Working on a startup while studying. Is it possible to combine these two major time- consuming occupations?
For my thesis this year, I questioned 150 students from Ghent about their thoughts on entrepreneurship. 47% of them indicated that they would consider starting their own company.
Anne De Paepe, principal of the university of Ghent, says that according to an investigation, 10% of students have the potential to become an entrepreneur. When you consider that approximately 70.000 people study in Ghent, that’s a potential of 7000 entrepreneurial students.
What really struck me while analysing the data from the survey, was the percentage of students that are aware of the different steps that are needed to launch their own startup. Only 30% of the questioned students know how to go from an idea to actually launching a startup.
Students think the biggest benefit of being an entrepreneur is being able to do what you love. Followed by the freedom of creativity and being challenged. The biggest downside according to students, seems to be the many administrational tasks involved while setting up your business in the beginning. 50% of the surveyed students are afraid of failure. We live in an age where everything is being shared on social media. What we eat, the people we hang out with, which countries we visit,… But what about bad news? The focus on success stories is too big. We need a culture where it’s OK to fail and learn from it.
Dries Van Langenhove’s Journey with WINFRI
To get a look behind the scenes of how it is to work on your own startup whilst studying, I interviewed Dries Van Langenhove, CEO of Winfri.
Winfri provides a platform where people can get rid of stuff they aren’t using anymore, by giving it away for free. At the same time, Winfri users can win cool products/services from companies in their neighbourhood.
Winfri was founded after Dries realized that freecyle Facebook groups weren’t the perfect medium to give stuff away because of the lack of user convenience. Since +250K people were active on these groups, Dries was certain his idea could count on a large number of users.
Dries founded Winfri together with two other students, with full support of his family and friends. They started discussing their idea to more experienced entrepreneurs before starting on their business plan and developing their website.
The Belgian startup ecosystem is a very vibrant one. Startup initiatives and resources are popping out of the ground like mushrooms. Omar Mohout compiled an extensive list on the Belgian start-up ecosystem anno 2014 (link in Dutch). Besides this, Belgian entrepreneurs can find key players on the Startups.be website.
The Winfri team got help from following student entrepreneur initiatives: Durf Ondernemen & Student Ghentrepreneur. Both of them provide guidance to students with entrepreneurial mindsets in Ghent. Winfri is also part of the StartIt@KBC network, where they are being supported with mentorship & resources.
Pitching is one of the first words that comes to mind when you think about startups. Winfri pitched their idea at Startup Weekend Leuven, Startit@KBC, Bryo, Durf Ondernemen and at several other events. Dries thinks pitching is fun, but not ideal for an abstract idea like Winfri. Pitching is supposed to be short, fast and clear. Having an abstract idea, doesn’t make it easy to tell your story in a short time frame.
Being An Entrepreneur Involves Taking Risks
Dries shares my opinion on the unwillingness of Belgians to take risks when it comes to entrepreneurship. He says it’s very hard to collect funding in Belgium. People prefer to let companies grow by themselves, instead of helping them accelerate through external funding.
“If an idea in Belgium can’t be fully realised without external funding, then it’s not a good idea according to the standards of many Belgian capital providers.”.
Now, to go back to my initial question, “how’s the combination of founding a company besides studying?”, Dries believes that it depends on the kind of studies you’re doing. He says that 80% of his time is dedicated towards Winfri.
Another survey, aimed at 55 startups, provided me with information about the educational background of start-up founders. 58% of them have a background in economical studies. The Winfri team has backgrounds in law/ political sciences, IT & history.
Dries’ experience with being an entrepreneurial student was different than what he expected. He couldn’t imagine the amount of work that’s required to start your own company. He wouldn’t recommend it to someone who can’t cope well with stress. Because of his ambitious visions and plans, Dries decided that the best way to reach his goals, is to be his own boss.
[clickandtweet handle=”” hashtag=”” related=”” layout=”card” position=””]Being a student entrepreneur isn’t a hobby, but a real full-time job. You learn a lot from the experience and your network grows exponentially.[/clickandtweet]
I would like to thank Dries for his time and wish him the best of luck with his entrepreneurial endeavours!
PS: if you’re located in Belgium, show your support by signing up on Winfri and give stuff you don’t use anymore a second life.