Head of Program Ida Maria Orula on curating the sTARTUp Day and Digit program

It’s time to get to know Ida Maria Orula, Head of Program at sTARTUp Day. Her first task: curating the upcoming Digit software development conference, taking place on 21 September. We asked Ida Maria what we can expect from Digit 2023 and sTARTUp Day 2024, as well as discussed some of her favorite topics, which include learning new languages (she speaks a total of 9!) and recharging in nature.

How did you become part of the sTARTUp Day team? What is your role in the team?

My first experience with sTARTUp Day was in 2020 when I joined as a volunteer in the info and merch team. I noticed the energy and positive vibes from the very first meeting we had with the team, but the moment I truly realized what sTARTUp Day is all about, was the evening after the last festival day. The team had probably not had a proper sleep for days, and yet everyone was smiling and having fun while packing up the festival. At 1 am. At 2 am. That’s when I realized that these are the people I want to work and grow with, and this is the event I want to dedicate my time to.

I suppose my enthusiasm was visible because I was invited to join the team as a speaker manager. I started attending regular team meetings and learning more about the festival. At the beginning of 2023, I got a phone call from the sTARTUp Day head organizer Mart Lättekivi, who offered me the program manager position. I am now responsible for finding speakers for sTARTUp Day, Digit and Refresh  and putting together the program for each event. It is a job that very rarely feels like work – I get to talk to so many amazing people every single day. It feels like I’ve found a never-ending source of inspiration.

You are the mastermind behind the program of the Digit software development conference, happening on 21 September. What are you most excited about in the Digit program?

Digit is my first event as a program manager, so I am equally excited and worried about how everything will come together in the end. Having dedicated the past seven years to Computer Science studies at the University of Tartu, creating this program has truly been an amazing learning opportunity and just a fun experience in general.

It has also been a joint effort – Digit’s partners have dedicated a lot of time to selecting the topics that they deem to be most relevant at the moment and putting together presentations or discussions that would meet the audience’s expectations.

The topics range from current AI trends to cybersecurity to why there aren’t enough developers in the mental health technologies field. We have a really great lineup – 25 experts from the leading tech companies (including four unicorn companies) in Estonia will share on stage their experience and expertise on topics they know the best. I have had the chance to listen to some fragments of the talks, and I cannot wait to see them in full glory at our stages!

Check out the full Digit program.

Can you already give us some hints as to what we can expect from the sTARTUp Day 2024 program in January 2024?

As to sTARTUp Day 2024, I want the program to have both practical knowledge about the business world as well as inspiring stories that urge people to notice and appreciate the important things around them. We will keep topics that have become an important part of the essence of sTARTUp Day over the years, such as deep tech, founder stories and mental health. In addition, we will have new tracks; for instance, we will talk about different aspects of marketing and branding and learn what has worked for successful startups.

One of our goals at sTARTUp Day is to talk about topics that aren’t often discussed and to break taboos around them.

Last year, we introduced the sex tech track into our program, and the feedback from our audience showed that it is something worth talking about. We want to continue raising awareness and encouraging people to talk about topics that might be considered controversial.

Since Tartu, along with Southern Estonia, has been selected as the European Capital of Culture 2024, it seems fitting to intertwine a cultural focus into the program and talk about the importance of culture in different aspects of the business world. For example, what are the things you need to keep in mind when expanding to a foreign country?

One of the tracks that I’m most excited about will focus on workplace happiness and healthy company culture. I believe it is crucial for all employers to take into consideration that people are more creative and productive when they can work in a comfortable and supportive environment.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of this year’s program but very much a work in progress. If you feel there is a topic we should definitely address at sTARTUp Day 2024, don’t hesitate to contact me!

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned while organizing sTARTUp Day – and Digit?

There are quite a few things I’ve learned. Some that may be most widely applicable to other situations in life as well are:

 ⚡️Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Especially if you think you should already know the answer – if you have this feeling, chances are it is something important or urgent, and you’re definitely better off clearing your doubts quickly.

 ⚡️Be confident in your own ideas. That is something I sometimes still struggle with. There will always be someone who doesn’t agree with you, and that is okay. That doesn’t mean your ideas are any less valuable. Be open to compromise, but speak your mind.

 ⚡️Be optimistic and open-minded about the people around you. Everyone has something important to teach you if you let them. And you might have the most random things in common!

You speak eight languages besides your mother tongue Estonian. What are your pro tips for picking up a new language?

I am fluent only in English, Spanish, Italian and potentially Portuguese, but I’m capable of having a conversation in Russian, French and German, and I understand basic Swedish. Picking up languages has always come quite naturally to me because I get so excited about every new language I encounter. And the more languages you know, the easier it becomes to learn new ones. It is a topic that I could talk about for hours – ask my friends and family. I’ll try to keep it short and just share some tips that have worked best for me.

1. Find a connection with the language you want to be able to speak. It can be a Spanish singer, a Portuguese writer, or the friendliest and kindest people you met on your trip to Italy. It is easier to love a language if it has a special meaning to you.

2. Get familiar with the way the language sound. Listen to songs and movies. You don’t have to understand a single word yet. Then move on to reading short texts. You still don’t need to understand any words. Just give your brain a chance to get familiar with the way it sounds and looks like.

3. Start by translating songs you like. If you memorize the lyrics and their meaning, you’ll have a base vocabulary. Now you’ll already be able to notice those familiar words wherever they appear.

4. Talk to yourself or an imaginary conversation partner in the language you’re learning. Give an interview about your life, talk about your day, describe the cool movie you just saw last night, or walk yourself through whatever activity you’re currently doing.

5. Find similarities and differences between the new language and those that you already know. Strange grammatical structures, similar words meaning different things etc. Connections are so much easier to remember than singular facts.

As I said, I could go on forever, but I’ll stop here. If anyone wants to talk to me about languages, then please do!

How do you recharge? What are some of the things that give you positive energy?

I think that the three key elements for recharging my batteries are nature, my family and spending time alone when I need it. Long walks at night have always been among the best remedies for when I feel overwhelmed and start being irrationally pessimistic about life. I enjoy the darkness and how it helps me focus on my thoughts.

Since I was born in Pärnu and lived close to the beach my entire childhood, I’ve always felt a strong connection to the sea. That’s where I can breathe most freely. I love those summer days at home when I can spend hours by the sea and then walk home barefoot on a small forest trail as the sun is setting. It reminds me of my childhood and makes me feel like I live in paradise.

One thing that gives me positive energy for days is going on small adventures with my mom. We’ll just open Google Maps and pick out some places where we haven’t been yet. We find something interesting every single time. Even if the place we chose was the most random small village in the middle of nowhere.

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