Entrepreneurship is all about self-confidence
Windesheim’s Centre for Entrepreneurship (WCfE) has been providing support to students in setting up and expanding their own businesses for many years. WCfE’s one-stop shop has developed into an active outward-looking mission. Its message? A spirit of entrepreneurship and self-confidence is what it’s all about. Project manager Saskia Kwast and programme and WCfE manager Frank Sturrus talk about their mission.
Walking into the WCfE office in X0.15, the first thing you notice is the wall of fame of student portraits reflecting how proud the office staff are of the creative doers and risk-takers seeking their support. And although not every student wins an entrepreneurship cup and not every idea leads to success, a spirit of entrepreneurship is always appreciated here.
What is an entrepreneur in your view?
Saskia: ‘In my view, an entrepreneur is anyone who has experienced the joy of converting ideas into actions. Reflecting on market opportunities, spotting them and being able to act on them. We like to support students who are in that process, developing an initial idea into a business concept. Frank: ‘Running your own company with your own capital and time input is the classical notion of entrepreneurship, but the entrepreneurial attitude of the staff in your employment is also an important aspect. Actually, an entrepreneurial attitude is a quality you’d like to see in students of any study programme. What companies need is people who can spot and explore opportunities. And these are skills you can develop if you want. To my mind, the entrepreneurial attitude is a major aspect in education, which I’d like to see more explicitly incorporated in Windesheim’s strategic policy.’
Who is your target group?
Saskia: ‘In principle, our target group consists of all students of Windesheim Zwolle and Almere, but occasionally we also help lecturers convert their ideas into actions. There are quite a few lecturers with plans to start their own company besides their lecturing job. This way lecturers inspire their students, which is a proven method of promoting entrepreneurship. The students who want to start their own business are getting younger all the time. Of course, it’s an exciting way to start your career. We used to get mainly students from programmes in the Business, Media and Law (BML) and Engineering and ICT divisions, but there’s a noticeable shift going on towards the social professions. In study programmes like Social Work, Nursing and Teacher Education in Geography, there are more and more students who like the idea of starting their own business. The threshold is obviously lower now.’
How do you support students?
Saskia: ‘Students like to have someone to spar with about their ideas to start their own company. Our entrepreneurial community offers them guidance and support. In the community they can meet other student entrepreneurs, alumni and entrepreneurs from the regional area. This helps them find their place in the regional network. Besides acting as a sparring partner, we also contribute to the skills you need to be an entrepreneur. For instance, how does it feel to make a business plan? What exactly do you need to do? We support them with tools, tips and tricks on various levels, cognitively, but also by training skills and developing an entrepreneurial attitude. Entrepreneurship is all about self-confidence, as we know from research. So self-confidence is a major predictor of success of entrepreneurship and depends on the answer to the question: am I confident that I can do this? In our programmes we contribute to the development of this attitude. There are also students who quickly find out this way that they don’t want to be entrepreneurs; an entrepreneurial mindset maybe, but not an entrepreneur. And that’s alright too.’ Frank: ‘We provide a great deal of one-on-one coaching. We’re monitoring all the time what phase a person is in and what would be a logical next step. There’s a great deal of variation in the type of coaching. The network we have to put students in touch with logical partners also plays a role in this.’
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The entrepreneur's journey
As an entrepreneur you set out on a journey. It’s a good idea to do a reality check at an early stage to increase your chance to succeed.
Step 1: Your dream
Step 2: Time for a reality check
Step 3: All set for your start-up?
Step 4: ...on to your scale-up
Step 5: You made it!
What is the students’ motivation?
Frank: ‘It varies a lot. Some students are not thrilled by the idea of working for a boss, while others come to us saying: I have a really great idea, and I’d like to do something with it. An example comes to mind of a student who came to Windesheim after graduating from an mbo programme in fabrics and design and was highly motivated to start their own clothing line. To scale up operations that originated in the family circle. The challenge for us is then how best to encourage such a talent. But whoever knocks on our door for support: the idea they bring to the table is leading and that’s what our support activities are based on.’
What does your coaching look like?
Saskia: ‘Our coaching is always personalized and based on the student’s request for support. The intention is to develop an idea into a concept they can take to an investor, should that be necessary. We coach students from totally green to a phase where they have a better grasp of who they are and what they want. As a prospective entrepreneur you need to get to know yourself well: how do you cope with disappointments, how willing are you to take risks, all that type of knowledge. These are all important questions that sometimes lead up to the ultimate question: do I even want to be an entrepreneur at all? There are quite a lot of aspects we can provide coaching for, to help student entrepreneurs take the next step in their entrepreneurship. This eventually brings them to a validated business idea that they can take to market.’
How can students find you?
Saskia: ‘We’re in X0.15 and everyone is welcome there. And we also actively try to find the students who need our help. Recently there was a theme week about the circular economy, which we prepared a specific action for. We are present, ask students questions and discuss their ideas with them. We also organize all kinds of promotion actions to increase our visibility and we intend to step this up. Every month we host network drinks for entrepreneurs in student cafe Het Vliegende Paard, where student entrepreneurs and members from our network can meet, and we also have a network app. In other words, we have quite a few contact lines running simultaneously. We are growing and doing the best we can to align our activities accordingly. Regardless, students can always turn to us with any questions they have. These can be highly diverse, incidentally. From highly specific technical, legal or tax issues to a request for help on how to combine their business better with their study activities, as they have hit a bump in the road.’
What’s your role in the regional area?
Frank: ‘Our role is to encourage students and promote their ideas. When they move on after leaving Windesheim, we want to ensure a safe landing for them in another organization that can help them continue their development, like Zwinc. Zwinc is the organization, especially in the manufacturing industry, which has extra facilities and machines to build prototypes and advise students. Its goal is that the students over time will be able to stand on their own two feet, possibly to become regional entrepreneurs themselves and contribute to the regional economy. We’re continuously using our antennae for the development of a favourable investment climate and are also conducting talks with the municipal authorities. Besides, we collaborate with other educational institutes, at intermediate vocational (mbo) as well as higher professional (hbo) education level, who are less focused on entrepreneurship and would like to run some trials with us. In that sense we really have a regional role to play in entrepreneurship, in collaboration with Kennispoort and other parties. We are not the centre, but definitely one of the partners making up the network. Deltion has also recently set up a CfE and we are now exchanging our knowledge with them. In that regard, collaboration is certainly on the rise.’
What are your goals for the future?
Frank: ‘We’d like to connect education in entrepreneurship. To play a role that will enable in principle all students to experience entrepreneurship. Not just BML and Engineering and ICT students, but also and especially students from other divisions. To make that happen, we will need to continue to grow and acquire a more clearly defined position in the process from idea to realization and growth. Besides the one-on-one coaching we already provide, we are considering group coaching, so we can help more students. To this end, we are also seeking to connect more with established structures within Windesheim.’ Saskia: ‘And the next issue of the Elite Entrepreneurs’ Cup is coming up again. That’s also a great opportunity for student entrepreneurs to be in the spotlight of the regional media, receive positive feedback from the jury and from network partners. A perfect event to get to know people and grab opportunities. The next date is 23 May!’