16 February 2024

How Evan Shapiro is transforming start-up culture with mindfulness movement

| Kellie O'Brien
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Evan Shapiro meditation

Evan Shapiro during meditation training in New York. Photo: Supplied.

In the fast-paced world of start-ups, the long hours, managing multiple roles and cramming in meetings without pause can often come at the expense of wellbeing.

However, Wollongong medical technology start-up Sample Assist chief marketing officer Evan Shapiro is spearheading a movement to introduce meditation and mindfulness practices into the start-up culture.

Despite a background in design and marketing, Evan has incorporated meditation practices into Sample Assist to enhance business success and employee wellbeing within its offices at the iAccelerate innovation hub.

He said since iAccelerate had cultivated a community where start-ups exchanged skills to enhance business and personal lives, this month he would begin extending his programs to other iAccelerate start-ups.

Evan and his wife moved from Sydney to Mount Kembla last year for a lifestyle change at the same time the software solutions company Sample Assist was starting up.

“Because we’re a start-up, we also have this opportunity to create a workplace that is how we want it to be,” he said.

“Founder Heath Cooper and I have a lot of experience working in different workplaces, and sectors. We’ve seen the good and the bad and so, for us, having a positive, supportive workplace is very important.”

He said the Sample Assist workplace was culturally diverse, along with placements from Bunji disability service which bridged the gap between school and work, and the University of Wollongong where software engineering students were gaining real-world experience on world-first solutions.

“We have this great connection to the university, so we’re champions of having a positive intern experience that can be a launching pad for a student’s career,” he said.

To achieve that, he said meditation was a simple, scientifically backed practice to help manage stress, enhance focus, and nurture a healthier mindset – something often difficult to achieve within the high-pressure start-up environment.

“Heath and I feel that despite the challenges of a start-up, our business operations must be reflective of our values,” he said.

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While Evan’s background is founding design and marketing business Green Avenue Design and leading the long-running weekly radio show Celluloid Dreams on 2SER in Sydney about film and screen culture, he said he’d been practising meditation for more than 15 years.

“Meditation has been a fundamental tool I’ve utilised to manage change in my life,” he said.

“I worked remotely from the end of September until the middle of December from New York, where for 10 weekends I participated in meditation teacher training run by Three Jewels Yoga and Meditation Centre.”

Trained by his best friend and internationally respected meditation master Hector Marcel, the teachings are based on Tibetan Buddhist traditions and have a focus on making meditation widely accessible.

“We’re talking about traditions that are 2500 years old, but that knowledge is not always accessible,” he said.

“Through the use of contemporary language, I feel there’s an opportunity for having meditation that’s based on those ancient traditions, becoming available to anyone.

“There’s a great opportunity here also for helping start-ups see that part of being a start-up is creating a healthy work environment and being a good corporate citizen.

“Any practice that brings awareness is going to help you achieve that. It’s going to help you align your actions to your goals.”

Evan recalls his own early experiences when a play on words to have a new year’s “evolution” instead of “resolution” started him down a path of mindfulness that “totally flipped me and I became very present”.

“So what I want to do is bring that into workspaces because I can see what a difference it’s made to my life,” he said.

“People are open to meditation and want to find ways to feel better in their daily lives.

“We spend so much time at work and in that workspace that it really should be a positive place.”

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He said an example was analytical meditation, which included guiding participants through observing and organising their thoughts.

“They’re encouraged to do it in a way that is meaningful to them,” he said.

“Some people might mentally create a database. Other people might have a jar with categories or labels. When you drop a thought into a jar, then it gets bigger.

“Then you have a period in the meditation where you look back and see which jar is bigger, which is smaller, and you can start to see how your mind is working.”

Evan has already formulated workplace meditation programs within Sample Assist and will start programs through iAccelerate for other start-up companies this month.

“I’ll run mini programs and I’ll be working with different groups to achieve productivity and focus for business, and wellbeing for individuals,” he said.

“I’ve got programs around creating micro pauses and helping to gain focus, so if you’re jamming a lot into the day you learn to take a moment of pause and prepare yourself for what’s next.

“It can apply to everybody, but I can really see the opportunity for it here in the start-up scene.”

With his experience with Celluloid Dreams, and a new podcast titled No Expert But, he will look to share his podcasting skills with start-ups within iAccelerate as well in the future.

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