In the second part of our Diary of a Student Entrepreneur 2021 series, our young founders grapple with the realities and challenges of networking in a time of remote working.

Every summer LaunchBox, Trinity’s student accelerator, offers 10 start-ups €10,000 in equity-free funding and a place on the three-month programme. Follow how these fledgling start-ups get on 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 start-up ventures.

“Hearing the stories of other co-founders within the Irish start-up ecosystem has made me realise that this feeling is universal; every entrepreneur will go through a stage of feeling like an imposter”

This is the ninth year of LaunchBox, and the second year that the programme is running online.

Diarmuid McGonagle, co-founder, Fonz Music

Young man wearing bandana.

“I’ve learned it takes a community to build a company. The Irish ecosystem is the community Fonz Music has neede”

For being a major city, Dublin exemplifies a small town. Since getting involved in the Irish start-up ecosystem, I’ve only been met with open arms. Interested in the NDRC programme after being referred to them by the Irish Students Consulting Group (ISCG), I attended their pre-accelerator showcase. I was astounded by the quality of the start-ups and decided to connect with their founders virtually on LinkedIn.

Every founder I reached out to graciously received my message and immediately started teaching me the tools of the trade. Edel Lyons of Rag Revolution informed me of the excellent opportunities through Enterprise Ireland. Gavin Duffy of trigr gave me insights into the Irish music scene. Paul Finlay of Hiiker & Stephen Griffiths of Zhrum both offered me free access to their platforms. The Irish ecosystem is not just impressive; it is friendly and committed to looking out for founders.

And all of that was before LaunchBox properly got started. Since the programme kicked off, my networking has been put into hyper-drive. I’m now armed with two important factors:

  1. Doors are waiting to be opened
  2. LaunchBox is dedicated to showing which doors should be opened first.

However, this was not always Fonz Music’s way of conducting business. Like any other confident startup team, we thought our team of four could do it all. We didn’t need outside investment, we could bootstrap and invest our revenue. We didn’t need feedback from our customers; we ARE our target demographic anyways. We didn’t need to hear what the grown-ups have to say about our startup, we know better than them.

We couldn’t have been more wrong.

I’ve learned it takes a community to build a company. The Irish ecosystem is the community Fonz Music has needed.

Heather Bruton, co-founder, UniPeer

Young woman in coffee shop.

“One thing that has been unique about my entrepreneurial journey is that I’m experiencing it all from my kitchen table”

The LaunchBox 2021 programme has officially begun and I have hit the ground running. From talks with founders to Zoom social sessions with the other teams, these first few weeks have been full of new faces, ideas, and many pages of notes. 

One thing that has been unique about my entrepreneurial journey is that I’m experiencing it all from my kitchen table. It is strange to first encounter the Irish startup ecosystem through the realm of Zoom, LinkedIn and email. Sometimes I worry I’m missing out on that organic networking that can only happen in person. However, with everyone operating remotely because of the pandemic, I have the opportunity to reach much further afield for connections. It is amazing how willing people are to help if you just ask.

Last week we were lucky enough to hear from Devan Hughes, CEO and Founder of Buymie. Before his talk, our team was struggling to prioritise tasks when it felt like there was a mountain of work ahead of us. Do we focus on our social media presence? Or on developing the platform?

It all clicked into place when Hughes advised us not to write a single line of code until we validated our idea. This means talking to as many customers as possible to get an idea of what our target market thinks and wants. Conducting the first customer development (CustDev) session for UniPeer really drove this point home.

For me, this CustDev session has been the highlight of the LaunchBox programme so far. I was overwhelmed by the feedback we received and it really helped determine the features students want from UniPeer. My next step is to conduct more focus groups and surveys to ensure UniPeer is first and foremost a user-focused platform.

Evan Mcgloughlin, co-founder, Diglot

Young man with dark hair wearing white shirt.

“Bit by bit I’m gaining the confidence I need to make public mistakes, learn, iterate and repeat”

“Be purposeful with your time and treat every job like a Master’s degree”- words that resonated with me spoken by Devan Hughes, CEO of Buymie, who gave a riveting talk to the LaunchBox cohort last week. This attitude towards constantly upskilling, and evaluating things based on how much can be learned from each experience is an essential skill that I have gained through my personal experience running a startup. Nobody knows what they are doing when they start – perhaps they never truly know what they are doing.

This is something I struggled with early on, I felt like I wasn’t being efficient with my time and even though I was working long hours, I wasn’t accomplishing what I wanted to get done. A paradigm shift for me throughout my entrepreneurial journey was to not solely focus on work product output but instead being purposeful about taking lessons and learning from everything I do.

A real struggle for us when setting up Diglot without any technological background was how we were going to get a website that was reasonably inoffensive. For many weeks we received complaints about glitches, bugs and overall difficulty with the experience of purchasing a book from our website. I felt equal parts ashamed and incompetent that I didn’t possess the skills necessary to build a top tier website.

Hearing the stories of other co-founders within the Irish start-up ecosystem has made me realise that this feeling is universal; every entrepreneur will go through a stage of feeling like an imposter. These founders speak of their trials and tribulations with such candour, and it has been immensely helpful for me in looking at how I tackle obstacles and challenges. Bit by bit I’m gaining the confidence I need to make public mistakes, learn, iterate and repeat.

Published: 21 June 2021