How to Grow a Start-Up: Tips from ITU Telecom World Young Innovators Competition Winners and Mentors

telecom-blogYou have a great business idea, but how do you get it from paper to market? What skills do you need to develop the idea and make it thrive as a business? In a recent Google Hangout hosted by the ITU Telecom World Young Innovators Competition to round up a month of activities on Youth and Innovation as part of the ITU’s 150th anniversary celebrations, Laina Green, Young Innovators Mentor and CEO/Founder of Get It Inc, and Ahmed Laiali, Expert at ICTQatar and Young Innovators Competition Selection Committee Member, shared their insights into how to make a start-up succeed with three winners of the 2014 Young Innovators Competition, Hemant Purohit, founder of SoMeC, Sahar Pakseresht, founder of Naji, and Vratul Kumar, founder of Garbarian.

Entrepreneurs go through a continuous learning process when building a business, but what are some of the skills necessary to make your start-up thrive?

Personal Awareness: First of all, you must believe in yourself! Know your strengths and weakness in order to know who else to bring on to the team to help develop your ideas.

Perseverance: Challenges will arise at various stages throughout the project. Your success depends on your commitment, dedication and passion for your product – this is a 24/7 investment!

Analytical skills and detail-oriented: Although you do not have to make every detail perfect to succeed as an entrepreneur, you should make an effort to be accurate. This will help you to mitigate any unforeseen problems.

Communication: As the founder of a start-up you need to communicate your point of view and your needs especially when you face obstacles. However, it is key to recognize that communication is not one-directional, you must listen to and understand the needs of your customers and audience – be that your investors or team. You should listen to the other person’s position in order to co-create and stimulate innovation.

Negotiation and Sales: To get your business off the ground, you must be able to sell your idea to your first investor, customer, and team member.

Once you have the skills, you should develop your business idea through a process of testing and feedback to know where you are heading and with what tools. This relies on a constant process of iteration and reiteration that can be broken down into three stages: Brainstorm; Execution; and Feedback. These stages must be kept separate: decide a time plan and stick to it. Make notes and collate with your team at the end of each stage – making modifications during this process will prevent you from identifying all of the problems and can cause confusion among your team. It can also be a good idea to include your audience in this process – co-creating with your customers can give you a higher chance of success. Once you have completed the three stages, you should make any necessary adaptations and repeat the process.

Innovation is about gathering different perspectives. It is important to get a diverse team together – as Hilary Clinton said at a recent speech in Silicon Valley, “diversity is no longer a nicety, it is a necessity.” While this certainly includes gender and race, it also refers to different skill sets. It may be easy to make decisions with a team of like-minded people but as Ahmed noted, you need “cross pollination to avoid contamination.” That is, too many people speaking the same language inherit bad habits from their sector; you need to build a cosmopolitan group from varied industries and sub-sectors to leverage value and innovation.

This can be difficult if you are a young innovator, with Vratul being told that he was ‘too young’ to be an entrepreneur when trying to connect to new partners. There are multiple ways to tackle this issue. Networks can be found through local competitions and roadshows or research and development, academia and industrial organizations. There are also many tools available today to build your network outside of your circle, university or country. The LinkedIn Job portal is an innovative ‘outside the box’ solution to connect to new partners.  It may be untraditional, but can be highly successful. Other networking applications such as MakeSense, a virtual hackathon space, are available to help young entrepreneurs find and build a team.

Capital investment will be needed as the business begins to take shape. There are multiple investment options available, but it is important to distinguish between them. One such example is accelerators vs. incubators: accelerators ‘accelerate’ growth, typically providing seed money of between USD 15 – 40 thousand to prototype pitches; incubators are government or corporation driven long-term engagements focused on building a business model. Therefore it is vital that any young entrepreneur do their due diligence on the right investment choice for their business needs. No matter what investment option you choose, preparation is key in order to utilize your time wisely and accelerate growth. And remember, even with investment, the start-up will still rely on you and your perseverance!

The first competition of the ITU Telecom World 2015 Young Innovators Competition will be launched imminently! Keep an eye on our website and Facebook page for more details.

By Joseph Gaylord 

JgaylordJoseph Gaylord is a crowdsourcing, innovation and community expert for the ITU Telecom World Young Innovators Competition. Previously, he was part of the team working on building the community for and drafting the outcomes from the BYND2015 Youth Conference. He has worked as a freelance writer and social media/crowdsourcing consultant, and helps to maintain various projects around Geneva. Joseph has a Masters in International Affairs from The Graduate Institute Geneva. The Young Innovators team can be contacted at young.innovators@itu.int.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: