Hard science students with a business idea could create future jobs for themselves and others, but even failing is valuable for a student entrepreneur. The skills a student picks up while working on their start-up is equally useful for a career in entrepreneurship, in academia or in the commercial job market, says Dorthe Lynnerup, who has headed SCIENCE innovation Hub for the past year. The Hub recently presented a new, systematised approach to helping student start-ups. By Jes Andersen.
Standardised start-up advice
During 2017, almost a hundred hopeful entrepreneurs went through the Hub-programme at University of Copenhagen, Faculty of SCIENCE. The Hub is located in Copenhagen Science City, and here the university offers office-space with opportunities to share knowledge with other aspiring entrepreneurs. Apart from giving the students a chair and a desk, Lynnerup has also systematised the various forms of advice relevant to the individual stages of a start-up company’s life cycle.
“A lot of our student entrepreneurs come in the door with only a vague idea of a problem that needs solving. We give them tools to develop their idea, understand their customers, find funding and set a team… Or to kill their idea, if there are no customers for it”, says Dorthe Lynnerup.
Courses in charting customer needs
Understanding the needs of the customer is central to any business plan. It is also the most difficult aspect. Lynnerup encourages all students at the hub to interview prospective customers in person, but not before filling out a so-called “Empathy Map”, charting the perceived needs of an idealised customer. The combined insights into the customer’s mind-set is priceless for further business maturing, but thinking about customers is also a skill highly prized by commercial employers.
Money; and how to find it
Talking to customers also helps the entrepreneurs refine the way they describe their product. This is helpful for the next step: Finding funding. SCIENCE hub has developed a programme to help entrepreneurs polish their pitch to prospective investors. And it works.
In 2017 SCIENCE hub’sters have won two of the just 20 national spaces at Innovation Fund Denmark’s so-called Innofounder Incubator. They have won four of 60 spaces in a national start-up programme run by “Akademikernes A-Kasse” (AKA Startup) and four spaces in other external entreprenurship-programmes. Even students who found no funding gained insights into fundraising, which will be valuable in an academic career.
High turnover, satisfactory outcomes
Through 2017, 98 students have gone through the Hub’s programme. Another 2,600 learned about entrepreneurship when Lynnerup and her team gave presentations, held coffee meetings and counselled one-on-one. All together 14 teams have found funding, entered competitions or participated in external programmes, and Lynnerup is very happy with that number.
“We are working with ideas at an extremely early stage. My job is to promote innovation and entrepreneurship among SCIENCE-students, so it is extremely important not to kill an idea before the student has explored it extensively. Exploring a business idea instils a mind-set and gives the student an added understanding of such concepts as revenue streams, customer focus, value propositions and so on. A student who understands these things is well prepared for any future career… Even if their first business failed”, concludes Dorthe Lynnerup.
Several university hubs cater to variety of study programmes
Apart from mentoring students with start-up ideas, SCIENCE Innovation Hub also hopes to help the young businesses recruit other students for open positions. SCIENCE Innovation Hub is one of three entrepreneurship hubs run by University of Copenhagen. The other two are SUND Hub run by the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences and KU Plus (Homepage in Danish) which is anchored in Faculty of the Humanities.