The Chicken & the Egg of Entrepreneurship
University entrepreneurship is like a Willy Wonka Factory of ideas. New thoughts sprout from classes, roommates, debates, or even from the cafeteria. But sometimes peeling back the layers, I have seen individuals become wrapped up in building a business without even recognizing its roots.
Like the adage goes, what came first, the chicken or the egg? This is something on my mind. So, I have been asking university founders around the world what came first for them, the problem or the solution?
One team I met from Africa started with a problem they were facing in their own university ecosystem — instant noodles. Now, many of us have faced the budgetary concerns of college life, which may have resulted in questionable nutritional choices, but this trio had a very different experience.
In a war-torn country, there were no real dinner options besides instant noodles or pasta for many university aged students.
Noodles required heat, water, and preparation; things that were limited in the boarding house students lived. With one hot plate that worked every blue moon, there was unreliable power. So, what could be nutritious, easy to prepare, and more delicious than the sodium-filled instant pots?
BOOM. That was the problem they were solving. Accessibility and affordability of nutritious food options for these East African students.
Now, this is a tangible, relatable problem these founders had — one that they were interacting with every day with hundreds of the comrades.
This is what sparked the serendipitous journey of entrepreneurship, and it truly became the keystone of their business.
On the other hand, I asked a team from the UK what sparked their business idea. They, honestly enough, said they were captivated by the solution.
Techies at heart, the team members were tinkering around with the way social media algorithms worked. Some people got more likes than another, but why? They were diving into the topics of understanding platforms and social networks, and this opened up a door of opportunity that they glided right though.
Was there a problem they were solving? Yes. It was one they stumbled on in their process and long nights of university research. Is this the same caliber maybe as world hunger? No, but it was an issue that social media influencers face on a regular basis.
This got me thinking. Is there a right answer?
In my heart, yes, but in my head…maybe?
Now, I am a firm believer that you should lead with empathy and truly envelope yourself into the problem not the solution. Businesses should solve true issues, big or small. This should be at the crux of everything you do. And, this rings especially true when you are developing a social impact venture or social enterprise with an audience in mind.
But, from a philosophical sense, sometimes invention and innovation happen on accident. That should not be penalized either. Think about bugs and the creation of Velcro, or the inception of Teflon. They solve the invisible problems that we are often complacent with. The route to the problem may look different, but there is a path there.
There is no Golden Ticket yet to this Chicken and Egg debate, but this is an area which I am going to continue to investigate this summer: What attracts university students to entrepreneurship, and more importantly, why?
Are you a university founder or know of any? Drop me a line. I would love to know what you think in the comments below.
Or learn more about my work with university accelerators and founders at Kaitlinfritz.co.uk.