This is a unique opportunity for innovative and forward-thinking people to set up their own start-ups—with the dream of coming up with a new Google, Facebook or Apple! After many years of observing and advising on students’ start-ups, I have developed my own formula, which I call SEEDS: Scrutinize, Explore, Evaluate, Digest and Sell. Here is how to go about it…
SCRUTINIZE the need for your innovative project
What is the common factor between Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg? On the surface the answer is very simple: all of them (and many other successful entrepreneurs) began their iconic projects during their university years and often only with the help of their closest friends. However, we have to dig deep inside their way of thinking, brainstorming and creating to understand the “magic bullet” of their success. Professors and students at business schools around the world have spent thousands of hours to deconstruct the mysteries of their success and to replicate their experience in the new environment.
In my view, the very first step is to scrutinize the environment to assess the needs of your future customers and clients: your classmates and the strata of students around you at your college or university. Indeed, every generation has different needs and only those who are insiders—who are inside this stratum (e.g. millennials among millennials) and are able to scrutinize these needs—can best understand their needs and habits and use this knowledge in building successful business start-ups.
For example, as a part of my classroom exercise, my students – divided into four teams – scrutinized the needs of other students at the university. In the end, after a few weeks of teamwork and in-class and out-of-class discussions, my students-led teams and I came up with several business-worthy ideas. The ideas ranged from a special app for smartphones to inform population about natural disasters in the countryside to the concept of a backpack with a solar panel to charge phones and other gadgets, adapted to the environment and realities of a developing country such as Kazakhstan.
EXPLORE funding opportunities to finalize the ideas
Many years of experience in working with startup projects suggest that the next very important step in converting your idea into a workable start-up is to explore funding opportunities to finalize the ideas into a viable project and—if possible—into a workable prototype.
In the rapidly changing and extremely competitive business environment often it is not enough to just show nice presentation slides and calculations on paper, as it might not work even for the most brilliant and potentially marketable ideas. A workable prototype will greatly increase your chance of success, and therefore it is critically important to explore all existing opportunities for support.
And here the techno-park or business incubator environment might be able to help. During the past two decade, many countries have established business incubators and techno-parks as innovation support institutions with a single mandate: to support innovators and business minded people in various ways to start successful innovation projects and systems or to create industry-science linkages.
For example, most of techno-parks around the world provide space for brainstorming and for writing up business proposals for business projects and regularly organizes various workshops and seminars for students and faculty about various aspects of building start-ups and getting help for most prospective ideas. In fact, of many universities around the world suggest, for example, that the financing of innovative entrepreneurs are built around four major concepts: 1) in-house funds; 2) university-affiliated funds; 4) private alumni funds, and 4) private investment-angels funds.
EVALUATE how much support you need for a start-up project
A very important part of the process of startup development is to realistically evaluate how much support you need for a start-up project. Just remember a historic fact about the importance of comprehensive evaluation: in 1976 Stephen Wozniak, an engineering intern at the Hewlett-Packard (HP) Company, built a prototype of the first personal computer. However, after quick evaluation the HP decided that this idea is not worth of investing and declined the support for the project. Thus, Stephen Wozniak joined Steve Jobs to create the Apple Corporation – the company that is currently about 10 times larger than HP.
One big mistake that start-up beginners make is to focus exclusively on monetary support for their projects. Yet, case studies from many countries suggest the importance of getting many parts of the puzzle together such as the evaluation of market environment for your innovation, human resource support, mass media endorsement, mobilizing focus groups and technical assistance, such as patent application and registration (collaboration with a intellectual property expert or just a professor from a law faculty would make a huge difference).
In any projects, there is a stage when you need to sit down and digest all information you collected, all contacts you approached and all opportunities you explored. This is a very important stage when start-up hopefuls have not only to do the SWOT analysis (assessing Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) but also to decide where and how to move forward. This stage also important to digest wealth of information you collected into a good presentation for yourself and for all your friends, stakeholders and sponsors to get their feedback, comments and suggestions.
Overall, it is important to remember that in building your first startup is equally important to build your first team of your friends and classmates for present and future projects. This combination of intellectual digesting – brainstorming, conceptualizing and working up on your idea and building a team for this and many other projects would help you to be successful in your ventures in creating startups and innovative ideas.
SELL your idea
This is a stage when it is also essential to ask yourself honestly – do you have enough strength, cordage and resources for upscaling and moving forward as a serious once-a-lifetime opportunity? Or – is it a nice startup project successfully completed just for getting the nice experience and expertise in startup business and satisfying own ambition but not enough to become a large break through innovative product? Or is it a powerful idea to sell to more experienced startupers, techno-parks, business incubators or business angels who might have more resources to complete it?
Selling does not mean losing your idea or startup – it means continuing it in a different way and with a different strategy.
Concluding remarks. The most important part of your strategy – to keep your startup idea alive and move forward with your team! Startup success never has an individual face – it is always multifaced! Therefore, there is a need to bring together your friends, colleagues or classmates – who by now probably became your team – to have an open and free conversation about this startup, this decision and may be – about many more new innovative ideas and startups.