For Student Entrepreneurs Who Want to Build Successful Startups in Estonia (But Don’t Know How To Get Started)

Most students who have an idea for a startup don’t do it.

They think they cannot run a startup because they don’t have time or don’t know anything about entrepreneurship.

This isn’t true.

Being a student-entrepreneur is a real advantage. You benefit from being at universities, having an affordable lifestyle, and having free access to support and resources.

Keep reading to find out why the best time to start is right now and get awesome tips for taking your idea to the next level!

 

The best time to launch a startup is when you’re at University

And there are at least six reasons for that:

1. It’s easier to find cofounders. Your friends at university have expertise in different fields. And having a multi-disciplinary team is a great way to boost your chances of success.

2. University provides you with lots of support. As Jess Ekstrom has written, you’re “surrounded by experts” — so take advantage of it! Universities often have pre-incubation programs and mentorship (usually for free).

3. If you don’t have a job in addition to studying, your schedule is probably quite flexible — you’ll have enough free time to work on your idea.

4. It’s less expensive to start a company as a student, than later. As Paul Graham notes:

“Your second advantage, poverty, might not sound like an advantage, but it is a huge one. Poverty implies you can live cheaply, and this is critically important for startups. Nearly every startup that fails, fails by running out of money. It’s a little misleading to put it this way, because there’s usually some other underlying cause. But regardless of the source of your problems, a low burn rate gives you more opportunity to recover from them.”

That’s true. During your studies, you still have support from your family and relatives — and you don’t have to worry about feeding your own family yet.

5. You can apply for a student loan, which will have a low interest-rate and student-friendly terms. For example: Charleh Dickinson used the help of her student loan to launch a startup called Designed2Eat(and it now has 30 UK and European stockists).

6. The risk is quite low. Even if your startup fails, the loss is not so significant as you are so young. You won’t get labelled as a ‘founder that failed’, instead you’ll be seen as an entrepreneurial student. Paul Graham has made a great point about it:

“So if it goes nowhere, big deal; you return to school in the fall with all the other seniors; no one regards you as a failure, because your occupation is student, and you didn’t fail at that. Whereas if you start a startup just one year later, after you graduate, as long as you’re not accepted to grad school in the fall the startup reads to everyone as your occupation. You’re now a startup founder, so you have to do well at that.”

It might seem a bit frightening at first, but starting a startup is actually a great adventure. It’s also an exciting opportunity for hands-on learning.

Here’s some advice on finding guidance, workspace, and funding for your startup:

 

Where Should Student Entrepreneurs Look for Guidance?

1. University/College

As a student, you should always take advantage of being at university.

You can start searching for support from your university and associated organizations. Such institutions usually have pre-incubation programs, where you can participate in different seminars and workshops and get feedback from mentors.

The aim of these programs is to help you successfully implement your ideas and give you the required knowledge. Even if you don’t have ideas to implement, you can still participate in events and see how others are pitching their ideas. Some of these teams may be looking for new members who have expertise in various fields.

University of Tartu and Tallinn University of Technology are two good examples of Estonian universities providing mentorship for student entrepreneurs:

University of Tartu

At the University of Tartu, students can participate in the Idea Lab pre-incubation program.

Various teams work on their ideas throughout the semester. Different workshops and seminars are organized where students have the opportunity to get advice from mentors in different fields. At the end of the program, teams pitch their business plans at Kaleidoskoop (a student business and project ideas competition which takes place twice a year in May & December).

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In May 2016, the winner was team Konku. Their innovative web and mobile application provides rental ads without estate agent fees. As a result of hard work and constant testing in Idea Lab’s pre-incubation program, they got a chance to travel to Helsinki and participate in SLUSH (a conference which “connects startups and tech talent with top-tier international investors, executives, and media”).

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Tallinn University of Technology

Tallinn University of Technology has an initiative called Mektory Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre.

Mektory provides students from TUT and other schools mentorship for working on their business ideas. It’s possible to start even before university by participating in Bright Minds entrepreneurship program and then level up through all the four programs they’re providing.

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After going through 3-month STARTERtech pre-incubation programme for student entrepreneurs, you can participate in Mektory Startup Competition and win different prizes, such as a study trip to Silicon Valley or tickets to European Innovation Academy program among many others.

