A report on the Youth Power Entrepreneurship Workshops - by Louiza Mallouri

A multicultural group of young people residing in Cyprus came recently together at the buffer zone for a 5-day series of workshops on entrepreneurship. The workshops, which took place in June at the CCMC and H4C in the buffer zone, were jointly organised by Youth Power and Second Project, aiming to offer young participants training on business and communications skills, as well as guidance on the route to establish and develop an innovative idea in a sustainable and profitable manner.

The first session of the workshops started with brief self introductions by each participant during which I was impressed by the diverse educational/professional background of the fellow participants: Literature, Arts, Business, Neuroscience, Psychology, Education, Design, to list a few! During the introductory session Oya Barcin, our trainer, tried to diagnose our pre-existing ideas on entrepreneurship, while a very useful distinction was made between a social entrepreneur and a business entrepreneur. A social entrepreneur is a person who diagnoses a social need in their community and creates a venture to achieve social change, whereas a business entrepreneur is mostly interested in generating financial profit. From the self introductions it became evident that most of us were interested in social entrepreneurship, had volunteered in various NGOs, or had been employed in non-profit organisations. Nevertheless, through this fast paced series of workshops we learnt how to turn a seemingly non-commercial idea into a marketable concept which can have the potential to become a viable, gainful business.

Although confidence, dedication and hard work seem to be defining characteristics for budding entrepreneurs, it became evident from real life examples that the most successful ones are people who are present: they observe their environment, its needs and problems and work towards catering for that. And if there is no identified need for your intended product or idea, but you are passionate and resourceful enough, you can create the need. Just take note from the person who patented nail printer! Our trainer took us through a set of business examples, debunking the myth that an entrepreneur is a person who does something that has never been done before, illustrating that an entrepreneur can be a person who can do the exact same thing, in a different way. It is actually amazing how many successful businesses were developed by observing what has been done so far and asking: How can I make this easier, quicker, better, cheaper?

In fact apparently simple questions like that made unfamiliar ideas, such us business plan, workflow chart and marketing communication, accessible: Where are we now? Where do we want to go? How are we going to get there? By urging us to work our ideas initially through these questions and by assisting us to define short, medium and long term targets, our trainer facilitated our thinking towards transforming our preliminary, unrefined ideas into coherent, professional-sounding money-making enterprises. Through a hands-on, fun activity, we also joyously reached the important realisation that there is a specific audience/clientele for your product and it is your responsibility to look in the most improbable, remote places to find it: the clients, as happened with the matches in the activity, will not come to you no matter how amazing or life-changing your product is.

Towards the last sessions we were able to discuss our own business ideas with the group and, indeed, some brilliant ideas were heard! Some of the ideas expressed were: a Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot partnership for solar energy set ups; a unit which will include an organic farm, a vet clinic and a café in the same premises; a gym/nutrition centre which will have a holistic approach to wellbeing; an online network of translators addressing the needs of a bi-communal market; and a youth centre housed at a renovated house in the buffer zone. While we were discussing our ideas, our trainer Oya Barcin, made sure to ask many questions to refine our thinking and bring to our attention potential gaps, thus, at least for me, opening up a new perspective with her comments.

The sessions were concluded by a very constructive set of presentations by successful entrepreneurs and past winners of the Stelios award for business cooperation in Cyprus, who shared with us their stories and pieces of advice on how to build a successful enterprise. In particular, Mehmet Birinci, a Turkish Cypriot business man, vividly talked to us about the initial hardships he had to go through when he decided to market his product to both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot community. Despite all the doubts and obstacles he decided ‘not to be limited by any negativity’, successfully running his business since November 2004. As he had not talked to us about the product itself at all (intentionally, unintentionally, I don’t know-but cunningly for sure), by the end of his talk he had us all wondering about this mystery product so many people from both communities had bought! As soon as he ended the talk, our question followed without delay, with him answering like the great salesman that he arguably is: ‘I could tell you it’s a vacuum cleaner, but it is much more than that!’

 

Loiza Mallouri,

Nicosia