Diary of a student entrepreneur 2020, part 2

This summer, 10 start-ups from Trinity are taking part in the LaunchBox accelerator programme. This is the eighth year of LaunchBox, but the first year that the programme is running online. Follow these students on their entrepreneurial journey here.

 

LaunchBox, in partnership with Bank of Ireland, and managed by experts in Tangent, Trinity’s Ideas Workspace at Trinity College Dublin, provides mentorship, funding, access to alumni and investors, and the ideal collaborative environment to launch new startup ventures.

To get a sense of the calibre of these start-ups, check out their video pitches.

Lauren O’Reilly, co-founder of ProMotion, Pharmacy student

auburn-haired woman smiling.

“The supports available to us through the LaunchBox programme has been phenomenal”

I’m Lauren, co-founder of ProMotion, a platform which allows brands to use people’s own private bicycles as a medium for increasing brand exposure, whilst rewarding cyclists for cycling.

I would be surprised, and to be quite honest, disappointed if a week went by, where our start-up team didn’t have some kind of challenge or hurdle to overcome. One that comes to mind, is the process of conducting market research.

At a time when I cannot simply walk onto the streets of Dublin, and chat to cyclists about our initiative, we have had to be extra creative, and lean on the supports available to us through LaunchBox, to be able to reach both cyclists (potential service users) and customers alike. Thankfully, through our network and using tools like LinkedIn, Zoom and various forums associated with the college, we have been able to reach these people, albeit less organically.

The supports available to us through the LaunchBox programme has been phenomenal. I have enjoyed hearing from various entrepreneurs, who graciously shared their wins and failures in equal measure, and how often the journey to funding an idea can be a bumpy road, which is a little nerve-wracking for us thinking of our future, but hearing others share their stories helps.

One of the key takeaways that stuck with me, from a speaker on the accelerator so far, was from Ken Finnegan, CEO of Tangent, who encouraged us to ask the crazy questions. Since then, we have been asking every question, no matter how crazy it may seem, and as a result, have been getting much more from our one-to-one conversations and mentors. Surprisingly, the people we have asked didn’t think they were crazy and loved our outside-the-box style of thinking and energy.

David Weitbrecht, co-founder Rezero, Creative Thinking & Entrepreneurship graduate

dark-haired man in white shirt.

“The key is to listen and to continue asking the clarifying and probing questions to understand the problem”

I don’t think there is one specific challenge in starting your own business, it’s like weeding: no sooner have you pulled one, two more have appeared. One of the biggest challenges is the volume and variety of new challenges, which pop up daily. I solve these challenges in a standard enough manner: by first consulting with Google. Failing that, I ask someone who I think will know more about the subject and will probably have an answer!

Something I find stressful about contemplating the future of our company is the fear of the unknown. However, this is out of our control so I focus on controlling the controllables. The right type of stress can be good; it forces us out of our comfort zone to take on a new challenge. As Marcus Aurelius loosely said: “The impediment to action advances action. The obstacle becomes the way.”

One of the best takeaways so far on LaunchBox is to continuously speak to customers to avoid building something nobody wants. The conversations should be focused on understanding their current pains, the solution they currently use and how important the problem is. The key is to listen and to continue asking the clarifying and probing questions to understand the problem. This insight can then be used to shape, alter and validate your solution.

Each week of LaunchBox brings a new panel of speakers and workshops. As always, I look forward to next week’s learnings.

Liam Lysaght, co-founder FiltraCycle, Engineering student

Red-haired man in white shirt and patterned tie.

“Developing a lean business mindset has allowed us to save money where possible, and spend it on more important things”

My favourite challenge since starting FiltraCycle was developing our recycling method with no lab, no equipment, and no money. Our first experiments were run in a rubbish-filled garden behind my co-founder’s student flat. To keep costs down I bought pickle jars instead of actual beakers. As an environmental startup that is opposed to food waste, I did try to get our CFO to eat all the pickles, but he refused.

To scale up I borrowed broken lab equipment off a friendly professor, and used summer job income to buy gas masks and safety equipment. Rather than trying to raise funds and throw money at our problems, we salvaged creatively and cut costs. Developing a lean business mindset has allowed us to save money where possible, and spend it on more important things (like safety).

The thing I find most stressful when contemplating the future of the company is the issue of health and safety in our recycling facility. Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 extremely toxic substances that shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near human beings (never mind in their lungs). Seeing the carcinogenic black sludge that we extract from cigarette butts when we make our plastic is genuinely terrifying, and I worry about making sure no one working for FiltraCycle ever comes into contact with it. 

My best takeaway from any LaunchBox speaker so far has actually been repeated by several of them: send out update emails. If people aren’t reminded at least once a month that you exist, they’ll forget all about your cool new way to recycle cigarette butts. Be sure to stay at the top of their inbox!

Published: 7 July, 2020