four years. Now I’ve moved to a larger apartment, but in my previous home, I hated that everything was basically one room. 

Yes. So with this mobile partition wall, we could move one of the walls, and it could all be the living room during the day. And at night you take out the mobile partition wall and then have your bedroom. But, of course, then we have to rethink all the furniture so that these can be accommodated in this kind of space.

What stage of startup development are you at exactly? 

We’re currently working on the prototype that we will present to stakeholders, such as the property developers. 

Photo: press materials /EIT Jumpstarter Grand Final

How are you juggling so many responsibilities? You have a full-time engineering job. You’re also a mother, and you grow Hiriki on the side. And we’re meeting in Cracow for EIT Jumpstarter Grand Final, where you’re competing for the prize (edit: Miren placed 3rd in the European Bauhaus category and won EUR 5000). Your partner is working full-time as well. How do you do it all? 

The most important thing is the schedule.

Are you a master in planning?

More or less. We finish our regular jobs as soon as possible during the day. I work from 7 am to 3:30 pm and then go back home, and I work on HIRIKI or study and I go to university two days per week (now I’m at a university in San Sebastian). Around 7:00 pm, I start spending time with my daughter. We play, and that’s very important for us to have dinner all together. During the weekends, we try to work and study in the mornings; afternoons are family time for us. We are lucky to be supported by our parents in the upbringing of our 3-year-old daughter. We live in a small village and our parents are nearby. They are retired and are involved in their granddaughter’s life. 

What advice would you share with other women entrepreneurs who are juggling multiple projects at the same time? 

If you have a dream, keep going. Cry if you want to, cry because it helps. Still, do what you want, and you will get it.

Interview by: Joanna Socha

Edited by: Phyllis Budka

Featured photo provided by Miren Gallastegui

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