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As a next step, you can enter Mektory Startup Incubation program to polish your business plan and develop a MVP. Eventually you’ll be well-prepared to move to the discovery phase and get accepted into top incubators and accelerators in Estonia and beyond. 


2. Workshops and Events at Coworking Spaces

Coworking spaces are community-led shared working environments that offer more than just a place to work.

They are home to tech and startup communities that often host events aimed at entrepreneurial individuals and startups. These events are perfect places to acquire knowledge and skills about key topics like pitching, funding, product design, sales, and more.

There are also networking events where you can have a chat and exchange experiences with leaders of successful startups or members of various startup organizations such as Startup Estonia.

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In Estonia, the main coworking spaces that host these types of events are Lift99 in Tallinn and sTARTUp HUB in Tartu. sTARTUp Hub for instance, hosts OpenCoffee Club ‘networking mornings’ on the first Thursday of every other month.

The HUB in Tartu also hosts:

 

3. Articles, books, podcasts and other web resources

The Internet is full of practical information — so why not use it for educating yourself. There are many useful guides available that explain how to start your own business. The main reason for their existence is that many investors share great pieces of advice as part of their content marketing strategy. I would recommend that you start with Sam Altman’s Startup Playbook.

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Helping entrepreneurs is also why we started Unlock People’s Potential at Contriber. By interviewing world-class experts, we help startup founders get answers to questions such as: How to be an inspiring leader for your team, How to make team cooperation more effective, How to position your product or service, How to choose your co-founders, and many others.

For instance, we welcomed a best-selling author and former HBR editor Karen Dillon on one of our episodes. She shared with us some useful advice for achieving better work-life balance — something many startup founders struggle with.

In fact, there are materials available about single every field related to creating and running a startup. You can find can find plenty of books, blogs, and podcasts that have narrower focus on marketing, fundraising, product development etc. 

 

Where to find a suitable working environment?

If your startup is growing, with more members coming on-board, then you’ll need to find a suitable place to work.

In the beginning, your dorm room, team member’s homes, coffee shops or university lounges may work just fine. Eventually though, you’ll need to find a location where you can really spread your wings — a place where you can focus your energies and work more effectively with your team.

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Renting an office can be expensive — and it often requires signing a long-term lease. Not to mention, you’ll also need to furnish the room and buy equipment such as printers, scanners, and so on.

Fortunately, you don’t need to worry about that — many startups take advantage of coworking spaces, rent-a-desk services, or collaborative office spaces. These all provide ideal solutions for your growing startup.

If your startup is based in Estonia, take advantage of joining a workspace with community. There are five awesome coworking spaces in Tartu and seven great coworking spaces in Tallinn.

The sTARTUp HUB coworking space is the most popular of them among startups in Tartu — and it’s conveniently located in the city centre at the Town Hall Square. You can rent a desk for just a day or get a membership with a fixed monthly fee.

Here you will have access to:

  • High-speed internet
  • Printers and scanners
  • Shared kitchens and lounges

In addition to a nice workspace, you have access to all of the hub’s facilities — perfect for relaxing, making coffee, or even playing pool or ping-pong when taking a break from work.

 

How to get your startup funded in Estonia?

1.  The Vega Fund

The Vega fund provides funding for science-based business ideas. Students and scientists from all fields of studies can apply.

This fund supports projects which have scalable business potential. Additionally, it offers funding for the construction of knowledge-intensive services and working prototypes. The Vega fund also supports small-scale and large-scale science based development projects that develop innovative solutions which can be applied in everyday life.

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For example, the Estonian startup company Upgrid (who builds the Magic key that can open all doors) got 3,600 euros from Vega Fund just to make their dream project come true.


2.  EAS Startup Grant

The main aim of the EAS startup grant is not to fund the creation of new companies, but to help already established young companies to grow. Entrepreneurs who have created their startup within the previous 24 months are qualified to apply. Its goal is to help people launch their companies according to their business plans and reach their desired goals.

The grant can be used to support activities like acquisition of fixed material assets, marketing, personnel costs and many others. You can take a look at the complete list and read about the terms and conditions here.

Their long-term goal is to help Estonia to become one of the most competitive countries in the world and create 1,000 new jobs by 2023 as a result of all the supported projects.


3.  Crowdfunding Platforms

There are also various crowdfunding platforms where people from around the world can make a contribution to your idea.

