Meet Irina De Paoli: Founder of Researchista, the Company that Brings Fun and Research-powered Goodies to You and Your Family!

Hello Irina! We’re thrilled to be chatting with you today at FEM-START. Could you share what inspired you to start your own business? And the motivation behind Researchista?

The dedication and hard work of the scientists and researchers inspired me to start my own business. During my PhD studies at Maastricht University I could watch closely how hard everyone works (professors and PhD students alike) and how subtle the intellectual work is.

Knowledge is not something you can touch or smell or see. Knowledge is a sort of magic that people’s brains can generate while doing an action: think and research, experiment and think again. This is why I believe that all this hard work and dedication is not understood or seen well enough, simply because of this particularity knowledge and generation of knowledge. 

There are so many attempts and talks about this particular particularity’. In academia the efforts of communicating research are known as: research valorization.

In my view, making research more accessible and practical is essential and goes beyond the question of return of the investment done in research. Research valorization has a social impact, it has educational benefits, it contributes to global competitiveness, sustainable development, cultural enrichment and it even helps policy and decision making (e.g. like we helped all the EU’s Ministries of Finance to communicate faster about what public budget via our research-inspired board game ‘Mobility Era Game’).

However, as straightforward as it seems about how many benefits research brings, and frankly, no matter how much the general public appreciates scientific research, the complexities and technicalities of the scientific language, along with the busy schedules and heavy workload of researchers makes research valorization difficult. 

Researchista offers exactly that, research at the doorstep for you and your family. We are a place where researchers can exhibit/sell their products and people can learn about their knowledge through a game or a toy or whatever. It is so much faster (and easier) to explain to a 14 years old what the public budget is or how taxes are related to your life as you age if you play Mobility Era Game rather than reading Researchista’s PhD thesis for example. What would you do? 

Would you play a board game and talk about readiness for life with your son/daughter or would you rather read some sections about life-cycle events and fluctuations in income trajectories over life from my PhD thesis?

Researchista is my dream, ever since the idea of making research fashionable came to me one day in Maastricht, while buying bread. This idea has remained with me and has become an integral part of my life. 

Share if you know any researcher who would like to commercialise their product on our platform or have a product from their PhD thesis in mind and do not have the courage to start yet.

What are some of the most essential things you did to get your business off the ground?

I found a lot of motivation to pursue my dreams over the years. I’ve been in the tech/gaming business for 5 years and have been driven and determined to make my startup successful. I would have never been able to make my startup continue without my crazy motivation and determination. 

As time goes by, I’ve come to realize that motivation and determination alone are not enough… These qualities can decrease over time and are not sustainable on their own. I’ve found that having the right business guidance and advice is crucial. By “right business guidance,” I mean having access to people who can answer the question, “But how do I do that?” This kind of support has taken my startup to the next level.

How did you build your customer base and grow Researchista?

We are using Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) to reach our audience through multiple channels with a consistent message and branding. We believe that the product will speak for itself initially, so it’s a matter of meeting the first customers. Once we have a stronger financial foundation, we can develop a more robust acquisition strategy.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you made along the way, and what did you learn from them?

Not taking business education seriously may give the impression that everything is doable and that your plan will work. However, the reality is that entrepreneurship requires a certain mindset that needs to be developed over time in order to be successful. Relying solely on intuition or existing knowledge is often not sufficient.

What is your biggest achievement since founding the company, and how did you get there?
  1. Registering myself as self-employed and my startup: After graduating from the United Nations University-MERIT and Maastricht University in 2014, I had very little (zero) knowledge of entrepreneurship and business. As a PhD student from Moldova, where successful businesses were often viewed as a threat and could even be dangerous due to the country’s history of transitioning from a planned economy (back in the dark days of transition from a planned economy, a business would be taken away by the government in an illegal way, like randomly finding drugs in the CEO’s car, etc.), registering myself as self-employed and my own startup at the Dutch Chamber of Commerce was already a significant personal achievement in itself!
  2. Sharing my knowledge through a board game and creating my first ever product: The Mobility Era Game, our first product, is featured on the website of the European Commission, and we are incredibly proud of this achievement. Thanks to my research background, knowledge in social policy, and my education from home, I was able to create a product with high policy relevance. We are also endorsed by the World Economic Forum,, and Forbes | Council. We continue to receive heartwarming feedback from teachers and school managers, who note that no other game in schools helps children prepare for adult life like ours. They also mention the many positive aspects that teenagers gain from playing it. Considering that I hardly played any board games and had little knowledge about the gaming industry (from manufacturing to delivery) or business, it is incredibly rewarding. 
  3. Thinking about business as a business, not some passion or hobby or a place where I follow my intuition: My personal biggest achievement at this stage is to truly start doing business, to think about business and stop thinking that my dream will somehow magically find its own way. I will somehow magically become successful, and that it will all somehow magically line up. Dreaming and being guided by your intuition and past knowledge is simply not enough. It is the border between childhood and maturity. When being an adult, things are measured, planned, and calculated. If there is a mistake, you know exactly where and how to fix it, or someone else helps you fix it. Dreamland alone is for children. It’s time to grow up and attend FEM-START events! 😉 Our other business achievements are also valuable to me, such as winning the Triple E Awards with our Out of the Ivory Tower Game (Barcelona, 2023); you can read our other successful stories online! 
What advice do you have for women wanting to start their own business?

You know you will go for it when it simply does not let you go! It can be so annoying even in your daily life. I read somewhere that if you do not let your dream out or go in the direction of your dream, it even suppresses you and harms you. So, just go for it 🙂 You won’t be able to live with it inside; you have to let it surface and let the world know about your dream! It is a bit like in the Disney cartoon “WISH”; there is nobody else holding your dream. If you really struggle to go your way and direction, therapy might help to verbalise it and create more space for it to come out of you.

What's next for you and your business? Anything we can expect in 2025

Hopefully, only great things! And if not, that means we are pivoting..


More Posts

Join our newsletter

FEM-START is ready to support you on your entrepreneurial journey.  We provide educational courses on funding, pitching, and finding investors, nurture a growing community of female entrepreneurs, and organize events all year long.


Receive our weekly newsletter for upcoming events, interviews, membership features and more.