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Entrepreneurship is a field filled with myths: One of them is that it is hard to start up something on your own. The experts have offered to share their tips
The financial crisis has apparently set off a wave of entrepreneurship. In Denmark, the numbers of student-started companies has gone up, not down, since Europe’s paralysing recession ground the normal amount of jobs for graduates to a halt. Here is how you can be a part of the movement. Create a job of your own, and stop being dependent on a disappointing job market.
The University Post teamed up with experts Nina Gade, project manager of Next Generation, and Peter Conrad Ottesen, who heads Katapult, both University of Copenhagen initiatives that support student entrepreneurs through advice, training and finance.
Both experts have – apart from pioneering the entrepreneurship spirit at the University of Copenhagen – started a company of their own whilst studying. With their qualified advice, we have composed a guide that will get you a job. And on your own terms.
The first piece of advice comes from Nina Gade. According to Nina, many of us start off wrong by getting the definitions wrong.
»Most people mistake ‘entrepreneurship’ to mean that you must start your own business. But you can be an entrepreneur and think innovatively inside a company as well.«
This redefining will save you a lot of stress, according to Nina.»This is definitely the safer choice. Sure, creating your own company gives you loads of experiences that you can use later in life, in and outside companies. However, being an entrepreneur inside a company makes it safer to make mistakes.«
Contact a company that already offers a programme in your area of expertise, and offer to make an extension of it for them. Two psychology students from the University of Copenhagen recently started their own business by calling up DONG Energy and offering them to extend their Human Resources programme to include psychological, and not only physical, elements. DONG Energy was interested and the girls’ business went so well, that they recently sold it.
As a university student in the midst of a financial crisis, it is actually perfect timing to jump out of the closet as an entrepreneur, according to both experts. And the earlier you start, the better.
»Financial crises’ makes students think in new ways. They wonder whether they have other options, than becoming an employee or scientist,« says Peter Conrad Ottesen from Katapult.
Nina Gade expands on this.
»By the time you have finished your Bachelor’s degree you will know most of what you need to start your own company. You will also be much more broad-sighted, as you are not yet specialized. Specialization is great for being an expert, but not necessary for starting a company.«
»Starting while you are studying also means that you have economic support from other funds such as scholarships or a student job on the side. Once you have graduated you do not have this financial support«.
Focus on what you do best, and let others do the things they do best.
»Being good at making business plans and market analysis is not essential. Being good at finding help for these things is crucial. Do not expect to be the expert on everything, but be good at finding them,« Nina tells us. Sometimes help can be found in unexpected places.
»Often people forget to ask the bank for advice. But actually they can be of great help. They are financial experts and might give you good answers concerning your finances,« Nina Gade recalls.
»Apart from this you must know where to get financial help such as funding. Getting guidance from the university on these matters will already get you far,« she elaborates.
The University of Copenhagen has lots of places where you can get help. Try the newly founded Ciel organization or for specific guidance check out Katapult for science students, or Katalyst for humanities students.
Our experts believe in team work. Preferably work with someone from a different expertise area than you. Even better: From a different university.
»Success often goes in pairs. When you have a business partner, you can supply each other with knowledge in different areas and challenge each other to create results,« says Nina.
Anna Haldrup, who is director of the Research and Innovation unit at the University of Copenhagen, backs this up with experience from the entrepreneurship networking event Venture Cup.
»My experience as a member of the board in Venture Cup is that the most successful and innovative projects arise when students from different universities and disciplines work together. Students from University of Copenhagen are very good at this.«
Next Generation and Venture Cup organize a host of networking events for students from all Danish universities. These are perfect for meeting potential working partners from a different background than you.
All you need is an idea, and the will to make it happen. Don’t let yourself get stressed by the thought of having to create a website, our experts advise.
»There is no need to have a fancy website or a PR plan when you start.
This is phase two. All you need to start off is an idea and the will to make it work,« Nina Gade tells us.
»A short notice on Facebook or LinkedIn is enough to get you started,« Nina Gade assures us.
You can spend months trying to analyze the market, but in the end your client will always know exactly what he wants better. Our expert recommends calling the potential client and asking about what he or she wants before you begin.
»The one that can judge your idea best is your future client. So don’t be afraid to call him up and ask what he thinks of your idea. At Katapult we can give advice on bad and good ideas, but really, no one knows better than the future client what a good idea is,« says Peter Conrad Ottesen.
Many university students might find their comfort zone behind thick books. However, in order to succeed as an entrepreneur you must be ready to get practical and be a seller, say our experts.
»For many academics, the idea of selling is strange. But if you want to be successful in your business, you must get used to it,« Nina Gade tells us. »Cross this boundary, put this prejudice aside, and learn that it is not that difficult.«
Still feeling a bit too academic for this? Both Venture Cup, Next Generation and Katapult offer help to formulate a business plan.
One of the smartest moves in entrepreneurship is actually … to fail. According to our experts this teaches you all you have to know for next time you open a business. And as long as you start (and fail) your first business while studying, you will not be hit hard economically.
»You can even say that you learn most from failing. If you start a company which ends up closing, you will have learned a lot about the market, the funding, the process, and ultimately yourself and your idea. On top of this you will have worked up a good network of professionals,« Nina Gade explains, and continues:
»Many are afraid to put their failed attempt to start a company on their CV. But actually this is a big plus on your CV that shows both initiative and responsibility.«
Peter Conrad Ottesen told us that his first company, which he started as a Master’s student, failed. He explains that the reason was that he misjudged the value his product had for the client. Today, he recommends all students to talk with their client beforehand.
Not only is a financial and professional security net important. Nina Gade points out that a personal net of support is needed for an entrepreneur. The help it can give is essential and unavoidable.
»Apart from the advice you can get from professionals, the support you get from family and friends is essential. They can help you truly define your strong sides, and clarify your idea, « Nina says.
»It is the personal net of connections that will help you get down to earth from a very abstract idea and help you work on a practical level,« she adds.
Last but not least, we are all born entrepreneurs, according to our expert. So there’s no excuse not to start a business tomorrow!
»Many believe that only some people are born entrepreneurs. This is simply not true. Everyone can be an entrepreneur,« Nina assures.
»Starting your own business is a work in progress that everyone can learn something from. You don’t need a finished idea when you start. It will come in the process. And all the administrative stuff will follow«.
Are you ready to get going? Get started! We wish you the best of luck!
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