05 Student Entrepreneur Starter Kit - Build a first product Getting your hands dirty

When we promote the ETH Entrepreneur Club during events, we often get the question 'I have got an idea I'd like to work on. What should I do?'
We all have, at one point or another, an idea that arouses our interest long enough to make us want to dig a little deeper into it. However, when we finally decide to give this idea a chance to flourish, we are faced with the first obstacle: where should I start? who should I talk to and how can I get advice? Where do I find initial funding? What about a workspace?

Finding customers that are ready to invest in your product is crucial when one owns a startup. So often, it is quite useful to first identify a problem that needs to be solved before working on a product to offer. You might find a need that no one had ever singled out before and find a crafty and unique way to answer that need. Or maybe a decent amount of people is facing issues with what is currently available, and they just need to be offered something better. In that case, you’ll just find a more suitable solution.
You do not need a world-changing idea to start a startup. You can start by changing the experience of a few people.

"Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it" 
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
 Design thinking provides a user-centric approach to solving problems. It involves 5 steps intertwined with each other: Empathising, Defining the problem, Ideation, Prototyping and Testing. The starting point is thus getting insights about the user to identify a need. Then, many potential solutions can emerge, which will slowly be narrrowed down. The prototype is then the first step to obtaining a tangible product, and will be continuously improved as potential users test it out.

Say you are a student at ETH Zürich, and you have thought of an idea that you would like to explore and build upon. What are the resources that are available for you in Zürich?In this next series of posts, you will learn about some resources that are available to you as a student in Zürich, when you decide to take a leap and become an entrepreneur!

"The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing" 
(Walt Disney)

In design thinking, finding a solution to a problem is an iterative process where one continually refines his/her prototype based on better understanding of the user's needs. Prototypes are inexpensive, scaled-down versions of the target product, and the idea is to get something out rapidly so that you can receive feedback and improve your initial prototype.

credits: Alan Sahin

HackZurich and other hackathons
If you are more interested in computer science-related projects and need a little adrenaline to get you started, you should definitely try to join a hackathon. One of them is HackZurich, the biggest hackathon in Europe, where you'll have 40 hours to create a web, mobile or desktop application. The event usually happens mid-September, and applications open in June. You join as an individual and create a team when you get there. Some of the projects people have worked on include apps that ensure online videos are actually real, enable users to obtain real-time information such as name, current rank or past runs, after taking pictures of runners at sports events, or advise on recipes to make based on the contents of your fridge. There are many other hackathons, each with a different orientation, that happen in Switzerland (like Start Hack in St Gallen, mixing tech and business), and throughout the world. Feel free to check more of them out on Major League Hacking! Lots of startups have emerged from hackathons, where you get to learn fast and prototype efficiently.

Student Project House
At ETH Zürich, a good place to check out to start a project or build a first physical prototype is the Student Project House, located on the ETH Hönggerberg campus. Started so that students could experiment with their ideas, it has an open co-working space and a maker space to work on self-initiated projects. Students can also receive mentorship and funding so that their project can mature. The co-working space is accessible to all during opening hours, and machines available to use (after an introduction) include 3D printers, laser cutters, a band saw, a CNC mill, a drill press, and many more.

Design thinking events events can also provide a good ground to get started on a project. The Incube Challenge is for instance a design-thinking competition for students, organized every September by the ETH Entrepreneur Club. It has a unique set-up, where participants spend 5 days in a glass cube placed in the middle of a city. Their objective is to identify a problem, ideate on solutions create a prototype and pitch their final solution in front of a jury and an audience. This last exercise (also often performed in hackathons) is great practice if one is to later pitch in front of potential investors. At the end of the competition, the teams are invited to go further with their project, and make a startup out of it.

credits: ETH Entrepreneur Club


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