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How to Start Your Own Business Project at University

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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently highlighted that our shared future lies in a green economy and stated that it is “time to ensure sustainable, climate-resilient green growth.” Indeed, today many experts believe that the future is about a green economy, including greening all aspects of our lives.They believe that the green economy holds the key to doing business today and for many decades to come, fueling the fastest-growing sectors of the world’s economy.

My business-oriented students often come to ask me how they can prepare for future business success and identify business opportunities for growth. After several years of working with my students on various green projects, I developed my own special formula of how to start your own business – a new take on the ‘green economy’ approach to business. I dubbed it GREEN: Go, Revive, Every day, Environment, Now! Here is how it works…

1. How to get started? Just GO!

I believe that the student environment at any university is a mini-business incubator. Look at recent global success stories: Sergey Brin of Google and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook were talking about and perfecting their ideas with whom? With fellow classmates! Indeed the student environment is one of the best environments in the universe for coming up with brilliant ideas for business projects and testing them on a small scale to prepare for upscaling in ‘real’ life.

The most difficult part, my students grumble, is to know how to get started. Well, my suggestion is simple – just GO! Stop dreaming – and do something. Go put your business project ideas on paper; go talk about them to your classmates; go make a presentation in your class or to your professor about your business ideas; go apply for student grants to start your own business – you can find plenty of these today both inside and outside of universities.

For example, when we started brainstorming ideas for projects as part of my class on green economy and sustainable development at the High School of Economics at Al-Farabi Kazak National University, we had barely one idea for promoting cycling among students. Within a few weeks of in-class and out-of-class discussions, my students and I had come up with more than two dozen business-worthy ideas – from special luminescent t-shirts to innovative bike-sharing business projects.

2. REVIVE your creative spirit

A classic experiment which illustrates trends in creativity is very simple: children are asked to come up with ideas for using paper clips. Almost all five- and six-year-old children can come up with more than 200 ways of creatively using paper clips – from catching a fish to building a giant metal cube. After five or six years of schooling, only half of these kids can do the same thing. Among high school students that number falls by half again. The great lesson from this experiment is that by the time they reach university, students really need to REVIVE their creative spirit.

Often, the first brainstorming session in our class produces very simple or easy-to-find-on-the-internet business ideas. It takes time to revive the creative spirit and wake up our imagination to think out of the box about, say, sharing news among students (this led to the creation of Facebook) or searching for answers (this led to the creation of Google). My experience shows – and several million tenge (the Kazakh currency) in awards confirms – that reviving creativity takes time. However, once you grasp the ways to identify, brainstorm and formulate your business ideas, you will be able to succeed with student-generated business projects in real life too.

3. Work on your business project EVERY DAY

Very often, my students come to me and point at some successful business or project, claiming that they came up with those business ideas first and somehow others are implementing them successfully. Usually I do not jump to any conclusion – I just ask and listen to how they came up with the ideas and what happened next.

From my experience, I know that students very often start on one idea with great excitement, then put it on hold and run with a second idea, then very often forget or have no time to work on the original business idea. Then, the story comes out about a successful business, project or award with a similar foundation or concept.

The best way to avoid this situation is to work on your business ideas… EVERY DAY. Sometimes just few minutes a day on your project – even during a very busy exam week – will make a difference. A good idea is a well-thought-out idea and in today’s very complex business environment a number of people might coincidentally come up with similar business ideas. Some will succeed just because they are working every day.

For example, last year a small group of my students became finalists in the United Nations Academic Impact Global Students’ competition and went to make their project presentation in Seoul, South Korea. A second team also wanted to apply and it had its own wonderful idea. However, only the first team was consistently working on the business project proposal every day. As a result, this team of KazNU students from my Global Classroom program prepared a better application and wrote a much stronger proposal. In the meantime, the other team was on and off and could not explain its innovative approach – and eventually submitted quite a weak application. They did not win simply because in the end they did not find time to polish their work.

4. Consider your impact on the ENVIRONMENT

There is an old Kazakh tale about a magic tablecloth: if you put one plate on it you will get two in return, if you put one coin on it you will get back two coins, and so on. I think that this tale holds true for students’ business projects too – startups that focus on the ENVIRONMENT and green economy are very hot now. You will have wonderful and exciting opportunities in the future if you mobilize your student mini-business incubator to work on environmental issues.

Here I’m especially thinking of the experience of my students from Al-Farabi KazNU with their green business project. These students spent just one semester together in my course – and they stayed together for an entire academic year working on implementation of the projects generated during that course. They were so active that the head of the Youth Department of the Akimat (mayor’s office) of Almaty city invited them to open the cycling season, riding along with the mayor and leaders of the city’s business community.

5. Start your own business NOW

Of course the next pressing issue for all students is – when to start working on a business project? My answer is start your own business… NOW!

All business schools around the world teach about judging the best timing for entering the market, launching a product, or introducing an innovative concept. However, for the initial stage – student-level activities – sooner is better. And I always re-interpret ideas from business textbooks about timing, telling students it is always better to do it now.

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Rafis Abazov's profile image
Written by Rafis Abazov
Dr Rafis Abazov is a visiting professor at Al Farabi Kazakh National University, Almaty, Kazakhstan, where he also manages a joint program with Earth Institute of Columbia University (New York, USA). He has written 10 books, including The Culture and Customs of the Central Asian Republics (2007) and has regularly contributed op-eds to The New York Times. Mr Abazov enjoys collecting rare books on British exploration of Central Asia and reading travelogues on Central Asia and the Middle East by Eugene Schuyler, Vladimir Bartold and Lord George Curzon. He has also authored photo exhibitions about his trips to Central Asian republics, Turkey and Afghanistan. Contact info: Office 1400 Rectorat, 71 Al Farabi Ave., Al Farabi KazNU, Almaty, 050040, Kazakhstan

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1 Comment

useful tips for youth! becoming self employed is the most exciting and desirable aim.