GRASP: fostering entrepreneurship in Romania

05.02.2012, Romania, by .

Participants at Startup-Your-Idea

GRASP is an organization with a broader scope that aims at making a contribution to the development of Romania in general. What do you do in terms of entrepreneurship and how does this fit in the broader picture of your vision for Romania?

GRASP has 120 active members who are Romanian young professionals and students who are either studying or working abroad, but who try to contribute to Romania’s development and modernization through projects which offer concrete solutions to specific challenges. In this sense, “Start Up Your Idea” is basically an “incubator for ideas” since it seeks to develop the entrepreneurial abilities of a certain number of participants selected on the basis of their business proposals and motivates them to apply them in Romania. In addition, we want to create more than a workshop on entrepreneurship, but a network of people who want to have a start up and need the resources to implement it. Thus, the next step of the project is to involve GRASP network in mentoring the participants to implement their business.

How does Start Up Your Idea fit in the scene of entrepreneurship events in Romania?

“Start Up Your Idea” is actually different from similar projects insofar as it is a long-term endeavor which seeks to create a network of entrepreneurs where participants can become mentors and speakers for subsequent editions. In this sense, the program was structured on three pillars so as to facilitate the transfer of know-how from successful entrepreneurs towards the participants, but also between the participants themselves.

What is the idea behind the project?

“Start-up Your Idea” is a program aiming at helping aspiring entrepreneurs move from the idea to the start up stage through mentorship and basic knowledge. “Start-up Your Idea” comes in the shape of a 3 pillar program. It is structured on: workshops and trainings twice per year, regular meetings with participants from previous editions, and a mentoring system aimed at supporting the entrepreneurs throughout the business implementation process.

Several needs brought us to the conclusion that such a project is needed in Romania since:

  1. There is a lack of entrepreneurial leadership among young graduates and an important percentage orients itself towards a multinational company
  2. Conventional university-level education does not motivate or prepare graduates to start their own businesses
  3. The lack of an entrepreneurial culture and adequate abilities among these graduates
  4. A structured and professional approach significantly reduces the chances of obtaining financing

Consequently, the purpose of the workshop is to inform young entrepreneurs on what it means to be an entrepreneur and to motivate them to start their own business. In addition, it facilitates an interaction between experienced and aspiring entrepreneurs. Thus, it creates an environment which stimulates mentorship and which tests the viability of various business ideas.

The second edition centers on less start up ideas, i.e. around 5 to 8, but each will be represented by maximum 2-3 founders. Also, we focused on areas such as: Internet, software, telecoms, media, technology, health care, education, services (B2B, B2C), and consumer goods.

We are looking for ideas that have moderate opportunities to be launched on the market and which focus on an under-served or fast growing market / niche, have a scalable business model, and that keep the customers in mind rather than the technology.

What happens at Start Up Your Idea?

During the workshop phase, “Start Up Your Idea” has three parts:

1. Testing the concept: through a series of discussions between mentors and founders the underlying fundamentals of the startup ideas are tested. It is concluded that the idea “can fly” or needs to be restructured.

2. Building the concept: the founders are designing & presenting their products, customer propositions, business model, route to market / distribution channels – and receiving feedback from the mentors.              

3. Selling the concept: the founders present their business opportunity to the audience – as they would present it to angel investors or venture capitalists. This phase aims at developing founders’ pitching speech and presentation skills.

Can you give some examples of how the interaction mentor mentee produced a change?

One recent example comes from the 2nd edition of the seminar when one of the speakers, Peter Barta, offered to personally help a team find a location for their charity shop business. Additionally, two participants from the 1st edition have launched their business: one has started delivering homemade, tailor-shaped biscuits, while the other has quit her job to pursue her life coaching business.

Do you have any data on what has happened with the participants after the previous editions? Have any of the teams pursued their projects?

Two participants from the 1st edition already have an income from their proposed business and four others are working on their launch plan. Moreover, the project also entails bi-monthly support sessions/ network meetings where we track the participants’ progress in pursuing their businesses while also inviting a Romanian or foreign entrepreneur to further discuss with them business related topics.

Who are the mentors and why do they participate in the event, what is their motivation?

The mentors are people with whom we have worked before, who know our organization and who have solid entrepreneurship experience. Their motivation stems from their desire to give something back to society and by attending “Start Up Your Idea”, they are doing just that while also using their skills. The mentors’ profiles range from entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists, corporates (i.e. product experts from technology/telecoms/media – local and multinational players), government / EU funded development programs and marketers to journalists, HR experts, consultants and training companies.

This interview was contributed by Denes Lenard. He is the co-founder at the web agency Webfoo and passionate about entrepreneurship.

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