The challenges we faced when starting a graduate student group and how we overcame them.
Last September, when
Lei and I were trying to get our student group off the ground, we felt that there were a few barriers that we had to overcome. First, the paperwork. The forms we needed to fill out were not only numerous but also confusing. The whole process was vague and we did not know which department dealt with what aspect of the organization. I believe that start-ups may face similar barriers during their inception as they might have no experience in the bureaucratic process. Luckily for us, we found a newly hired Head-of-activities who shared the paperwork journey with us and allowed us the flexibility we needed. Start-ups too would benefit from this kind of mentor-ship or guidance.
The next barrier was trying to get people to become excited about what we do. We found it difficult to walk up to total strangers one-by-one and explain to them what social innovation is. Start-ups to would face this problem in the beginning as it is harder to create buzz out of a vision. We then decided to use the word-of-mouth method as inspired by the OpenIDEO bone marrow challenge. By only talking to people we knew (people who would give us the time), we could at least get them to share it with five other people. Thus, we almost had to use a pyramid scheme method to make sure that a large-enough buzz was created around the school. Soon, we reached the tipping point. Instead of us talking to people, the truly interested ones came forward and contacted us. In fact, even today, we have students joining our club because they heard about us from a friend.
When it came to holding events, we kept hitting our budget ceiling (for a small club, we sure did spend a lot). We had to adopt fiscal conservatism in order to make sure we could hold more events. Start-ups too have to face this challenge where small cheques have to stretch a long way. But this does not mean sacrificing the essentials. We always bought more than enough stationary and made sure we provided healthier (and therefore more expensive) food options at our workshops. The way we sometimes saved was by piggybacking on
Exploring Creativity classes. Thus, the club would not only gain valuable knowledge, but also the tools and techniques required to solve the social challenges on OpenIDEO. The advice that we would leave to start-ups is that you always need a sponsor, someone who not only is willing to help you, but also believes in your vision.