Which challenges are you facing as a young entrepreneur? How does the University of Luxembourg help you with those challenges?
ALBERTO NORONHA (FOUNDER OF NIUM)
“Making plans is always a challenge. A year ago you might have had a plan but today we live in a completely different world! All that planning becomes almost useless. As a startup, how can you prepare? Adapting to this reality was very difficult, that was not my background. While before I focused on science, being an entrepreneur is also about being agile and adapting to change while keeping an ambitious vision for your company. We benefit a lot from staying at the Incubator. It gives us a soft start and easy transition from being a student or a researcher to becoming an entrepreneur.”
Find out more nium.io
TAHEREH PAZOUK (FOUNDER OF MAGRID)
“One of the biggest challenges is that I’m for the moment alone working on my startup and I see opportunities but I am still one person and it is a lot of work for one person. I am trying to find a partner or a teammate who might not be as passionate as me but at least not a sleeping partner. Because I heard a lot from other friends who started business, that it is better to do it on your own rather than having a sleeping partner. As an entrepreneur, you mostly find yourself alone and knowing that there are people at University of Luxembourg Incubator who you can just write or call and talk to them, share your problems – this is really nice.”
Find out more magrid.lu
FILIP WESTERLUND (CO-FOUNDER OF OUR CHOICE FASHION)
“The main challenge is definitely having to operate without any funds at all. I had to do almost everything on my own which to me is not a big issue but of course I only have 24 hours in a day. I am also not an expert in a lot of fields but I still have to do it, like programming my own website, for example. With University of Luxembourg Incubator and its VMS I managed to accelerate the business in a way that I could never have done by myself. The network has been great and that is also thanks to the Incubator. Lately things were difficult for everyone because of the COVID so the most important thing was the support, even from a distance: knowing that I can always email or text, no matter what I needed, I could always turn to Incubator.”
Find our more ourchoicefashion.com
HIMADRI PATHAK (FOUNDER OF CHECKMATH)
“The Ideation Camp was the reason why I started my own business, without that I would not have the confidence to do it. I think the biggest challenge to me as a founder is that I have a technical background and transitioning into the business route was the most difficult part. I am still learning of marketing, sales and strategy. Even before I hire someone, I feel the need to have a good understanding of their field so that I can guide them better and make good decisions for the company. And so, learning all of that from scratch and making mistakes along the way, is the biggest challenge. My support and learning comes from the VMS and I am very grateful to be a part of it. I always feel so lucky to have had such inspiring mentors!”
Find out more checkmath.eu
MARA KROTH (CO-FOUNDER GOLDENME)
“The lack of time is a big problem for us. I’m still a student and involved in different initiatives and so is my co-founder, so we don’t have the personal resources to go full-time on our company. I’m also a Global Shaper at the Luxembourg City Hub which is a youth organization connected to the World Economic Forum. I am involved with TEDx University of Luxembourg as a host and I have my studies… It’s not that I am not happy the advancement of GoldenMe, still, there is room for more. The staff and mentors from the Incubator have always been very helpful and providing us with information from the ecosystem, etc. Especially the participation in the VMS has been more than useful for us: our mentors as an external point of view have a different sense of what should be the next step. They see our progress and the challenges we face while still having in mind where we were standing a few months ago. Their objectivity is extremely valuable for us and of course the constructive feedback which we really need.”
Find out more goldenme.me
SEBASTIEN DE LANDTSHEER (FOUNDER OF DEEPBIOMODELING)
“My biggest challenge at the moment is the one of the reputation, I would say. I am alone in the company without a partner. I do not have a lot of very high impact publications so I need a network and this is what I am working on at the moment. It is great to have nearly free office while being in the environment of other entrepreneurs of the University of Luxembourg Incubator. Another plus is a guidance in terms of a seasoned business plan by VMS.”
Find out more deepbiomodeling.com
The first part of this article was first published in Silicon Luxembourg magazine. Find out more testimonials from the incubator’s team below. Read our full Digital Entrepreneurship edition.
SIVA BACTAVATCHALOU (MANAGER OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP PROGRAM)
There are so many reasons to start a business while still being a student: putting your learning into practice, building an instant professional network, gaining these so-called transversal skills (communication, leadership, out-of-the box thinking, creativity, etc.). No wonder that some students are catching the entrepreneurial bug.
However, many of them regardless of their level and field of studies are afraid to make this move. Many lack self-confidences or are overloaded with studies which leaves little room for creativity. Some are not sure if they will be able to convince others with the product or service while competing with big companies. For many of our students becoming a female founder is still a big concern, while for others it is a lack of technical skills and feeling that the world is changing so rapidly that it’s difficult to keep up. Though the most dreadful reason we often hear from our students for not starting a business is the lack of “good enough” idea: something original, cheaper or better than what is already in the market, something completely new which is too crazy or too difficult to implement “for an amateur like me”…
We listen to them and establish a firm structure of how we could help our students to better explore entrepreneurship opportunities and eventually start their own venture. It all starts with the Entrepreneurship Programme which encourages across all the three faculties and three research centers of the University the spirit of entrepreneurship. Some of our courses, like Ideation Camp and JumpStart, help them to turn their ideas into actual product or service that address a real customer pain important to the local ecosystem. As these courses are integrated into some bachelor and master curriculum and provide credits towards their degree, students can get a taste of entrepreneurship while still studying.
