Lessons from four entrepreneurs to students-entrepreneurs

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On April 19th, 2016, we have experienced a rather unique session with four young – and brilliant! – entrepreneurs who shared their experience and passion with our Advanced Master in Innovation & Entrepreneurship students. This was part of the ‘new venture lab’ course headed by Olivier Verdin for 5 months at Solvay, after 5 months in Politechnico di Milano headed Massimo Colombo.

The session went back on many best practices but mainly focused on what it means in the real life of young entrepreneurs. No textbooks here!

The overall Top 10 from the four keynotes is of course not a surprise (there are so many list like this…). But back to basics is sometimes good:

  1. It is all about your team, culture and values.  Entrepreneurship is about… entrepreneurs.
  2. As entrepreneur, you have to fit a new tie every day, from ideation to scaling-up.
  3. First thing first: focus on customers needs and their early wins
  4. Then: sell, sell, sell. Manage your funnel. Remember: no sales, no business.
  5. Bootstrap as much as you can at the very beginning.
  6. Focus is key. Decide about what you do and don’t do. Learn to say ‘no’.
  7. Up-sell, cross-sell and get referrals to grow your venture
  8. Go international asap. Belgium is really a very small country.
  9. Execution, discipline, analytics, time-management, and structuring are much more important than planning
  10. Be ready for the roller-coaster: it is about up’s but also many down’s.

Discussions after the presentations raised challenging questions on topics such as:

  • Balance between focus and ability to pivot
  • How to pick the very first customers
  • How to convince more experienced and networked people to join the adventure
  • How to set prices
  • How to protect idea / product
  • How to pick a company name and make sense of it

Of course no definitive answers here.  Maybe for another top 10!

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Additionally, each speaker made personal insights on how and why they became entrepreneurs and highlighted that there are multiple routes to entrepreneurship:

  • Olivier Simonis from Qualifio talked about starting at 40 and how to escape from the ‘golden cage’.
  • Jonathan Alzetta and Sebastien Lebbe from Wooclap explained how they started the project during the Startlab initiative from Solvay Entrepreneurs. They talked about how to start just after graduation.
  • Thibaut Dehem from 87 seconds went about becoming entrepreneur while it was not his main intention when he was student at Solvay (too bad for my course? Not clear actually :-).
  • Boris Demaria from Woorank explained how the company started and still grows without any dedicated sales force but professional inbound marketing.

Overall they all stressed that start-up is really great but tough! The idea that “start-up culture is cool” is misleading. Stop fantasies. Deliver.

This was a vivid discussion! Everyboby is welcome to comment and contribute. Anyway, a big thank you to Olivier (x2), Jonathan, Sebastien, Thibaut and Boris!

– Olivier Witmeur, Academic Director of the Advanced Master in Innovation and Entrepreneurship.