Spread the word! The entrepreneurs of tomorrow are at the University of Luxembourg. At the most recent Startup Weekend, a hackathon organized by Technoport, two teams (made up of students only) impressed the jury and have been awarded for their entrepreneurial talents. Silicon met up with the students to talk about their vision of entrepreneurship and how they feel after this first dive into the startup world. Students from all corners of the globe, including India, Albania and Luxembourg, met at the first Ideation Camp, the university’s mentorship program.
(Featured Image: Himadri Pathak, Mike Pereira Gonçalves, Joni Beu, Selvi Pjeshka, Arjan Gjeta and Sivakumar Bactavatchalou / Image Credit © Olivier Minaire)
Have you always dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur?
Arjana Gjeta (Hire Students)
I see entrepreneurship as a career path for me because I like that it provides you with endless challenges and opportunities to learn. It’s about taking risks and getting out of your comfort zone. This is what I like about this environment.
Himadri Pathak (CheckMath)
Coming up with an idea is a mental exercise that I do every year. I look back at my year, try to summarize it in one sentence, and identify an area of struggle. As an entrepreneur, what I want to do is see if those struggles have already been solved. That’s where my ideas come from, And that’s why I have so many ideas!
Prasad Rao Bikkineni (CheckMath)
Before coming to the Startup Weekend I was a developer and had already been working for five years. I’ve always dreamed of being an entrepreneur, but I didn’t know how to achieve it. That’s why I decided to attend the Ideation Camp organized at the University. I learned a lot and met other like-minded students. It gave me so many ideas and new skills. Then I participated in the Startup Weekend and made new friends!
Selvi Pjeshka (Hire Students)
Before the Startup Weekend I attended the Ideation Camp organized by the University of Luxembourg. It was a great experience. I chose the project I wanted to work with because I liked the idea a lot. In the future, I would like to become an entrepreneur because it’s all about challenging fear. Being an entrepreneur means taking risks and that really appeals to me.
Joni Beu (CheckMath)
The Ideation Camp at the university was a really challenging event. I followed up with Himadri’s idea, Checkmath, because I’m a passionate student of economics. I enjoy solving math problems. It started as a hobby and then it became a passion with endless problems to solve.
Mike Pereira Gonçalves (CheckMath)
I’m the only one in the team who didn’t go to the Ideation Camp. However, I managed to get a ticket to go to the Startup Weekend. I didn’t plan to at the very beginning. I also didn’t know much about the startup world. It was my first time and my main motivation was really the experience I could get from such a hackathon. I chose CheckMath as the project I wanted to work on because I could really relate to this problem. It was a great experience overall.
“What I liked most was learning by doing or learning by execution. We had to go out, ask questions and determine if our product was market ready or not…”
Can you tell us more about your Startup Weekend experience?
(Arjana) It was a very interesting experience. What I liked most was learning by doing or learning by execution. We had to go out, ask questions and determine if our product was market ready or not… That was the best part: getting out and about, asking questions and receiving feedback.
(Himadri) It was an event with mixed emotions. There was happiness and frustration. Working on this idea, on its possible implementation, all night long was just amazing. What was rewarding was that mentors were coming to us and showing their appreciation for our idea and pushing us forward. The organizers were always there to take care of every small detail.
(Prasad) It was a really good experience for me as well. We worked 50 hours nonstop. I was really new to entrepreneurship and the event was challenging for me and the team. I’m really happy with what we achieved over the weekend.
(Selvi) It was a great experience for all of us I think. The mentors were there for us and helped us reach our goal. We also got out of the building and reached out to our potential customers. We went to many different businesses to talk to them and ask them if they wanted to hire students. Their feedback was positive.
(Joni) The 54 hours were so great. We got to challenge an idea and create new future possibilities. The mentors really helped us, even when things looked bad.
(Mike) It was a unique experience for me. It was a lot of work but didn’t feel like it. I really enjoyed the experience and meeting new people. Everyone was interested in our project, even Microsoft.
“Since I really want to help people, I think being an entrepreneur would be the best option for me to execute my core values. It requires a lot of hard work…”
Do you want to jump into entrepreneurship right after your studies?
(Arjana) I want to start gaining experience working at startups because I have already worked for companies. I’m familiar with that environment. Success will come as long as I’m patient and work hard and take necessary steps. It’s a learning curve and you have to do everything you can to reach your goal. It’s a path I want to explore.
(Himadri) My aim is really to help people. Sometimes, in the corporate world, your job might not allow you to reach a large audience and figure out your core values. You’re restricted. You might have free time after work but it’s not enough to do what you really want to do. Since I really want to help people, I think being an entrepreneur would be the best option for me to execute my core values. It requires a lot of hard work – what we did at startup weekend was just a three-day thing – it’s going to be like this for years in the beginning because you have to work 18 hours a day on an idea. I want to do that.
(Prasad) I’ve had different experiences with companies before. I’m studying and working as well. I’m currently managing a lot. I would love to launch a startup as soon as possible and I would be happy to quit my current job to do so. It’s a really good challenge!
