Kristaps Zaļais: Everyone Interested in Entrepreneurship is Welcome at the Business Incubator
The RSU Business Incubator launching in September, will be a new opportunity for young entrepreneurs or young people with ideas for a business, as well as for students simply interested in entrepreneurship. At the Business Incubator they will be able to gain new knowledge, skills and experience, to search and find partners, develop their unique product or service, as well as join a group of like-minded people who are already implementing their ideas or are planning to do so.
We speak to RSU lecturer Kārlis Zaļais (pictured), the Director of the Business Incubator, about his plans and the opportunities the project will offer.
Let us start by looking back. How did the idea of the RSU Business Incubator develop?
With the Start-up Entrepreneurship study programme. RSU was the first to create such a programme in Latvia and one of the first in the Baltic States. The idea to create a business incubator was born through developing and improving the programme, and it is now rooted deeply enough to show that a modern university cannot exist without a business incubator. The launch has been somewhat delayed due to COVID-19, but we are planning to start working at a high capacity in September, which is when the launch has been moved to.
The diverse study programmes at RSU cover both medicine and social sciences, both of which are equally strong. This uniqueness needs to be used properly, so the incubator has considerable development potential to combining them both and involve highly qualified experts. We are grateful to the RSU management for their support in establishing this project.
Who will be able to apply for the incubator? Does it have to be someone who already has their own business, or just a young zealous person who has invented a perpetuum mobile?
There will be no strict criteria for assessing compliance and filtering potential participants. The incubator is a place where anyone who is interested in entrepreneurship will have the opportunity to find useful classes and other activities, regardless of whether they have their own company, or are simply curious. Everyone will be able to find their own support mechanism here. We might help someone develop the next stage of their business, whereas someone else who is simply interested in entrepreneurship but has no ideas yet will have the opportunity to participate in various events and trainings where experienced experts and professionals will teach them how to generate their own ideas.
It does not mean that everyone in business needs to have their own unique idea. There will be enough opportunities to connect to other companies and help them with their projects. If you already have your own business, we can help with contacts and experts. The main thing is to be interested in entrepreneurship. We will also work on a leadership programme – maybe you are a person who is not ready to come up with an idea yet, but you already know that you would like to run a company.
What events are part of the Business Incubator Plan?
We already have an approved plan, which has, however, changed due to COVID-19. The September launch is our first one, then there will be special meet-up events each month that four major stakeholder groups will participate in. For example, one of the topics could be artificial intelligence in medicine. We will invite an entrepreneur, a national policy maker or a professional from the sector who already has experience in this field. Any interested person will be able to come to this meeting, gain experience, maybe share it, establish contacts, acquire new knowledge and, who knows, maybe an innovative company will result from such and similar meetings. These events will take place every month in our business incubator, and each will have its own theme. The launch of the incubation programme will be a major event, but we will run a 12-week pre-incubation programme before that. We will invite everyone who is interested in business to participate. The first appeal of the incubator will take place in December during which we will find ten incubation programmes and will be able to start incubation – a comprehensive support programme for young entrepreneurs. At the same time there will be various other events, such as the hackathon, that will take place in cooperation with the RSU Alumni Association.
How would you help a young person who already has a company?
We have to look at the development stage of their company. We are ready to help with our experts and network of mentors. Meet-ups related to the person’s individual interests might be the right thing for someone who has already begun. It might be very important them to join the incubator, or to participate in the appeal planned for December. The incubator programme will start in January next year. Tt will be a four-month cycle, both with mentors attached to the specific business idea and with a specific educational programme, such as how to make financial calculations correctly, how to address investors, or how to present a business idea. There will be a DEMO day at the end of the incubation period featuring potential investors who will listen, evaluate and may want to invest in a particular company and a business idea.
How would you help someone who comes and says that they are very interested in business, but doesn’t have any ideas yet?
I would recommend they go to our community events like meet-ups where they can hear other people’s inspiring stories. I would definitely recommend them to attend a pre-incubation course. If everything goes as planned, these will start in September. We can help people produce ideas if they don’t want to look for their own idea. There will certainly be an opportunity to find like-minded people with whom they could collaborate.
Will only RSU students be able to work in the incubator?
Anyone will be able to attend the pre-incubation courses, however, if you apply with a group, at least one member must be an RSU student or graduate. An RSU employee could also work with the students.
What kind of cooperation with entrepreneurs will you promote?
The incubator cannot live without industry involvement. We are already actively looking for industry partners. Someone might be willing to participate as an expert, someone might come to us to solve a business problem together, and someone else might be ready to support us by providing awards for the best ideas or the most active participants, for example.
Is the business incubator also part of the study programme?
We are involved in the new programme International Business and Start-up Entrepreneurship, and we offer to develop one study paper in the Incubator. As a lecturer, I will teach several courses myself that will take place on the premises of the incubator.
As I have already emphasised, it is very important to create synergies between the social and medical studies, because we are looking for crossover. For example, if a medical student comes up with an idea for a new wheelchair, a social sciences student might help with advertising and finding the right business model. We want to bring these students together.
How many young people do you predict might be interested in the incubator?
We are planning to incubate ten teams, that is, ten business ideas. Each team has 3-5 participants. Some may have their own company, some may not, but that is why the programme is adapted to the existing needs. The activities that are being developed are different. I expect that at least 50 students will participate in the hackathon, for example. There is also interest from our international students, because everything we offer will also be in English. International students are very welcome and we will be addressing them specifically. We will also help young entrepreneurs with accounting or legal issues.
Where will you get competent consultants and experts from?
We have searched and found a number of experts in their field among our cooperation partners, and they are ready to help young entrepreneurs by sharing their knowledge and experience. We believe that we have the most competent experts at our university. For example, we talk about legal issues with the RSU Faculty of Law and their teaching staff. We are constantly looking for ways to cooperate and involve RSU lecturers in the Business Incubator as experts or mentors. In other circumstances a medical student might not meet a lecturer from the Faculty of Law, but we will create such opportunities within the Business Incubator.
What do you want to say to young people interested in entrepreneurship?
I want to encourage them not to be afraid to take risks and make mistakes. This is inevitable. We must learn to be unafraid and to keep going. The RSU Business Incubator will be able to assist and teach anyone who wants to become, or already is, a new entrepreneur. Come to us and we will find individual solutions.