Diary of a student entrepreneur 2019: Vol. 3

Four student entrepreneurs on LaunchBox, Tangent’s Student Accelerator, at Trinity have agreed to chronicle their adventures, the highs and the lows, as they build their businesses.  

Robin Twist, co-founder of Way Home  

Over the past one hundred and forty-six days, since the start of the Provost’s Innovation Challenge, things have changed a bit. The name we are using has gone from The Homeless Wallet to Cash Box to Way Home; we have finished our exams, and received our results. Where we have made the most progress is in figuring out what to direct our energies toward; what we are working on has metamorphosed from a way of donating to someone on the street without using notes or coins into a website that can be used to donate toward specific things required by individual people. This is what we should be doing and it would have been most useful to know at the outset. Another major development has been that our two has become a three as Rebecca has joined us. We have expanded our understanding of the system of supports for those experiencing homelessness and how they operate.

“Where we have made the most progress is in figuring out what to direct our energies toward”

Volunteering on a walking street-outreach team, offering tea and some food to people at night, has been both an informative experience and an encouraging one. My team gave the last sandwiches we had to one man and, a moment later, another man came up to us.

“Can I have a sandwich please?”

“I’m sorry, we’ve none left,” replied one of the ladies I was working with.

The first man immediately held out one of his sandwiches and offered it to the man with none.

The man with none refused to deprive the first man.

But the first man insisted and thrust it into the other man’s hand.

Some of the other charities that we have been in contact with we have reached out through introductions made by the LaunchBox staff, but another, less direct, way in which LaunchBox has helped us to advance is by being filled with people who are willing to listen to us explain our system. Not only have they helped us find how best to aid people’s understanding, they have challenged our work and offered honest opinions. My third lesson: Keep going!

Laura Brennan, co-founder of EthiCart

The last twelve weeks have absolutely flown by. I can’t believe we are nearly finished the LaunchBox programme. I was nervous to apply for LaunchBox, and even more nervous to pitch in front of an entire lecture hall with the chance that I might not even get in. It is so easy to stay in our comfort zones but I’m so happy I didn’t. Over the course of the last twelve weeks my confidence has grown in public speaking, something I was not comfortable with before. While I definitely still get nervous before I speak, now I can think of all the other times I pushed past the fear, and I know I can do it again.

I’ve learned so much more about sustainability and just how important our food choices are. I have seen how complex this issue really is and that there is no one size fits all sustainable product. There is such a lack of clear information around all the different certifications, it’s no wonder people get confused! It’s disheartening but seeing the innovative ideas in the Dublin start-up scene at the moment shows the potential of what we can achieve if we put our minds to it and take these issues on.

“I have seen how complex this issue really is and that there is no one size fits all sustainable product”

My advice to someone considering starting up is to do that thing on your list that you’ve been putting off first. Also, be careful choosing who you work with as it really is such a crucial part of the business. You’ll see them every day and they will be the ones who cheer you on, on the days where you can’t do it yourself. I’m so grateful to have shared this experience with my partner Lara, we’ve grown as a team, as friends and learnt how we work best together. Everyone can have down days but having someone there who tells you to keep going, you’ve got this, makes it so much easier. Nobody tells you the step by step plan of what you need to do and there’s a lot of unknowns, having someone there who believes in what you’re doing as much as you do makes it that bit less scary.

Andriy Babiy, co-founder of Study.ie  

As we come into the last few weeks of the LaunchBox programme it is clear to see that the idea is a lot different to what we entered the program with. As a result of all of the great speakers and the time we’ve had to research (and really just think) we were able to understand the value that we are creating. It’s so easy to get caught up in the need to do something, but the breakthroughs are really made when you allow yourself to take a step back from that.

We decided to pivot the idea towards creating a toolkit that would help online learners turn their online courses into hybrid courses. In essence we help them add elements of an in-person class experience to the online course they are taking. In retrospect I can see that this pivot has been brewing for a long time. We had been struggling with the notion that we weren’t doing enough for our users. We were also concerned about our inability to do more for them given the business model we had been using. There seemed to be a constant pressure to deploy ads on the site or compromise the user experience in other ways just so that there could be one at all. Following a talk from Des Traynor, everything seemed to come together and the new version of Study was born.

“We decided to pivot the idea towards creating a toolkit that would help online learners turn their online courses into hybrid courses”

As we enter the final stretch of the programme the team is more confident than ever as we have found a new business model and value proposition that we believe is a real ‘pain killer’ for online learners rather than simply a ‘vitamin’ that is not solving a real pressing issue for learners. We have had an amazing experience so far with the LaunchBox programme and now understand what it takes to be part of an early stage venture. The team is also stronger and closer than ever and we look forward to the final demo day where we feel that we will be able to create connections and partnerships that will help us make Study.ie a service that can give people the most out of their online learning resources.

Rebecca Gilligan, Way Home (previously Snaggletooth)

Since my last blog post, I’ve got a new team and a new business! I’m now working with Way Home, a not-for-profit, goal-oriented, fundraising platform, helping individuals progress out of the homeless system. It’s a far cry from toothbrushes but I’m fitting in well in my new surroundings.

My biggest problem coming into LaunchBox was that I had no experience in setting up a business. I was finishing my Masters in entrepreneurship, but I still wasn’t sure how to put my learnings into practice. But it’s true what they say, you learn by doing. From these past 12 weeks, I have built up a rough structure of how to set up a business. Obviously, it varies case by case, but the framework remains:

  • Share your idea with customers and business experts from the very beginning
  • Make changes based on feedback
  • Continuously test your product/service, reiterating as quickly as possible
  • Keep a focus on the problem

If I could go back to the start of the programme, these would be the key learnings I’d take with me.

“You might fail but that’s how you learn”

In the next three weeks, my focus will be on demo day, refining our pitch and validating our idea as much as possible. Afterwards, it’s hard to know what will happen. The beauty of an accelerator programme is that it allows you to focus solely on your idea. But once it ends, other factors compete for your time. While it’s nice to have a plan, sometimes you just have to prepare yourself for multiple possibilities and be okay if none of those pan out.

In the words of Nike, my advice to anyone starting out on this journey would be ‘just do it’. You might fail but that’s how you learn. And it’s not a solo journey, seek advice and mentorship from everyone, and then choose which parts you’ll take on board. There is a wealth of wisdom among the start-up community and lucky for us, they’re only happy to share it.

The final of LaunchBox takes place on Thursday 5 September, and all are welcome to attend.

Give your business the best opportunity to get up and running.


Written by Stephen Larkin

Published: 22 August, 2019