(Selvi) I just started University so it’s a bit hard for me. Maybe in the future we will go forward with the project.
(Mike) I’ve never thought about becoming an entrepreneur. Since I don’t have any work experience, I still think I need to try that and see what makes me happier. I am personally quite afraid of taking risks. I don’t know what the future holds for me, so for now I’m open to anything.
“We are newbies in this field. Everything about a company is new to us, especially for those of us who are scientists and engineers. So, we don’t have much business knowledge.”
As a student, what are the main challenges involved with launching a startup?
(Arjana) First of all, the legal framework. If I am not from the EU and am a student here, how does that work if I want to start something? That’s the biggest issue. Otherwise, my idea doesn’t require a lot of funding. It’s really practical and can be built up in steps. It’s more about the negotiation part and connecting demand with supply – students to companies.
(Himadri) We are newbies in this field. Everything about a company is new to us, especially for those of us who are scientists and engineers. So, we don’t have much business knowledge. But in our case, we are very lucky because the University of Luxembourg Incubator provides immense support in the areas we’re lacking. They are very approachable. It’s still difficult for us to go beyond our field of expertise.
(Prasad) We’re meeting many people here and gaining new contacts who are entrepreneurs and startups with knowledge to share. If we have any doubts or anything we need, then we’re just going to ask them. We don’t have any experience with companies. As we are new in Luxembourg, we don’t know the culture very well or the companies, even legal issues or how to set up companies, raise funds, hire people… It’s a blank page for us. We have to balance our studies and work life.
(Selvi) The main challenge with our project is convincing companies to work with us. We went out and talked to many of them. We will see if they approve of our idea to hire students from our platform. We need to convince them and leverage our network.
(Joni) Networking is the most difficult part. We can’t solve all the problems ourselves.
(Mike) I didn’t really plan to go into this career, so I think the most important part is contacting experts.
“Luxembourg is a niche market and we have to network a lot to spread the word.”
Is Luxembourg a good place to start your business?
(Arjana) My project really fits with the Luxembourgish market. Of course, we could scale up and expand in Albania, my homeland, and to other universities, but the starting point is here.
(Himadri) With our project, we are addressing a problem that all students are facing. So, I would say it’s easier to start in Luxembourg since we already have the right contacts. But our main audience is in India, especially regarding education. Our market is there.
(Prasad) We have to think about Luxembourg but also the global market. Our project needs all students. We have to go global and dream big.
(Selvi) We must start with Luxembourg and help the students of the University of Luxembourg first. Then we will think about scaling up the project.
(Joni) Our platform has international potential. Luxembourg is a niche market and we have to network a lot to spread the word. Then the second target will be developed countries and then my home country, which is underdeveloped and education is important!
(Mike) We don’t have any reason to limit it to Luxembourg. Every single student should have access to it.
“I was really surprised how big the ecosystem actually was. There is definitely an ecosystem here.”
What did you previously know about the startup ecosystem?
(Arjana) It was not new for me. However, now I’m more exposed to how it works and to different people who are in the field. The Startup Weekend was a good starting point to connect with people.
(Himadri) For me, it was definitely new. Ideation Camp was my first experience and I did not expect it to be like this. I used to watch tech competitions or hackathons happening in the US and I was so inspired. I didn’t know we actually have these events in Luxembourg as well.
(Prasad) It’s new! I knew there were startup weekends in India and Estonia. I didn’t know of anything here; only the Ideation Camp initiative.
(Selvi) I arrived in Luxembourg a few months ago so it’s very new for me.
(Joni) Coming from a family with a background in economics, it wasn’t the first time I saw this kind of entrepreneurship. We also had it in my home country, Kosovo. I’ve already been exposed to it a bit. My first experience was through the Ideation Camp, where I learned how to structure ideas.
(Mike) It was completely new. I was really surprised how big it actually was. It’s really beneficial to drive innovation and try to improve the world, proposing solutions that can solve problems. There is definitely an ecosystem here.
“The next steps are to build the website and then scale and build the app. This is mainly on the technical side.”
What are the next steps for your projects?
(Arjana) In our case, the idea is to set up the framework and see if we can legally start something. If not, we will find another option with somebody else’s support to keep the project alive. The next steps are to build the website and then scale and build the app. This is mainly on the technical side. Afterwards, we will start negotiating with companies and create job opportunities.
Hire Student, connects students from the University with the private sector’s part-time jobs (legally 10 hours/week). It’s not that easy for students to find them today and many companies are not aware that this type of contract exists. This will let companies find someone to help with specific tasks. It will also help students get some financial independence during their studies.
(Himadri) CheckMath is a platform for students who are 12 or older that provides mentoring in mathematics problem solving. It provides real-time guidance as students solve problems step by step. The app does not provide the steps but examines how students are solving it and alerts them if the student is going in the wrong direction. Throughout my childhood, I dealt with the same issue while solving a math problem. I got it wrong and there were no explanations. I was frustrated and gave up most of the time. Now, we always keep CheckMath in mind and apply it to other issues we are facing in our lives. We will keep it up!