“Tangible role models are the best way to get students excited about entrepreneurship”
12.09.2023 eClimber, Auto-Mate Robotics, Microcyte, eMobility+: no fewer than four startups have received funding from the Gebert Rüf Foundation in the past two years. Yacine Bouazdia, an expert in entrepreneurship at the School of Engineering and Computer Science at Bern University of Applied Sciences, supports the young entrepreneurs on their journey.
Yacine Bouazdia, four startups from BFH-TI have received “First Ventures” funding from the Gebert Rüf Foundation (GRS) in the past two years – more than ever before. To what do you attribute this success?
I am convinced that the right projects and people have always been there. What’s new is that BFH as a whole is now focusing on entrepreneurship and providing targeted support in this area. What’s more, at BFH-TI we have been actively on the lookout for projects over the last two years and have endeavoured to make as many people as possible aware of what is available in the startup sector. This includes raising awareness among lecturers and researchers. They supervise the projects, so they are closest to them and can let us know about any exciting ideas, and we can support the applications for funding.
What does this support look like in practice?
I don’t write applications, but there are topics where it is helpful to ask critical questions and challenge people. They know all about the technical issues, but when it comes to choosing a business model, for example, they sometimes need a hand. We also provide support with regard to presentations. The students are expected to give three-minute pitches, but are used to much longer presentations. That’s why I help them to filter out the most important information and get to the crux of the matter.
What guidance do you give the startups once the funding application has been successful?
Besides offering support on administrative and legal issues, we stay in regular contact. If needed, we connect them up with people from our network, whether coaches or potential investors. We also help them discover all the offers that are available to startups, because there are quite a few out there now. The main thing is to find out what is most suitable for that particular startup at that point in time – such as receiving Innosuisse coaching, entering a competition or applying to be-advanced, the innovation promotion agency for companies in the Canton of Bern.
What distinguishes the “First Ventures” programme from other funding offers for startups?
The offer is limited to students of universities of applied sciences. If they are also up against students from the universities and ETH/EPFL, that naturally makes the competition tougher. Particularly when the project has to be based on a thesis, it makes a big difference whether the basis is a bachelor’s or a doctoral thesis. Students can receive grants of up to CHF 150,000. And we’re not talking about a loan that has to be repaid. Also the startups don’t have to part with any shares in their company. Another thing that should not be underestimated is that we at BFH can stay in particularly close contact with the startups funded by GRS, because the grant is paid out to the university. The startup has unrestricted access to the entire budget, but the people involved are employed at BFH. This allows them to use the infrastructure and benefit from the expertise of our lecturers. Being employed at BFH also makes the startups more visible to others, in that they can present their project in lectures, for example. This in turn gives rise to new projects. I think the best way to get students excited about entrepreneurship is to give them tangible role models.
What qualities do students need to have if they want to found a startup?
If you ask me, the most important quality is to be able to respond to new circumstances. Situations can change very quickly, so if a person tries to stick to a fixed plan at all costs, they most likely won’t be successful. They can pick up everything they need to know as they go. However, they must be prepared to deal with business management issues, not just with their product. Because a product alone does not make a successful company.
And what makes a good idea for a startup?
I can’t say. In the end, it is always the market that decides whether something will be successful. But I believe that the days are gone when it was all about just making as much money as possible. The entrepreneurs of tomorrow will have to deal more definitely with their social impact or how they handle resources. GRS already asks this in very concrete terms and – to put it simply – wants to know from the applicants how they are making the world a better place.
How do you plan to expand your support for startups in future?
Our aim is to connect up the existing projects more closely and build a community. Because the startups can benefit a great deal from each other – those who are already further along in the process can give the newcomers valuable tips. Often, they were in exactly the same situation a few years ago and faced identical challenges.