‘At the University, I Mastered Presentation Skills, the Ability to Meet Deadlines, and Work in a Team’
Is it possible to make a DIY power bank? How can you create a green business while studying at university? What skills are essential in a start-up? Elizaveta Imaikina, Ulugbek Akhunzhanov, and Vadim Gorbunov answered these and other questions from the HSE News Service. These second-year master’s students of the HSE Graduate School of Business have launched the EcoLevel project as a result of a course in Internet Entrepreneurship.
After getting her bachelor’s degree in Management at HSE University in Perm, Elizaveta Imaikina decided to continue her studies in Moscow. Ulugbek, who came to Russia from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and Vadim, born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, graduated from the HSE campus in Moscow. They came together to make a business team during their master’s studies.
Elizaveta Imaikina, master’s student of the Graduate School of Business
‘Ulugbek and I spent several late nights at HSE University, scrolling through crowdfunding platforms and looking for an idea for a study project as part of our course in Internet Entrepreneurship’, said Elizaveta, ‘Inspired by the numerous green projects, we came up with EcoLevel, a mobile app. It was supposed to help people increase their eco-friendliness by means of completing simple everyday tasks. We tried to develop this idea, but after consulting with a few experts we realized that creating and promoting an app is not such an easy task. Then, the three of us organized a brainstorming session and decided we needed a real-life product that would meet an urgent need.’
The students used customer development (in-depth interviews with customers to reveal needs and insights) to find out that people believe plastic to be the main environmental problem. This is how the start-up idea first appeared: to create everyday objects out of recycled materials. Their initial product was a power bank. They split the tasks according to each team member’s competencies. Ulugbek, who has a great deal of experience in product development and excellent negotiation skills, works on the product and communicates with suppliers, partners and manufacturing representatives. Elizaveta is responsible for marketing and promotion, while Vadim, who works in finance, has taken responsibility for the project’s financial issues. Nevertheless, the team created the first sample of the power bank with their own hands.
‘This was the hardest stage of work for each of us’, said Vadim, ‘We simply didn’t know where to begin. We had zero experience, only some basic theoretical knowledge. We couldn’t even melt the plastic properly at the first attempt, let alone manufacture a complicated product’.
The students say that the process of creating the first power bank took over two months, and that they are still improving the model. Elizaveta says that after getting high grades for the project on the Internet Entrepreneurship course they didn’t want to stop.
The project entered our hearts, as well as the hearts of many other people, who wrote to us, reposted our news, and pre-ordered (despite the fact that we didn’t actually have an actual product at that moment). EcoLevel was born at HSE University, but has grown to something bigger
To develop their start-up, the students applied for an acceleration programme at the HSE Business Incubator. What helped them on their entrepreneurial path was not only the accelerator, but the knowledge they received during their studies.
‘HSE University has given (and is still giving) us a lot of knowledge in marketing: from research and audience segmentation to internet promotion’, said Elizaveta, ‘This knowledge has helped us to better present ourselves, communicate our project to consumers and potential investors, to launch advertisements, and do many other things. This marketing mentality is what makes us different from people with technical thinking who implement other plastic-related projects. In addition, studying at the university allowed me to master presentation skills, the ability to meet deadlines, and work in a team.’
Ulugbek Akhunzhanov, master’s student of the Graduate School of Business
‘HSE University is very loyal to international students, with good fees and comfortable conditions in dorms, excellent bridging courses, individual tutors etc. I’ve had no problems: I always adapt fast, but it’s important that HSE University offers a lot of tools to help with this process. I am more than satisfied with the university in terms of its work with international students.
Students from other countries have a wide range of opportunities at HSE University. First, through education: a Russian degree, from a top university, plays an important role in your career in CIS countries. I know that HSE has even helped some of my friends with finding a job. What I have always looked for at HSE University is community and knowledge. And it has given me both.’
Ulugbek says that thanks to his studies at HSE University he has found like-minded people: ‘Networking, networking, networking – this has always been the key factor for success in my projects. It has helped me to build a strong team, and to find suppliers and partners’.
‘HSE is a practice-oriented university’, Vadim added, ‘Both at bachelor’s and master’s levels the studies have been as close to real-life projects as possible. The university always teaches us to work in a team, to distribute assignments properly, and to communicate with people. I believe that these things have been a huge help for us’.
Vadim Gorbunov, master’s student of the Graduate School of Business
‘I entered HSE University in 2015. As a foreign student, I lived in a dorm, and was very lucky to have great roommates: I lived for four years in one room and didn’t want to change. In my dorm I met some friends from my town and my country and we are still good friends. At the university and in my class I also made new friends quickly. HSE students are very friendly and kind towards each other. In addition, HSE University has a support programme for international students. During the initial period, it helps students to adapt fast and become part of HSE’s vibrant student life.
For me, enrolling in HSE University mostly meant the beginning of a new grown-up life, an opportunity to be truly independent. At our university, student associations offer a lot of opportunities for foreign, as well as local, students: you can choose a club according to your interests and attend it. The HSE Business Incubator helped us to launch our start-up. HSE is a university of opportunities, but it is up to you to take these opportunities and decide what to choose and where to go.’
The students admit that they are not abandoning their business path in the future, and they want to remain focused on green production.
‘I have been in business for over four years. Initially, my projects were not environmentally friendly, but today, I try to do a lot more to mitigate any harm to the environment that could have been caused by my company’, Ulugbek admits, ‘Today, my attention is on EcoLevel, and I believe that the project has huge potential’.