A start-up school for creative entrepreneurs seems a well-timed initiative as we step into this new dynamic and ‘new normal’, where there is much talk about building a new kind of talent to drive innovation and new ventures that are required for this new dynamic. Design thinking, innovation and creative problem-solving seems to be buzzwords, and here in an exclusive interview with Daily FT, Creative Entrepreneur, Founder/Chair of AOD/ Design Corp – Linda Speldewinde shares her views on this new start-up school and how this can contribute to finally building a real creative economy for Sri Lanka with some tangible numbers.
Q: Why do you think there is a need for start-up school?
I believe that ‘Entrepreneurship’ isn’t just for entrepreneurs anymore and to create and grow entrepreneurs in a world where entrepreneurship isn’t just for entrepreneurs anymore is the need of the hour. Our focus will of course be on creative entrepreneurship, but that’s a pretty broad spectrum too and not limited only to creatives.
Every day we all meet people with dreams. Those people are just like any of us. Some are just working serving in a restaurant and fantasising about launching their own restaurant one day; some are university students dreaming of starting their own design firm one day; others maybe just sitting in their offices and brainstorming new ideas that can improve their company; maybe they are working but dreaming on being a stay-at-home parent with an idea for a new mobile app or maybe someone dreaming on taking a VRS to start their own Airbnb. Many have dreams, but very few know how to turn those dreams into reality. Some have even launched that dream, but unsure how to take it to the next level. I have seen over the last decade that even our own AOD graduates struggle to get going on their ventures, and I myself have been thinking about how to support them to do this and the time is more right than ever before.
This start-up school is our answer and a product we have been working on since the pandemic. We believe in a post pandemic world with new opportunities, new needs, new views and a new set of business that must be born. We believe that entrepreneurship and innovation underpinned by ‘Design’ and ‘Design Thinking’ will rebuild new solutions and new businesses.
The start-up school and the program will impart lessons on how to become more entrepreneurial and above all, the program will show one that no matter what they are doing right now, no matter what dream they are trying to get going or grow bigger, that the pivotal lessons are the core need in thinking and acting more like an entrepreneur.
When I recall, even a decade ago, entrepreneurship was not such a common word but today entrepreneurship doesn’t just mean starting a company. It means undertaking any bold venture – from improving your neighbourhood, to selling stuff out of your basement, to modernising your family business, to proposing a new initiative in the company you work for. No matter what though, the techniques involved in sharpening your idea, facing down critics, recruiting boosters and handling setbacks in almost every realm of work is the same, and the start-up school program will equip its grads on this.
Q: Is this start-up school only for creatives? Who are creative entrepreneurs?
It is a program that is open to a wide range of doers. It is not only for designers but also for those in the corporate world or have started their own companies. We are looking for impact makers who see beyond a two-year MA program and want to see real growth in them and in their business at the end of this period. It is for future creative leaders that have big ideas and want to make it a reality, business strategists and management decision makers who want to change how businesses operate – the driven student, the global shaper.
This program is not only for designers. It’s for anyone with a vision to build businesses with entrepreneurship and transform businesses with leadership. This will be the place where you might meet your next business partner, investor, and co-worker. The start-up school will provide its platforms and support to achieve these global shaping ideas. It’s suitable for this kind of calibre student who has such visions.
Q: What is the curriculum of the start-up school?
The start-up school curriculum will provide a well-rounded holistic exposure to the future entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs we recruit. At the end of the two-year program, students will not only exit with a MA qualification but also be equipped with the correct balance of knowledge, skills, attitudes and networks to be a successful entrepreneur or intrapreneur.
Building entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs is not an easy task. It differs from person to person and there is no textbook formula for success. What it takes to become a successful entrepreneur has a lot to do with building the right mind set, understanding each individual’s characteristics and grooming them to leverage their strengths as their tools to succeed, and that’s what the curriculum will deliver.
It is a long-term effort to build the next generation of creative entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs. While offering a two-year part time MA in Design Management and Entrepreneurship, which will provide a solid base, it is complemented by the required mentorship, additional skills and exposure by creating an environment that helps them to dream, create, innovate, launch and very importantly sustain.
The program is offered in partnership with the De Montfort University – UK, (DMU) who have been identified as the best strategic partner for AOD in its venture into Masters Qualifications because of the many shared values and principles in our approach to design education, the importance given to industry alignment and practical skill development being at its core. DMU has also been named as one of the 150 best young universities in the world by the influential Times Higher Education magazine.
Q: What kind of support and exposure do students get to actually build businesses at the start-up school and what’s the final aim?
We are focused on building all-rounders! With start-up school, we take this to a new level of mentorship that would be quite an engaging learning experience. The environment we create with industry, Government and our global network is going to be the pathway for the students to find their synergy to launch their ideas. They will get a structured program.
I wish there was a start-up school many years ago. We see so many new start-ups spring up, which is great! New ideas and bold leaders who will dive in and explore and take action is exactly what is needed. However, an idea alone or creating hype and having a few successful sales is not sustainable and is not true entrepreneurship. The most critical gap I see is the lack of creative entrepreneurs that can sustain. I see this as a pathway, a journey towards becoming true creative entrepreneurs the world requires now, whether it be starting up their own business with a sustainable model, scaling their businesses or driving the right kind of change in the organisations they work for. Irreplaceable talents that will inspire others, deliver tangible results and be geared with the right knowledge and skills to face entrepreneurial challenges.
Sri Lanka needs more entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial thinkers and it’s our aim to contribute to that through the start-up school and its effort in building creative entrepreneurs for Sri Lanka.