What is Startup Lab?

We asked newly admitted undergraduate students their opinion about the reasons why the University of Tartu has Startup Lab. Although they were not yet involved with it, the answers reflected our mission. For example, one of the replies was „Where else should it be? Students create innovative ideas and turn ideas into reality by expanding their comfort zone at Startup Lab”.

This is so true, because nearly seven years’ students have experienced idea development process and personal growth at Startup Lab. It has organized inspirational events, workshops, mentor meet-ups, pitching competitions, summer schools and collaborated with many international partners.  In total during seven years:

-         3000+ students engaged at workshops and inspirational events

-         1000+ participants at collaborative projects (USA, Latvia, Ukraine, Poland)

-         215     teams graduated STARTER programme

-         12       teams at Ajujaht Top 30

-         370     teams at Kaleidoskoop business ideas competition

-         34       graduated Yep!STARTER (Kyiv) programme

Startup Lab is located at the University of Tartu Delta Centre and its major mission is to promote start-up mindset, skills, and knowledge. Start-up mindset has been defined by the Startup Estonia in their strategic document as an approach based on the cycle “Build, validate, learn” focusing on supporting creativity and entrepreneurialism.[1] The latter are also the key elements of Startup Lab programmes. Expression of creativity can happen when appropriate conditions are provided to all people involved: motivated learners, mentors, and supervisors. Appropriate conditions and motivation is not the issue at Startup Lab, because usually the learners who want to change the world and themselves show up and they contribute hugely to the appropriate learning atmosphere.

Supportive learning environment

All Startup Lab’s idea development projects focus on learner support. The most well-known idea development programme is STARTER. It was first launched in 2016 and since then, each semester new students can attend. At the time when many degree studies curricula designers are still searching for ways to provide interdisciplinary programmes, then at STARTER interdisciplinary teams are formed naturally. An interesting idea attracts students from different disciplines to form teams and test the viability of the idea. Participants are never in passive learner’s role - the programme is designed so that everyone can experience the pains and gains of being an entrepreneur and improve their social skills.

Teams progress is supported by supervisors and mentors, who are specialists with entrepreneurial experience. They take teams seriously and teams value their help. Software company Nevercode co-founder and sTARTUp Day programme manager Triin Kask believes helping is the natural thing to do. „I have been a beginner entrepreneur and know how much it helps when someone with more experience takes time to listen to you “, told Triin. Mentors listen and ask questions but teams have to find answers themselves by experimenting and learning from their mistakes. Making mistakes is part of meaningful learning and so is making decisions. However, coming to the decision with the team is not an easy process.

Many students have compared participation at STARTER to rollercoaster experience where the feeling of happiness turns quickly to disappointment and vice versa. At the end of the programme participants are usually happy with the experience and new contacts. According to Ivo Allas, a student at the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, STARTER programme had given him understanding that start-up is not only about good idea and motivation but it is also about understanding the system that supports idea development.

Team-work and leadership.

Idea author usually becomes a team lead at STARTER. Many team leaders find themselves first time in this role and for them, it can be quite challenging to lead the team in the situation when the goal is confusing and the team members are people you just met. In order to cope with difficult situations and uncertainty Startup Lab has supervisors, who help teams and individuals to understand the process and make work more meaningful. 

Stories of success and failure are equally shared.

The road to success is usually bumpy, therefore Startup Lab encourages teams to share their stories of failure and success, since both can inspire the others. Everybody keeps fingers crossed to teams who get to participate in Ajujaht or pitch at international business events such as sTARTUp Day or Latitude59.

Moreover, STARTER programme can be the first platform to shift teams to new horizons. For example, businesses like Decomer Technologies (water-soluble food pads), CommuniCare (volunteers’ network for elderly), Global Talent in Kyiv (platform for remote engineering teams), etc. Founders are willing to share their good and bad experiences. Good role models are also the people who stay active in the start-up community and are not afraid to start new businesses. For example, Andreas Unt, co-founder of Adact (digital marketing) who received recently two hundred thousand euros from the Estonian Business Angels Network or Markus Lember, co-founder of Montonio Finance raised recently half a million euros. Startup Lab has always been an internship and workplace for many young talents, who are today experts of marketing and communication at start-up community. These are also success stories worth sharing.

To sum up, the end goal of the programme is not to establish a company by the end of the semester, but expand ones' comfort zone and gain experience in the idea validation process. When at the end a start-up idea with growth potential is defined and founders are committed to move on, then the start-up ecosystem gladly welcomes them to support further steps.


Idea Hackathon in Zoom

Startup Lab starts its 2021 season with the Idea Hackathon on February 18th at 4 pm. in Zoom.

All students are welcome! Having a team and idea is not expected. Ideas can be initiated on the spot! Wearing masks is required!

Registration and more information HERE!

Why to participate in the Idea Hackathon?

1.     You can generate ideas and find solutions to problems

2.     You can meet new people and team mates

3.     You can start idea development process


More info:

Maret Ahonen, Startup Lab Manager

Faculty of Economics and Business Administration

University of Tartu

STARTER is funded by the European Social Fund.

[1] Startup Estonia White Paper 2021–2027 https://startupestonia.ee/blog/startup-estonia-launches-a-white-paper-for-2021-2027