Flipping the Script: Meet the student start-up breaking down bureaucratic language barriers

Student founders Diana Hrisovescu and Shay McDonnell sit down with Trinity News to discuss their journey with tech start-up Script

The journey of Script from secondary school project to tech start-up poised for public launch has been a long and somewhat unexpected one. “I never even imagined I’d be doing what I’m doing today,” Diana Hrisovescu, co-founder and CEO, admits as she reflects on her three years’ experience working on the platform that aims to make government forms more accessible for those facing language barriers. From Scifest entry in 2020, to O’Shaughnessy Ventures Fellowship recipient in 2023, Script’s incredible evolution is a credit to the resilience and commitment of co-founders Hrisovescu and Shay McDonnell, both current students of Computer Science with Business and Linguistics, respectively. “It just kind of happened,” Hrisovescu laughs of Script’s advancement since its beginning as a germ of an idea in her school days, though with her work earning her a Professor John G. Byrne scholarship and landing her on the Irish Independent’s “30 under 30” in 2022, it’s clear that it has been no mere accident.

Hrisovescu’s interest in technology was first fostered by Teen-Turn — an Irish charity that offers “hands-on STEM experience” to teen girls in underrepresented communities — where she first developed the idea of leveraging technology to remove language barriers for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.

Hrisovescu, who moved to Ireland from Romania at fourteen, was able to pull directly from her own experience of learning English within three months and navigating bureaucratic obstacles on behalf of her family to provide a strong raison d’etre for Script that has inspired her resilience over the years”

 Indeed, the passion for the idea shared by the co-founders is palpable as they recall their journey: “It’s probably the one thing that has stood by me for the entire time,” Hrisovescu says. “The passion, and knowing that [Script] can actually help so many people… But also just imagining myself being fourteen again, and looking at other fourteen year old kids around me today, and it’s just crazy how it kind of goes unseen that a lot of the kids take responsibility for their family when they move to a country where they’re not proficient in the [native] language.”

Script was further nurtured in secondary school STEM fair Scifest and later, Patch — a summer accelerator hosted by Dogpatch labs for young innovators — providing Hrisovescu with valuable experience that inspired a more technological approach to improving accessibility to government supports. Upon beginning her studies at Trinity, Hrisovescu continued to develop Script in College societies and initiatives including the TES accelerator program, TCD Enactus, and Women Who Wow through Tangent at Trinity Business School. Her studies not only allowed her to develop her technical knowledge and business acumen, but also led her to meet McDonnell, with whom she shared many of her classes. McDonnell’s entry to the fray was somewhat accidental — he initially lent his services as a favour when Script entered Tangent’s student accelerator program, Launchbox — though he fully embraced the challenge, joining Hrisovescu as co-founder in summer 2022.

Launchbox, and the addition of McDonnell as co-founder, signalled one of many “start[s] from zero” for Script, Hrisovescu says, though certainly not the first. Over the years, Hrisovescu’s idea, team, and approach have altered significantly, though the central aim to dismantle language barriers to government supports has remained consistent, albeit with some refinements. “You learn a lot, every time you scrap [and start over],” McDonnell stresses. In this case McDonnell, Hrisovescu says, “completely took on the role of doing the development of the platform from literally ground-up,” a challenge he overcame with “many late nights” and a herculean effort that he continues to channel to his role.

Even with the support of college societies and initiatives, however, the pair acknowledge that it has been a challenge to balance start-up engagements with college work and other responsibilities. In fact, the application for the O’Shaughnessy Ventures Fellowship came at what Hrisovescu describes as a “low point.” “I didn’t expect much,” she admits; “I was actually going to take a break [from working on Script].” Three weeks after an initial pitch, the duo found themselves on a call with O’Shaughnessy Ventures CEO Jim O’Shaughnessy, a meeting Hrisovescu laughs was a technological disaster: “Our Zoom wasn’t working, he couldn’t hear us… It was 10:00pm Irish time, on a Saturday!” When O’Shaughnessy then revealed that the two had been successful and would receive a $100,000 fellowship, Hrisovescu says it came as a complete shock: “I couldn’t believe it […] We were ready to be roasted by him!”

A key ingredient to the continuous advancement of Script has been the strong partnership between Hrisovescu and McDonnell. “No one can have all the skills to run or create a business,” Hrisovescu observes, and the co-founders have evidently found a balance to complement their skills (“He sends me to go talk to people and then he goes to do the backend stuff,” she jokes). Central is their shared passion and commitment to the cause: “One thing that I really cherish is that I am grateful that I found a person that is maybe as passionate as I am about what I’m working on,” Hrisovescu says.

She credits Script’s major milestones to having “the right person by my side, doing it with me […] The right team is important.”

Looking to the future, Hrisovescu and McDonnell are currently working to launch a multilingual eligibility checker for social welfare entitlements. The tool covers 105 social welfare forms across family, health, and public services; pensions; over-65s, and work payments, initially available in Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Polish, and English (“even for a native speaker, filling in forms and finding out different things you can quality for still is tough,” Hrisovescu acknowledges). “We were a bit inspired by the SUSI eligibility checker,” she explains. “We were wondering why is there nothing done already for people just to find out what they can apply for, and some people do miss out on things because they didn’t know,” McDonnell continues: “In conjunction with the eligibility checker, we also want to give a brief information page in your native language as well so you’re not just left in the dark after you’re told [what you can apply for].” After the launch, the pair hope to focus on developing a platform that will allow users to fill a request form for social welfare in their native language, which is then parsed and placed into the required English form for submission.

At its core, Script is about utilising technology to make people’s lives easier, and open access to potentially life-altering services and information for those who need it most.

“The only reason I want to do this is, you know, if I can make someone’s life better by X%, I’ll be so happy,” Hrisovescu explains.

The student founders are also excited to be “pioneering multilingual services” in a manner currently unseen in Europe; “It would be cool to see Ireland being the first to do this or implement this,” she adds. They note the lack of development to improve social welfare processes is somewhat staggering given the technological advancement seen elsewhere. Hrisovescu says: “We’re just pretty much trying to improve the current system. […] If we can be that trigger [for further improvement], it’s probably our mission complete.”

For students interested in following Hrisovescu and McDonnell into the start-up space, they point to college societies such as TES and Enactus, and initiatives like Launchbox, to kickstart innovation. “It’s literally for anyone, […] it’s interdisciplinary. It’s all about yourself and how much you’re willing to put in, and how much you’re willing to learn,” Hrisovescu stresses. She specifically encourages those from non-business or technological backgrounds to try their hand: “I think it’s so fun to even just try being in a start-up at one point in your life, or in college.” McDonnell agrees, encouraging budding entrepreneurs to “just give it a shot.” With an abundance of opportunities on campus and beyond, there’s ample opportunity for students of all disciplines to get involved in start-ups and make a splash on the entrepreneurial scene as Script has. Moreover, the work of Hrisovescu and McDonnell demonstrates the potential for student enterprises to enact meaningful change in the world from even the most humble beginnings — all in a day’s work for these computer science students.

You can find more information about Script at: https://scriptforms.ie/ 

Sadbh Boylan

Sadbh Boylan is the Deputy Scitech Editor for Trinity News and is currently in her Senior Sophister Year studying Management Science and Information System Studies