Student entrepreneurs – rags, riches, and research

Student entrepreneurs - rags, riches, and research
NFGL student Liridona Sopjani, along with her international student friends Jan, Alexis, and Martha, needed a job. So she created one. Or rather, they created a company. Now she explains how they did it.
Dream big
 
We were students all looking for jobs in the fall of 2013, but the job hunt turned out to be rather difficult. So eventually we took upon the best tip we received at a student job opportunities fair at Uppsala University:
 
“If you can’t find a job, create one.”
 
And so we did – we created not one, but five jobs for ourselves.
 
This is how our company – Grandma Knows Best was established, a small eco-friendly cleaning concept with big dreams.
 
Jan, Liridona, Alexis and Martha are all studying in the same master's programme and Josefin joined us later, when she applied for a job as a regular employee, but ended up joining the team full-time.


Liridona, NFGL student and writer of this article, is pictured on the right. 

 
Don't wait around
 
We clean homes and offices ourselves in the morning, and in the afternoon we dress up and go to the office to manage and develop our project.
 
Starting from scratch with zero initial funding, in a completely unknown cultural and business environment in Sweden, we are taking upon challenges on a daily basis and learn everything on-the-go.
 
So how exactly did we do it?  
 
Well, during the spring semester of 2014, parallel with our studies, we were developing a model for a small-scale sustainable business, which we have now successfully implemented in our eco-friendly cleaning company – Grandma Knows Best,  launched in mid-May.
 
After we finished our first year of studies in early June, working with our company became a full-time job, and four of us even now have it count towards our master's studies as an internship during the current autumn semester.
 
We had to be resourceful; harness all of our possible skills, creativity and past experiences; and we couldn't sit around waiting for funding.
 
 
Set up short-term goals – but don't forget the bigger picture
 
We started our idea very small and used personal channels to gain some traction, but more importantly, we set up realistic short-term goals and checkpoints to monitor accomplishments based on a big vision and seemingly unthinkable long-term plans.
 
We have a firm belief that business is where we can make the biggest impact towards a more sustainable global future. And above all, we want to set an example for other young entrepreneurs to show that we can transform sustainability into standard daily practice for businesses.
 
Every respectable new and old business out there should serve not only society, but also the environment; implementing a strong environmental management system is a must in 2014.
 
Conducting business according to uncompromising sustainable and ethical standards is a big challenge, and sometimes it doesn't seem economically feasible, at least in the short term. But it is our firm belief that shifting your perspective to longer-term objectives, and communicating them properly, will get you noticed, and you will be highly valued.
 
Currently, we offer home and office cleaning solutions that are carefully engineered with the environment and the social good in mind. Every internal and external operation is traced and conducted within a number of sustainability principles.
 
Also, we promote business-to-business initiatives and partner with several other local businesses (Kulturbrod, Willow) to increase awareness and push for change in our industries. We even plan to organize workshops to promote sustainable lifestyles, as well as support local initiatives and organizations with focus on sustainability and environment.

 
Dare to be unique 
 
There are other cleaning companies that offer eco-friendly and green cleaning, but we believe no other company in Sweden has developed and manufactures their own products, delivers their service by bicycle, or has adopted a refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle policy on all levels of the company .
 
The unique features of our business model include:
 
  • Environmentally harmless, but also package-free cleaning products – the packaging is skipped almost entirely as our cleaning products are manufactured in bulk and stored in reusable containers.
     
  • Reusable & biodegradable materials – for the moment we are using conventional microfibers, sponges, mops and so on, but we are aiming to switch to biodegradable and highly durable materials only in the near future, as there are currently not a lot of options on the current Swedish market.
     
  • No fossil fuel transportation – delivery of service by bicycle only; for the moment we use conventional bikes and trailers, but we will be introducing electric tricycles very soon.
     
  • Responsible printing – we try to avoid printing at all costs, but when we do we use recycled paper only. We also encourage our clients to choose a paper-free communication channel which includes requesting, bookings, invoicing and customer contracts.
     
  • Fair pricing/commercializing eco-friendly services – our prices are competitive and aim to promote sustainability as the affordable, and not the more expensive, choice. Sweden has also implemented the RUT avdrag tax reduction scheme, which allows private individuals to get a substantial tax relief on domestic services such as cleaning.
     
 
Oh – and who are we? 
 
Alexis Bouges – France
BSc in economics and sociology, finished first year of MSc in Sustainable Development in Uppsala.
Lived and studied in France before moving to Sweden for master's studies. Has been actively involved in various student associations and think tanks aiming at promoting sustainability values and practices. He still pursues the same goal with passion, now through entrepreneurship.
 
Josefin Brodell – Sweden
Currently finishing a BSc in Linguistics & Translation at Uppsala University.
Grew up in a small town in Sweden and moved abroad as soon as she finished high school. Has lived in France, Spain, and Chile where she has been studying and working as a tutor, and within the service industry. She has a profound interest in languages, literature and of course sustainability issues and wants to work creatively within these fields.
 
Honza Cihlar – Czech Republic
BSc in International Relations.
Born and raised in a town full of friends, but later adopted by the international community where he acquired a proper cleaning education. Has a severe passion for basketball and B2B. Has an ongoing interest in energy efficiency and energy related technologies.
 
Martha Mancheva – Bulgaria
BSc in Human Geography and just finished first year of MSc in Sustainable Development in Uppsala.
Born and raised in Sofia, but has lived a nomadic life in a number of countries around the world for the past seven years. Has a strong passion for sustainable entrepreneurship, business development, and smart solutions.
 
Liridona Sopjani – Kosovo
BSc in Multidisciplinary Studies Economics, Media and Graphic Communication, Public Policy. NFGL student with the Swedish Institute. 
Grew up and studied in Prishtina. Has been working with graphic design in her own start-up Animation Studio, NGOs, and private businesses. Has been an activist for charity initiatives around Kosovo and volunteer for few NGOs with different backgrounds. Currently studying sustainable development on a master’s level and shares a great commitment toward changing the way people do business today through sustainable design.
 
By Liridona Sopjani

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