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My Oulu: Viera Karam knows what an entrepreneurial mindset is all about and shares her tips on starting a business

17.2.2022

Viera Karam came to Oulu in 2017 to pursue a master’s degree in Education and Globalization at the University of Oulu. Now, for more than two years, Viera has been working as a Business Advisor to the International Community at BusinessOulu. During this time, she has consulted over 200 clients and about 20% of them have registered their new companies. In her column, Viera shares her thoughts on working with the aspiring entrepreneurs.

Most of my work is based on individual consulting, and lucky for me, that is my favorite part of the job. I truly love getting to know people of different backgrounds. I enjoy hearing their stories, I get inspired by their ideas, and I learn from their experiences.

The biggest lesson I have got so far is about the famous "entrepreneurial mindset". To different people, this term means different things, but what I have understood from my work is that an entrepreneurial mindset is about resilience and the ability to turn things around for your benefit.

Starting your own business is never easy, and it gets even harder when you are an international person. Often you hit a wall in the form of a language barrier, cultural differences, and limitations related to your residence. And yet, this does not mean that it is not possible.

What most people do not realize is that the expectation of opening a big and successful company immediately is a myth. We cannot help having these expectations, though! Every day, we are bombarded by news and social media about the business success of others. However, they do not show the starting points, the changes, and the struggles behind those successes.  

Don’t get me wrong here: struggles are not a bad thing in business – they are in fact the norm. Entrepreneurship is a journey of ups and downs. It is a constant circulation of assumption, testing, learning from the results, and iterating. That is why when I see a person who finds a way to learn from their challenges and turn their weaknesses into strength, I know I am talking to an entrepreneur.

If you are in a place where you have a potential business idea, but do not know where to take it from here, I hope these few tips will help you along the way:

One, talk to people about your idea. As I said earlier, I believe that people are the best source of learning. Talk to your friends and family about the business. Be open to suggestions and opinions. I know it is hard for many to receive feedback about your "baby" but look at your idea as a raw diamond that needs polishing. Maybe someone will point to the part of the business you have not thought about, or maybe someone has the experience of starting a business or knows someone else who can help you.

Two, use the support available to you. As much as I want you to talk to other people, please, do not rely only on the experiences of others! Often, they can be wrong, biased, or outdated. Almost anywhere in Finland, there are free business advisory services either from the local business development agency (like BusinessOulu) or from the network of Uusyrityskeskus (on their website you can find the closest service point to you). Go and talk to a business advisor. Unlike many people think, you do not need to have the business plan or any other documents prepared; you can just come in with an idea. Go as early as you can, to prevent yourself from making mistakes that can be avoided.

Three, test your idea. Coming back to the entrepreneurial mindset I talked about earlier... Testing your assumptions, products, and upgrades is a constant in the journey of any business. This is especially important when talking about people who are starting their business in another country. Many believe that if something works back home, it will work here as well. Still, this can only be proven by testing. If you are planning to make a product, try selling the first few samples on the local marketplace. If you would like to provide services, try getting paying customers from your networks. This will validate your assumptions, strengthen your sales skills, and provide you with preliminary feedback.  

If you see yourself becoming an entrepreneur, I hope that these tips will help you along. However, your long-term success can only be built over the experience gained from taking risks. Telling people about your idea and facing feedback you might not like. Investing your money. Putting your product out there and potentially facing a refusal.

None of that is easy. Which is why, to keep going forward, one must have an entrepreneurial mindset. In this mindset, your next failure is an opportunity to learn, and therefore taking risks is no longer an obstacle.

Viera Karam works as a Business Advisor to the International Community at BusinessOulu. Photo: Anna Karppinen

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