We are also very lucky to be supported by industry, corporate entrepreneurship and startup ecosystems in Luxembourg and beyond which brings entrepreneurship experience and network connections. Students get more hands-on learning experiences and this is fantastic for them to be surrounded by all these experts and industry leaders as it gives them the self-confidence which they are still lacking.
Our goal with Entrepreneurship Programme is to help students learn by doing. If their venture or project idea fails, they can still consider this journey as a learning experience. Moreover, as the COVID pandemic has impacted all of us, it also made two skills highly relevant and required by many employers today: digital and working from home. With the support of the University of Luxembourg which speeds up the digital transformation, we have successfully integrated those skills as learning outcomes in our courses (like a fully online Ideation Camp 7).
Last but not least, our many successful female founders and their stories which we share with our students in response to their concerns, inspire them and demonstrate how far an idea can go in the hands of a talented female leader.
While we would like to become the next entrepreneurial hotspot, what matters to us the most is an opportunity to inspire and empower students to become innovative leaders and engaged citizens contributing to the economic and societal development in the region in its digital future.
PRANJUL SHAH (MANAGER OF UNIVERSITY OF LUXEMBOURG INCUBATOR)
Every ‘crisis’ ends in ‘opportunity’ – in Chinese these two words even mean the same. Change brings chaos and for the ones prepared, it can also bring an enormous fortune. The COVID-19 crisis has been extremely unsettling and chaotic time for our students and startups alike. While many startups have failed to meet their targets, numerous new ventures sprung to life on account of the new wave of opportunities that emerged during pandemic.
As we mark one year of lockdowns in Luxembourg, looking back it has strangely been a very successful year for the University of Luxembourg Incubator. What we witnessed was textbook display of resilience by our startuppers who didn’t let this crisis dampen their spirits and opted to overcome the challenges with innovative approach, riding on the back of their recently acquired entrepreneurial skills. It is thus not surprising that our startup was the first to place a bulk order for FFP2 masks in January 2020, 3 months before the first lockdown was imposed in Luxembourg. As masks became part of routine life, it led to birth of Maskin, Europe’s first startup offering skin-tone masks. Both of these startups have since sold thousands of masks within Luxembourg.
When the lockdowns started to disrupt our lives, number of startups pivoted from their business model to come up with unique solutions to serve the unmet needs of the population. Fit4Start winner Nium identified the imminent needs to ensure that people continued to eat healthy foods and came up with a new product offering Nutrida, an app which does not only tackle the problem of nutrition but also enables vulnerable individuals to get groceries delivered to their doorstep selected from tailored recipes curated by nutritionists. In the midst of the pandemic two of our other startups – F4A and EduGamiTec – managed to raise venture finance, clearly signaling that for good projects there is always funding. LetzMath, the first Luxembourgish winner of the World Summit Awards, launched MaGrid, a language-neutral pedagogical app for improving the development of early visual-spatial and mathematical abilities. Another Fit4Start winner, CheckMath, accelerated their market adoption to over 5000 schools worldwide by an active push of their unique mathematical problem checking app.
The challenges were not only limited to the startups. The Incubator itself had to adapt to the new reality and met the expectations of support for the needs of the ventures. As a first step all support mechanisms and services offered to the startups were moved to digital format. The Incubator’s Venture Mentoring Service (VMS) rapidly transitioned into online mode with the support of dedicated mentors. To enhance the mentoring experience, Incubator developed the first of its kind mentoring app. The VMS app is the world’s first mentoring service management solution which automates the entire operational know-how. Imagine a bundle of Doodle, Whatsapp, Zoom, Survey Monkey, Dropbox, Meeting Manager and Linkedin – all in one integrated solution. This versatile app was devised to reduce the administrative workload to below 70% allowing the VMS team to focus completely on supporting the startups. Without physical events it is challenging to reach out to our community of startups and students, thus we opened new digital channels like targeted newsletters to reach out and connect with our community. In order to tackle isolation of our startuppers, the Incubator launched the digital townhall initiative to bring startups together for updates and ensuring continuous peer support to all our students and community members.
In ecological terms, scientists believe that the diversity of its members makes a community more resilient to changes. In similar sense, we are proud at Incubator that the diversity of our fast-growing community of startups, gleamed through as our strength and allowed us to reach new heights despite of all the challenges. And while doing so, we didn’t forget to give back to the Luxembourgish startup ecosystem which continues to be our lifeline, our pillar.