Aisling Kearney Burke is an entrepreneurial woman, through and through. Many people around Galway will know her as the creator and face of the very popular Paint Club, a successful start-up she founded in 2015. But she’s also the brains behind Mea Manu, a productivity-boosting, tech-assisted creativity tool that she’s been working on for some time now – and she has big plans for its future in 2023 and beyond.
Aisling took time out to speak with the PorterShed blog recently, and she began by explaining that Mea Manu will provide “productivity tools and wellness through creativity”, a novel idea that appears to be the first mover-and-shaker of its kind on the market, a thoroughly exciting realisation for Aisling. Ultimately, Aisling’s new idea will merge productivity, art, and technology together, and it will be aimed at corporate business, to help employees get the most out of their workday experiences.
The skills and the exercises offered will be learned from the technology, but users will be able to bing it back into everyday life without the technology – a reductive definition would be to call it tech-assisted creativity.
That’s where the name comes from; ‘Mea Manu’ is Latin for ‘by my hand’ because the app will allow users to manually engage in creative tasks, allowing them to enjoy therapeutic tasks while rediscovering productivity in fun ways.
Aisling certainly leads a thoroughly entrepreneurial life, and it’s one that she has fully embraced for many years, and for her, it’s the only thing she can imagine herself ever doing, which says a lot about her passion and determination.
“I thrive on the uncertainty, on being uncomfortable; I thrive on the difficult times…which isn’t always the best place for the people who surround you,” she explains
“I think you need a unique personality to be an entrepreneur; you really do. I don’t know what else I would do, if I didn’t do this – I really don’t. I always want more, I always want bigger, I’m never satisfied – which I’ve just learned in the last year,” she says half-jokingly.
It’s a constant learning experience for Aisling – as it is for other founders. She has been tremendously successful with Paintclub, having done events at the Aviva stadium, events for ambassadors, events for New York Times’ bestsellers, and more, but she says that she’s having to recalibrate her mind to be happy about those wins without always looking for the next one.
“Afterwards, there’s this hole and you’re thinking, ‘but I’ve done this, this and this – why am I still not happy?’ so I now have to rejig a little so that I now enjoy the process and the getting there,” Aisling says.
“And that’s sort of where Mea Manu comes from. I’m almost trying to build something to break my bad habits. Because I’m an artist; I should know how to be creative, and I should know how to use that creativity to bring wellness and bring myself into a better space…I don’t! So, I’m kind of building something that I wish was there for me – little daily changes.
“It’s ingrained in us that you work hard and you get to the end goal, and then you’ll be happy. Or, if you get this job you’ll be happy. Do you know that way? And, it’s like – when was that ingrained into us?”
It feeds into a broader conversation around mental health that is becoming – understandably – increasingly important to so many.
As Aisling explains, part of what inspired Mea Manu has been her own mental health experiences. Indeed, it’s interesting to hear whether Aisling feels there are enough mental health supports available for entrepreneurs like her.
“There isn’t. There absolutely isn’t,” she says.
“I’ve struggled with my mental health my whole life. I was diagnosed with post-natal depression after my second child, and I’ve struggled with my mental health, I suppose my whole adult life. I’d probably struggled with it younger, but it was never diagnosed,” she says, adding that there is a great deal of pressure faced by start-up founders, and entrepreneurs in general, that is part of what many could call a toxic culture, the hustle culture.
Speaking to Aisling, though, it’s easy to get the sense that she’s always keen to give it her all, no matter how she’s feeling – and that feeds into her identity as a female founder where the fight to be recognised and make things happen is undoubtedly more challenging than it often is for male founders.
“I am angry at the lack of ambition for girls. Now, it’s getting better – but, when I was in school, I was told I could be a nurse or a teacher, that’s it,” she says.
“I do think a lot of female’s ambitions are screwed by the fact you have kids. I don’t know how to fix that. Any of the extremely successful female entrepreneurs that I look at – they either built their companies to a level that they could afford to take the time out to have kids or they don’t have kids,” Aisling explains, adding that it’s important to continue teaching girls that they can be whatever they want to be, not restricted by stereotypes.
“We need more people who think differently to build new solutions,” she says, and it’s easy to agree with Aisling on this point. Indeed, she’s doing all she can to use her unique insights to create unique modalities like Paintclub and Mea Manu. And Aisling has already received lots of recognition for her keenness to think outside the box, such as her award from ATU and her distinction in the Creative Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development postgraduate diploma.
Aisling has also been selected to take part in the Break Fellowship Programme in Spain which will see her spend 28 days there to engage in a fully immersive programme with an all-female group of entrepreneurs.
“I’m doing it. We had a family discussion. I sat down with my kids and my husband, and I said ‘this is something I would really like to do, but if you have a strong enough argument, I will obviously take it into consideration’ and they all said yes and were completely supportive,” Aisling says.
She speaks again about those little changes – this time, it’s the little changes around stopping negative thinking and breaking societal norms so that women are able to go and do what it is they need to do, whether that’s starting a company or taking a few weeks to develop intuitive ideas.
No doubt, Aisling is a thoroughly entrepreneurial person who now has two businesses to her name, awards to show for her hard work, and plenty of character and determination to continue reaching lofty heights. The future certainly looks bright for her as she continues to make impressive strides and if one thing is clear it’s that she is determined to achieve it by her own hand.
By Trevor Murray