Three programs in Copenhagen focused on enabling student entrepreneurship
openhagen boasts a fast growing startup ecosystem, with a number of options for university students hoping to enter the world of entrepreneurship and innovation.
It’s never too early to become an entrepreneur. The urge to start your own company may already be there as early as your first year of university. If you are a university student, and the innovative spark has indeed started to flicker, Copenhagen has many stand out opportunities. Some of them are right on campus, waiting to be discovered.
You may be worried, however, about the high taxes and staggering cost of living in the Danish capital, as these two aspects factor into the decision to take the financially unstable route of entrepreneurship. As it turns out, studying in Copenhagen actually puts you in an excellent position to become an entrepreneur. Full time Danish students receive a stipend of over €800 per month, on top of free education (thanks, high taxes!).
Compared to, say, the US, students in Copenhagen are marvelously poised to get a sterling education, without a lasting financial burden to stop them from realizing their goals of starting their own enterprises. It’s no wonder that Copenhagen ranks seventh best in talent competitiveness as of this year, according to the Global Talent Competitiveness Index.
But not everyone can wield widespread access to free education in Copenhagen. Average tuition fees for non-EU residents come out to €12,000 to €15,000 a year, which is not a bad deal given the level of education and access to a burgeoning startup community. Even if you don’t get access to the EU perks, being a student in Copenhagen offers competitive advantages with the strong foundation it offers for young folks to enter the job market.
Whether you are a Copenhagener and are weighing out whether to study abroad, or are an expat hoping to make the City of Spires (the nickname derives from an abundance of Renaissance towers) your academic home, becoming an entrepreneur is well within your grasp.
Here are three programs in the city, all of which are featured in our Startup Guide Copenhagen book, that cater to the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
Nestled in the verdant Technical University of Denmark (DTU) campus, Skylab is a startup hub spanning as many disciplines as the university has to offer. Not an accelerator or an incubator, the program helps startups develop their business plans and technologies, and supports with the uphill journey to receive funding.
We see Skylab as a living organism that’s always adapting to whatever is happening - and that’s defined by all of its users.
The head of DTU Skylab, Mikkel Sørensen, told Startup Guide that the program is an “innovation learning environment.” Members of the space are treated to a welcome and vibrant atmosphere, where they can come to work happily. “We see Skylab as a living organism that’s always adapting to whatever is happening - and that’s defined by all of its users,” says Mikkel.
It being the case that DTU Skylab is part of the university, all enrolled startups must have at least one DTU student on the team. So you can receive startup support at Skylab even if your company was not conceived by students, so long as you have those strong academic and university ties.
Skylab’s staff hail from business and technology backgrounds; they help participants develop business models, set up industry connections, help with pitches, and work to attract funding for their budding entrepreneurs. Startups also have the chance to apply to annual programs at Skylab, including the European Venture Program.
At the end of the day though, Skylab is a community. Mikkel said the program packs the year out with events, ranging from pitch practice sessions to inspirational talks.
Tips for success
Participants in the program should be able to take feedback well, according to DTU Skylab. Constructive feedback is integral to a startup’s success, even if it means letting go of facets of your original idea to make way for something better.
A successful startup, DTU Skylab says, also consists of founders who really want to tackle their chosen challenges. The program urges founders to think deeply about what they want to pitch. On that note, make sure that there are customers out there who want what you are innovating. There’s not always a market for your idea.
And finally, as DTU Skylab is part of an educational institution, they want their entrepreneurs to be interdisciplinary. You should be able to harness the ideas of others outside your discipline or industry, and always continue to learn from people who think differently.
Reach out to the following address to apply: Mikkel Sørensen, DTU Skylab, Diplomvej, bygning 373A, 2800 Kongens Lyngby.
DTU isn’t the only higher education institution with opportunities for startups. Open since 2007, CSE Lab, an integral part of the Copenhagen School of Entrepreneurship (CSE), is an incubator for student entrepreneurs from CSE, parent school Copenhagen Business School, and other universities.
As CSE Lab has a broad mix of students from a myriad of student bodies, the incubator represents many different disciplines and business ideas. Their enrolled startups have brought forth ideas ranging from urban gardening to vegan apparel and footwear.
Students who qualify to enroll with their startups join a nine month program split into three courses, covering proof of idea, proof of concept, and proof of business. Mentors, accountants, lawyers, and an open office are also available for students incubating their startups at the Lab. Graduates of the incubator who think they are ready to scale internationally are encouraged to apply to Go Grow, CSE’s accelerator program (another offering on top of the Lab).
One thing that the program emphasizes is students should be willing to receive criticism, and open themselves up to coaching. Karina Rothoff Brix, the managing director of CSE Lab, told Startup Guide: “you can be a very good student and an excellent entrepreneur, but if you aren’t coachable, you can do more harm to the culture than good.”
Tips for success
To find success at CSE Lab, students should ensure they have a diverse core team, filled with people who have the right kind of drive. Diversity is powerful, in that having a varied mix of personalities allows for opposite ideas, which may be exactly what you need when creating a meaningful product.
You can be a very good student and an excellent entrepreneur, but if you aren’t coachable, you can do more harm to the culture than good.
With that team of yours, CSE Lab encourages you to dive right in, even if you don’t have the right idea. The perfect idea may be right around the corner, but you’ll never know until you act on whatever it is you have. You may fail along the way, but that’s how you grow and learn, and that may be how the best of ideas finds you.
Students can apply to CSE Lab via go-grow.dk.
Venture Cup is not an institution. Instead, it is a vast resource intended to help students become entrepreneurs. By focusing on mentorship and competition events, it is an international startup organization that unites the academic and business worlds in Denmark and beyond. All Danish universities fall under Venture Cup’s supportive umbrella.
Venture Cup was originally founded in Sweden in 1998 by consultancy McKinsey & Company. The organization has over 300 mentors, a Founder’s Club with course offerings, several competitions for national startups, and the University Startup World Cup, where teams from across the globe touch down in Copenhagen for a busy, competitive week.
CEO Human Shojaee told Startup Guide: “it doesn’t matter where you come from or how far you are with your project, if you are ambitious and committed, we will help you.” Venture Cup takes on an advisory role for many student startups, and puts on a number of workshops and hackathons to stimulate the ecosystem.
Students don’t need to worry about spending an arm and a leg to receive strong support from Venture Cup. They take no equity from startups, and winners of their competitions receive accelerator and financial support toward growing their businesses. Mentors are available for everyone, linking the university startup ecosystem with specialists, serial entrepreneurs, and CEOs, to foster shared experiences and identify promising opportunities.
Tips for success
To make the most of your startup experience, Venture Cup recommends building social capital, such as having an excellent team of quick learners who may even be better than you. They suggest collecting data to back up the claim that you have a viable business idea.
It doesn’t matter where you come from or how far you are with your project, if you are ambitious and committed, we will help you.
Most importantly, Venture Cup offers the wisdom to leave your comfort zone. This means doing things you may not want to do, as well as listening to opinions that may not be what you want to hear. The most challenging path will often yield the best results.
Anyone looking for words of startup wisdom, deeper mentorship, or information about applying to competitions can reach Venture Cup via venturecup.dk.
These are just three of the opportunities for young entrepreneurs who want to couple their university studies with the desire to be a founder. Many other universities in Denmark have programs geared toward business-minded types, such as UCPH Innovation Hub at the University of Copenhagen and ITU Innovators at the IT University of Copenhagen.
Read also: 13 killer coworking spaces in Copenhagen
*This article was originally published on October 17th, 2018 and updated on January 17th, 2019