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"Think of every application as a chance to improve and develop your skills.", Jana Pyrek
Jana Pyrek, co-founder of FragLovis gGmbH
Jana is the co-founder of LOVIS gGmbH and als Head of IDiA Program (Ideas in Action), a part of HTW Berlin's startup support. IDiA promotes ideas and innovations as well as their validation in the early stages. FragLovis offers a Sex Ed chatbot. It is a digital round-the-clock safe space for young people, where their sex questions are answered professionally. With her experience, she offers insights on how conditions could be improved for students willing to start a business, as well as on the topic of public funding opportunities.
What challenges do student entrepreneurs face? How do you believe universities can combat and address these challenges?
One challenge that I observe among students is getting into entrepreneurial action. In my experience, it is important to nudge students through the first steps of the idea validation and startup process and to help them find simple, low-risk ways to test their ideas in the beginning. To accomplish this, a little guidance and a good sparring session can often be helpful. Of course, students need to understand that they must make progress themselves, and that their own motivation for the cause will be a driving force. What excites me is the abundance of ideas and innovative approaches. Many students critically observe their surroundings and aspire to solve challenges in a meaningful way. Moreover, I observe that many students aim to find sustainable solutions, whether it's socially or ecologically. Universities must make an effort to unleash this potential.
The second major challenge, particularly among female students, is the great extent of self-doubt and sometimes fear of taking the first and second steps. Therefore, it's crucial to me that not only university but also non-university support programs address
fears in a realistic way. Conversations can sometimes challenge underlying beliefs and eventually modify them. Mentoring as a form of mental nudging can provide the support needed to overcome self-doubt and reinforce one's confidence in their own qualifications.
A third challenge, specifically for student entrepreneurs, is finding a balance between their academic commitments and their startup project. Full-time study is a significant time commitment, and funding programs also demand a considerable amount of
time. Support programs that accompany students' studies are ideal for helping them advance their startup ideas and manage compatibility. Such programs can awaken untapped potential among students, compelling them to take their startup ideas to the
next level and completing their studies.
Finding team members poses as the fourth challenge. Although universities' different departments could potentially form excellent startup teams, silo thinking often prevails. It is necessary to overcome this kind of thinking. Universities ought to promote interdisciplinary events that bring together students from different disciplines at various stages of their studies. In order to make the most of students' interdisciplinary potential, every degree program should include such classes and events as an integral part
of the curriculum.
What are some best practices for supporting student entrepreneurs?
Good practice is establishing on-campus startup incubators and accelerators that provide a supportive environment for student entrepreneurs, e.g., like HTW Berlin. These spaces can offer co-working areas, access to resources, mentorship, networking opportunities, and carry this typical energetic startup mentality.
Also, it is essential to provide funding opportunities and grants specifically tailored for student entrepreneurs. Financial support can help them cover initial idea validation costs, research and development expenses, and marketing efforts. We are supporting
student entrepreneurs with an idea scholarschip and funding of 7.500,00 EUR that can be used while studying. Given a financial support, a combination of informative brief sessions that offer guidance on topics relevant to student entrepreneurs and their ideas, along with personal coaching, is highly effective.
I think that good practices involve not only getting students enthusiastic about funding programs, but also coaching them to choose their own steps, providing follow-up guidance and if necessary, passing them on to someone or some resource. Good practices involve working collaboratively as support programs for startups. The importance of this kind of "aftercare" varies depending on the startup's stage and team. Of course, entrepreneurs, both current and potential, must be willing to pursue and implement their solutions, even without support programs.
What are some strategies you utilized when securing public funding?
Here are my tips for your personal public funding “strategy”:
It is crucial to pursue a startup idea that you genuinely believe in. Obtaining public funding is a time-consuming process. You will require a clear purpose or vision for why you initiated the project. Your purpose or vision will aid you in assessing whether a specific funding round is pertinent and preparing a comprehensive proposal. It is not advisable to repeatedly modify the foundation of your startup idea due to public funding request for proposals. Avoid deviating too much from your intended path for the sake of public funding. Sometimes, funding can give a false impression of your entrepreneurial vision and markets.
The second suggestion is to be clear about the type of project, product, or market status that will be funded. Carefully review all preliminary information, guidelines, fact sheets, etc. Attending information calls and asking questions is also recommended. This will help you avoid working on applications that do not meet the exclusion criteria.
Setting up alerts for keywords related to public funding, following people who communicate a lot in the relevant fields, or ideally networking with them is also recommended. It's beneficial to have early knowledge about proposal opportunities.
My last suggestion is to avoid relying on public funding as much as possible. I'm sharing from my personal experience. It's unfortunate when grants end and there's no future funding available or when programs cancel unexpectedly. Therefore, it's better long-term to not depend on it - at least not for an extended period of time.
If that's not feasible, you should have someone with expertise in public funding lead the effort.
How do you ensure that your proposal stands out among other applicants when securing public funding?
Remember that obtaining public funds is often a competitive and selective process. There is no guarantee that your proposal will be accepted. Don't be discouraged if your first proposal is unsuccessful. Think of every application as a chance to improve and develop your skills in preparing proposals for public funding.
But first, in order to improve your chances, research the funding opportunity thoroughly. Understand what the funding agency wants to achieve, what they value the most, and what they consider when selecting a proposal. Customize your proposal to fit their specific objectives. It's like preparing a job application that you would adjust as much as possible to demonstrate that you're a perfect fit. Public funding calls usually have a specific theme or aim for a certain kind of change. Show how your proposed solution can make a difference and relate to a specific group of people, a community, or society as a whole - depending on the funding objectives.
Offer a fresh and innovative approach to tackling the problem. Highlight any novel ideas, technologies, or methodologies that differentiate your proposal from others.
Sounds trivial but is equally important: Meet all requirements and deadlines. Ensure that you adhere to all guidelines, requirements, and submission deadlines. If you don't comply with the instructions, you won't be considered eligible for the funding.
Remember that to succeed in the competitive world of public funding, persistence and practice are important. Keep improving your public funding proposals but always consider whether a call for proposals is really a good fit for your project or not. Applications are usually time-consuming, so it's essential to respect your own time and decline to apply if necessary. Your time is valuable, as well.
Thank you Jana for the Interview! We are happy to have you on Board as a Grace Alumna.