We all have ideas how one or another situation could be improved. Often we do not think beyond the idea or even if we do, we immediately run into obstacles. But there are always people who have an irresistible desire to find out whether the idea creates value for many and is also a business opportunity. They differ from dreamers in their determination and willingness to risk, and confidence in their success. All these qualities combined form the startup mindset, which is discussed below by Maret Ahonen, Manager of the UT sTARTUp Lab and leader of STARTERtartu programme.
Although the emergency situation slowed down our usual activities, it also immediately triggered new approaches in both business and education. At times, there was no time to think about alternatives, as the speed of offering new solutions became important. A number of new services and products appeared on the market. Good examples of quick response were also Hack the Crisis and The Global Hack, led by Garage48. These hackathons resulted in a number of prototypes and technological solutions for coping with the new reality. While not all solutions may prove sustainable, the practical experience and the lessons learned are still valuable.
All who joined the STARTERtartu programme this spring got a unique learning experience. The participants had just been inspired by each other’s ideas and set up their teams, when the emergency situation was announced. The emergency situation struck the teams while they were conducting interviews and surveys with potential customers and trying to formulate their initial value proposition. The university switched to distance learning and many foreign students returned to their home countries. For some teams, it meant communicating in different time zones.
The new team leaders learned amazingly fast to keep their teams stick to the goal, however vague, through online communication. They had to get to know their team members and deal with differences of opinion. At the same time, they had their everyday studies, which meant that the teams often worked on weekends, in the evenings and sometimes at night. This was a great challenge, but belief in the business opportunity of their idea and the desire to follow a path that no one had taken before made the teams work.
I think that the belief in success and the enthusiasm to test out your idea is an expression of the mindset characteristic to creators of high-flying business ideas. And this spring, it stood out particularly clearly. Even if some participants felt a slight decrease in motivation, there was no confusion. The teams continued to test their ideas with extraordinary enthusiasm. In most cases, isolation was perceived as a challenge to strengthen communication between team members in validating their idea. In the limited external environment, teams quickly understood what they can do and what they cannot. Mentors’ support was crucial at this point and helped the teams to find focus in the critical situation. In addition to the STARTER thematic webinars, the participants had free access to global expertise, and they actively made use of this opportunity.
Within a few months, each member of the STARTER programme experienced in their own way the magic and the pain of starting a business. In addition, they gained a lot of contacts and confidence, as well as the courage to act quickly, regardless of the situation and the vagueness of the idea. It is pleasant that according to the participants’ feedback, the gained experience of learning and success were very important for them. The bright eyes of the students are the best feedback for the sTARTUp Lab of the University of Tartu as the leader of the programme. Also, the participants’ words that now they know how the startup world works and if they fail with implementing one idea, they will have the courage to start work on another.
Courage to act and willingness to take risks
In my opinion, the startup mindset is expressed, besides curiosity, in the courage to act and not wait for the better times. The courage to start realising the dream of a product or service that does not yet exist requires the willingness to deal with setbacks and vulnerability. Vulnerability is not a manifestation of weakness, but rather showing one’s real face and taking off the mask of a superhero. The courage to act, take risks and be who you really are will be useful in every situation, even if the university degree does not immediately secure the job of your dreams. Not everyone is a risk-taker by nature and wants to work under pressure, but every organisation welcomes warm and genuine people who can come up with innovative ideas and solutions and take action to implement them.
Before entering work life, it is worth experiencing to what extent you can apply the startup mindset and actually do something in cooperation with others, during your university studies already. In the STARTER programme, participants learn to act:
- in a situation of uncertainty, which is characteristic of almost every startup business who is still looking for its business model;
- in a turnaround situation; for example, if in the course of product development it turns out that no one but the author of the idea needs the planned product, and it is reasonable to quickly work out a new idea;
- in a team of people with different skills and knowledge, where you have to respect different opinions and communicate with different personalities.
The STARTER programme starts again. You are welcome to join the programme spring 2021 semester in Tartu, Tallinn, Kohtla-Järve or Haapsalu. Check the opening events here!
Photo of Maret Ahonen from Lufthansa magazine