As three founders with experience of taking a tech start-up from conception to realization, we have learnt the hard way that entrepreneurship is no easy task.
Our companies are in very different fields: Haelixa is a tracing tool based on DNA barcodes, BluAct is a water purification method using nano-filtration and DeepCode uses AI to write software code. Yet we have all gone through a similar process, putting in the blood, sweat and tears required to develop our ideas into products and successful businesses. We all agree that being an entrepreneur is as much a personal challenge as it is personally rewarding.
Here’s our advice to anyone thinking about launching a new business, whatever field you’re in.
Take advantage of a great hub
Switzerland provides budding entrepreneurs with an environment that facilitates setting up your own company. Whether you need coaching, early-stage funding, or simply facilities to work in, establishing yourself in a location conducive to start-ups is key to success. We have all benefited from the tremendous support network offered by ETH Zurich’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. There is no doubt that this has made our experiences easier than had we gone it alone.
Seek specific guidance
Whether you want to avoid certain pitfalls or get sound legal advice, make sure you are getting information from peers. People working in different industries may mean well by telling you about their experiences, but their contexts may not apply. Talking to other entrepreneurs will help you avoid being misinformed. Established peers have the relevant knowledge, and you’ll find that they are more willing to tell you about their mistakes and learnings than you may think.
Know what you’re in for
Being an entrepreneur isn’t just a lot of work; you are literally putting your life on hold to pursue your big idea. It’s a 24/7 job that’s a huge commitment. You have to really want to do it, and it’s good to be brutally honest about whether the commitment is something for you. There may be other avenues through which you can pursue your idea that may be better suited to what it is you’re trying to achieve. Think carefully and do your research.
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Use your friends’ know-how
Do you have a lawyer in the family? Or a best friend who’s an accountant? Your network is a great source of help that will be invaluable to get you started. This is especially true when you’re in the planning and exploratory phases of your project, when it may be difficult to dish out large sums of money. Help is closer at hand than you may think. An entrepreneur needs to be well-connected - and your existing network is easy to tap into.
Invite a woman to your board
This isn’t about gender for the sake of gender. In the tech space, many companies, labs and research groups are male-dominated. But take the time to find a woman who’s an expert in your field, and you'll be rewarded. You’ll find that more women want to apply when they see another woman is there already; you’ll get new perspectives and points of view that will prove invaluable to the company; and you’ll improve your workplace.
Get ready to go on a journey
As an entrepreneur, you learn things about yourself personally and professionally on a daily basis. Having chosen this route, you have no choice but to cope with the challenges thrown at you - which you do, while growing in the process. The business of entrepreneurship means learning new skills, engaging in new types of interactions and being able to communicate your vision. You will need to be versatile and learn to wear different hats: researcher, developer, CEO, salesperson, manager, spokesperson and more. Prepare to redefine yourself.
Improve the state of the world
Ultimately, entrepreneurs have a key role to play in solving the world’s most pressing global issues. Whether it’s shipping food safely and providing traceability, purifying drinking water, or allowing users to programme alone rather than using an army of developers, entrepreneurs are at the nexus where science and innovation meet real-world applications. Knowing this may be what makes it all worthwhile.