One of those well known sites is Kickstarter, where everyone can submit their ideas to raise money. Kickstarter’s mission is to help bring creative projects to life. It helps artists, musicians, filmmakers, designers, and other creators find the resources and support they need to make their ideas a reality. Be aware that Kickstarter is just a platform (advertising your product on it doesn’t guarantee immediate success). You need to come up with a strong marketing strategy as well.

Estonian startup Click & Grow met their goal of raising $75,000 on Kickstarter in less than 48 hours in 2013. 1,536 people contributed to their project.

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Hooandja is an Estonian crowdfunding platform (similar to Kickstarter) where money can be raised for creative projects. These projects can be started by individuals, NGOs or businesses. So far, 513 projects have been successfully funded on Hooandja by 53,271 backers.

Another platform, which connects startups with investors is Funderbeam Markets.

Funderbeam is “not just another crowdfunding site, however, the same benefits of crowdfunding apply” as their co-founder Mads Emil Dalsgaard explains. On Funderbeam, syndicates of investments are formed. Each of these syndicates is headed by the lead investor and represented by a separate private limited company. Investors can join the syndicates with investments starting from 100 euros.

When desired funds have been raised for a startup, then the special-purpose vehicle (SPV) becomes the startup’s shareholder and all the syndicate members receive digital investment certificates, which can be traded on Funderbeam’s secondary market.

Sportlyzer, a startup from Tartu, is developing team management software for youth and amateur sports club. They used Funderbeam to raise money and exceeded their goal of by raising 100,000 euros on Funderbeam this June.


4.  Pitch Your Idea at Startup/Tech Conferences

One more way of finding funding for your startup is to pitch your business idea at different pitching competitions, which often take place at the big tech and startup conferences.

One such conference is the previously mentioned SLUSH, which takes place in Helsinki, Finland — but you don’t necessarily need to travel that far. There’s an annual tech conference called Latitude59, which is held every spring in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia also referred to as the #EstonianMafia flagship conference). It’s a two-day event where you can listen to world-class speakers and meet investors from Silicon Valley, Europe, Russia, and Asia.

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It took place already for the 9th time in 2016. Visitors had a chance to listen to speeches by famous founders like Tim Draper, Rainer Sternfeld, Aleksander Tõnnisson, Kristel Viidik, Rain Rannu, and many others.

One part of the conference was the Pitch@Palace Estonia pitching competition, where more than 100 startups from all over Europe applied. This year’s winners were RangeForce and Timbeter, who were given a chance to attend Pitch@Palace Global at St James’s Palace on December 7, 2016.


5.  Use Startup Includer

Startup Includer is an innovative online tool developed to make the fundraising process easier for both, early-stage startups and business angels.

Getting started with the process is easy — you just have to register on the platform and create a profile for your startup. You need to answer to a list of questions to give investors a detailed overview of how your startup is doing and where it is heading. Then they can start evaluating your business and deliberating the investment.

Another great feature of this platform is getting feedback from investors. You can find out with which metrics of your business investors are the most dissatisfied with and concentrate on making improvements in that field. When you’ve made a progress, you can update your startup’s profile and resubmit it to business angels for another round of reviewing.

Using Startup Includer is a great way of connecting with angel investors, finding out about the weaknesses of your business, and understanding the reasons behind failing to raise money.

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6.  Participate in sTARTUp Day to Meet Investors

sTARTUp DAY 2016 is a business festival that will be held on December 9, 2016 at Estonian National Museum in Tartu. Old and new members of the community, traditional entrepreneurs, start uppers, government and media will loudly and proudly discuss different business models. The main topic of the conference is ‘how to earn if there is nothing to burn?’

Traditional entrepreneurs often criticize startups for burning investors’ money and not being brilliant at earning money. At sTARTUp DAY, the main panel discussion will explore the lean startup methodology, which can help startups to increase their chances of success and their product development efficiency. The lean model is all about discovering mismatches as early as possible — that’s how it helps startups save a lot of resources, including time and money.

