Engage Talk Recap: Becoming a student entrepreneur

By Tina Larsen

At universities around the country, there are various offers aimed at inspiring and helping students realize their business idea. Maiken Nilsen Stenaker from Engage at Nord University had a talk with the leader of Spark* NTNU Rasmus Thunem and the entrepreneurs Siw-Cathrine Braa and Michal Meyer Nilssen about how they used their time during their studies to realize their entrepreneurial dream. Rasmus, Siw-Cathrine and Michal have all started a business while studying and in this Engage Talk they will talk about the benefits and opportunities of realizing your business idea while still being a student.

Benefits of becoming a student entrepreneur

Many people may think that becoming an entrepreneur and starting a business while being a student are difficult and that they will fail due to the lack of experience. However, Siw-Cathrine points out several benefits of becoming an entrepreneur while being a student.

“First of all, you will always have an income because of the student loan. That is not necessary the case once you’re starting a business after you have finished your education”, says Siw-Cathrine. The student loan can thus be regarded as a safety net. Secondly, she mentions that you learn how to become efficient as you have to balance both studying and starting a business. This is a skill that is wanted in all kinds of jobs. In addition, even though you’re starting your own business, you will at the end of your studies have a degree.

In the worst-case scenario, you end up with a degree and no company and at best you end up with your dream job.

Siw-Cathrine Braa

What she herself has benefited from the most is the huge network you get access to through the university. Combine, her startup-company, got access to a developer which was an expertise that they needed. Michal points out that you do not have to know everything yourself. He expanded his team after attending Join A Startup Night (JASUN) arranged by Spark* Nord. JASUN is an event where student startups can meet students interested in joining a startup. You do not need to hold all the answers yourself. In addition, he agrees with Siw-Cathrine that being an entrepreneur gives you an important ability. “Every business or organization needs a change agent, so even if you do not succeed you will learn something valuable”, says Michal. Learning the “entrepreneurial mindset” are therefore important in an ever changing labour market.

How to create a good environment for entrepreneurs and startups at universities

As we mentioned, there are various offers aimed at inspiring and helping students realize their business idea. “Spark* NTNU is a free advisory service for students with a business idea or who wants to join a startup”, says Rasmus. In addition to this they hold events like JASUN and FuckUp Nigth. They also provide funding through TrønderEnergi-bidraget, which is a grant intended to be the first financial contribution a start-up project from NTNU receives and will help to take a business idea from a thought to a real product. Siw-Cathrine and her business Combine got a contribution from TrønderEnergi-bidraget. Rasmus also mention that Spark* NTNU are working to launch a co-working space.

What has been important for Michal and Siw-Cathrine is the culture of sharing and helping each other. “It is important to create unity, to have supporters and someone cheering you on”, says Michal. There should be no “pointed elbows” in these environments. Rasmus says that Spark* could be “a door opener” to the networks who has knowledge.

Unforeseen challenges will always arise but through a network you could meet people who have been in the same situation and that can give you advice.

Rasmus Thunem

Connecting with the right people

When it comes to realizing your business idea, you will be dependent on contacting and collaborating with others. “There are always people who have knowledge, so it’s important to find these and talk to them”, says Rasmus. In addition to this he points out that “you have more knowledge than you think you have”.

Michal says that “you often have the assumption that you can’t contact people because they are higher up”. His experience, however, shows that people are very happy to make contact, they feel important and appreciated. “It is important to dare and take contact”, says Michal. You depend on getting access to resources, such as finance, knowledge, etc. “You don’t have to be good at everything, but you need to connect with the right people needed to succeed with your business idea”, Michal says.

Summing up

“Starting a business while still being a student is a valid opportunity”, says Rasmus. “You have the opportunity to create your dream job. Creating your own job can be a very good idea, especially now with COVID-19 due to the market uncertainty”, he says. Michal agrees and says that it is a golden opportunity right now. “The labour market are changing and we need more and new jobs. If you want to take a chance there are some good conditions for that right now”, he says. Siw-Cathrine says “go ahead” but that you should do something that you like to do, something you are passionate about and that drives you.

If you want to see the Engage Talk you can watch the video below. The next Engage Talk will be on the 11th of June and the theme will be about entrepreneurship and gender.