Diary of a student entrepreneur: The power of networks

In the latest in our Diary of a Student Entrepreneur series, as final pitch day approaches, our student entrepreneurs from Launchbox at Trinity College Dublin reflect on the power of networking.

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

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

Maria Cairns, Verify a Vendor

Woman inset on image of busy street kitchen.

“The current array of trailblazing female entrepreneurs in Ireland is both inspiring and empowering”

Being a member of an accelerator programme cohort offers unique advantages. Although our businesses differ greatly in nature and maturity, we gain so much from each other’s insights and feedback. The diversity within our cohort enriches the collective skill set and knowledge base. It’s great to be able to get a fresh perspective on day-to-day problems, especially when working within a small team.

Our recent peer-to-peer sessions have been enlightening. Seeing issues from a different angle often makes tackling challenges much simpler. Analysing another startup often lends clarity and fresh perspective to Verify a Vendor. In addition to this, it’s great to witness the progression of peers, like those transitioning from version 1 to version 2 of their product or adopting varied sales strategies. It also is useful to visualise the challenges that one will face down the line.

A distinct advantage of Ireland’s entrepreneurial landscape is its close-knit nature. The minimal degrees of separation have, in my experience, fostered generous networking opportunities. So many people have been so generous with their time, resources and connections. I think it’s fantastic to be part of an ecosystem where paying it forward is so commonplace. Although the Irish ecosystem can be criticised for its small size, I think it provides a good test bed for trialling a new product, prior to entering larger markets.

Programmes and accelerators have proven invaluable for connecting with kindred spirits. For instance, the youth accelerator, Patch, introduced me to an amazing group. From current students to recent graduates, all are united by their passion for innovation.

I must also highlight the growing support and networks for women in entrepreneurship, such as the Techfoundher initiative by Mairin Murray and the Women in Entrepreneurship network at Dogpatch Labs. It’s heartening to witness the increasing representation of female entrepreneurs in what’s often perceived as a male-skewed sector. The current array of trailblazing female entrepreneurs in Ireland is both inspiring and empowering.

Robert Davitt, Hebe Adventures

Man inset on image of a person by a waterfall.

“To find our future teammates networking is mandatory”

Dharmesh Shah, co-founder of Hubspot said ‘Your success is directly proportional to the number of people that want you to succeed’. In the world of startups, this rings true.

Below are some examples of valuable connections that birthed disruptive upstarts.

Kevin Systrom, Instagram co-founder, interned for Ev Williams, Twitter co-founder, before conceiving the idea for Instagram. Among other advantages, this connection allowed Kevin to raise money from early Twitter investor Chris Sacca.

The PayPal mafia, a group of PayPal employees, created a handful of transformative companies, from YouTube to Tesla. The connections forged at PayPal coupled co-founders and gave them access to a talented group of early hires with start-up experience as well as some of the most sought-after VCs and angel investors.

Airbnb and Twilio shared an office block and worked on floors directly above and below one another. Each Friday they would have a joint social event to mingle with staff. This allowed employees and the founders to share learnings on their journeys towards Unicorn status.

When I began working on Hebe Adventures I was unaware of the power of connection. I thought I needed to spend every hour working directly on the company. I was particularly sceptical of networking. I believed it was a time-wasting exercise. Something that business students who lacked substance would take part in (harsh but not entirely false).

This view was wrong. For us to have an outsized impact on the world we need to rely on hundreds and eventually thousands of stakeholders, from investors to employees, to help drive the business forward. To find our future teammates networking is mandatory.

As a result of this realisation my goal for LaunchBox was simple, connect with the smartest, hardest working and most ambitious founders in the program. I wanted to identify stronger and fitter comrades that I would be proud to lead and eager to follow if roles were reversed. I believe I have achieved this goal, only time will tell.

Daniel Buckley, Souper Fresh

Man selling soup.

“Our journey reflects the essence of the Irish start-up community – a tight-knit ecosystem where ideas flourish, challenges are met head-on, and meaningful progress is made”

My twin brother and I embarked on an exciting venture known as Souper Fresh, a soup company with a unique twist. What sets us apart from the traditional soup landscape is our innovative use of waste whey sourced from Cooleeney Cheese Factory in Tipperary. This venture isn’t just about creating delicious soups; it’s a step towards a more sustainable future.

As we dived into the vibrant Irish start-up community, we realized that our journey was about more than just business. By repurposing waste whey – a by-product of cheese manufacturing – into nutritious soups, we found a way to make a positive impact on multiple fronts.

The idea was born from a simple realisation: the cheese factory faced significant expenses and environmental challenges in disposing of whey. Instead of allowing this valuable resource to go to waste, we saw an opportunity to create something beneficial. Our soups not only offer a delicious and healthy option for consumers but also contribute to reducing waste and its harmful effects on the environment.

The path hasn’t been without its share of challenges and learning experiences. Our journey began by hitting the road with a second-hand car to introduce our product to various shops. This allowed us to gather valuable feedback, which we used to adapt and refine our offerings to meet our customers’ preferences.

One of our concerns was the shelf life of our soups, given that we use fresh whey. Through rigorous testing, we discovered that our soups have a shelf life of at least two weeks, reassuring us that our approach is both practical and sustainable.

Engaging directly with our potential customers through tastings, spearheaded by my co-founder James, opened up new avenues for brand recognition and trust-building. These interactions affirmed the importance of building a strong rapport with our community.

Looking forward, we’re excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. Collaborating with a professional design agency to enhance our packaging is a significant step towards elevating our brand’s image. Additionally, our shift to a dedicated kitchen equipped for soup-making positions us to meet increasing demand while upholding the quality our customers expect.

In essence, Souper Fresh isn’t just about soup; it’s about collaboration, innovation, and making a positive impact. Our journey reflects the essence of the Irish start-up community – a tight-knit ecosystem where ideas flourish, challenges are met head-on, and meaningful progress is made. As we continue to evolve, we’re driven by the vision of creating a brand that resonates with our customers and contributes to a greener future.

John Kennedy
Award-winning ThinkBusiness.ie editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.