There are several reasons to attend this exciting event:

  • Expanding your network. The festival will host around 1,000 guests — in addition to meeting Estonian and foreign investors, you can also have a chat with experienced entrepreneurs, startup founders, tech enthusiasts, journalists, and other entrepreneurial-minded students like you. It’s a good opportunity for finding tech skills for executing your business idea or even a co-founder.
  • Gaining practical business knowledge. Listening to entrepreneurs’ stories about their journeys and experiences is a great way to learn. There will be various speakers talking about biotechnology, smart solutions, sports industry, space technology, computer-simulated reality, and many other interesting fields.
  • Listening to pitches. Starting entrepreneurs are often insecure about their pitches. At sTARTUp Day, you can learn by observing — seeing real-life examples from Estonian startups helps you to be better prepared for your own fundraising process. You can listen to Vega Fund pitching demo, Buildit pitching demo, as well as pitches from Kaleidoskoop participants and the best teams of Top 20 Startups in Estonia competition.

To get even more out of networking, we recommend you to attend the afterparty of the festival as well. It will be held in cooperation with Tartu Music Week in the old exhibition building of Estonian National Museum on Kuperjanovi street

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Keep your eyes open as a student! Your university may provide you a discount code for purchasing the festival ticket. 

 

How to Facilitate Your Work with 13 Top Tools for Startups!

In order to build or grow a startup, you need to invest in tools that can help you throughout the way. There’s an endless list of tools out there, and it can be daunting deciding which are the best to use.

Here’s a list of some of our favorite tools that can help you meet with success!

1.  Zendesk

Zendesk is a customer support SaaS. It’s a nice way to manage troubleshooting cases and get feedback from your customers.

2.  Buffer

Buffer allows you to manage all your social media accounts from the same place. You just need to write one post and then choose which channels you want to share it. It also allows you to schedule posts to be published throughout the day at chosen times (which means you don’t have to be on the internet to post). Buffer does it for you!

3.  Pablo by Buffer

Pablo is a tool which allows you to add text to pictures. You can choose an image from their large database or upload your own before adding text to it. It’s very nice to generate illustrations to improve your communication on social media.

4.  Pexels, Unsplash, and Splashbase

Pexels, Unsplash, and Splashbase are three websites where you can find high-resolution photos for free use anywhere. We use Unsplash a lot to spice up our articles at Contriber.

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5.  Canva

Canva is a graphic design software. It allows you to use millions of images and photo filters. It also gives you access to free icons and shapes and hundreds of fonts. Use it to create designs for your webpage, presentation, or blog.

6.  Typeform

Typeform is an online software for carrying out surveys. It allows you to design them in a way you like. Typeform also offers discounts on Pro Membership for students, teachers, and NGOs.

7.  Fireshot

Fireshot is a screen capture application, which can be added to your web browser. You can capture either a small area of a webpage or the entire page (including the part that is not currently visible on your screen). The best thing is that you can edit these screenshots instantly and save them in PDF, JPEG, or PNG format.

8.  Toggl

Toggl is a time-tracking software developed mainly for small businesses. It makes tracking your team’s work hours easy and convenient.

9.  Pipedrive

Pipedrive is a sales management tool which keeps your sales team focused. It helps you to see opportunities and make predictions about sales.

10.  Contriber Workspace

Contriber Workspace is an online team collaboration and project management software. You can gather all your internal company communication and access your email, all within the same place. You can also send files and pictures, create task lists, and edit Google documents and spreadsheets right next to your conversations (all without having to leave the workspace).

11.  Includer

Includer is an idea evaluation platform. You can collect feedback for ideas, easily improve them, and choose the best ones.

12. Swipe

Swipe is a tool for creating collaborative slide decks. It makes presentations attractive on all devices and is useful for remote pitches as well as conference and face-to-face pitches.

13. Slidebean

Slidebean allows you create good-looking presentations without having any specific design skills. Their web environment provides you the guidelines for getting best out of the experience and takes care of the formatting automatically.

 

Let’s make a dent in the universe!

We sincerely hope you feel encouraged to start taking the first steps in making your idea become a reality. After all, it’s your ideas that can help shape a better and more exciting world.

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And as you can see, there are plenty of opportunities available to you for supporting your idea in terms of mentorship, workspace, funding and tools — and in realizing this, we hope you feel motivated to take things to the next level.

And if you’re looking for even more motivation, you can read this article about Playtech (a once small startup that became one of Estonia’s largest corporations) and how the Estonian startup scene has developed over the years.

Good Luck and Best Wishes to you on starting to make your own dent in the universe!

Get more advice about how to start a company in the Baltics. Join our Contriber community here .