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Join the revolution: 6 tips for green entrepreneurs

Are you thinking about starting a business after you graduate – or even better, a business that makes the world a better place through innovative, environmentally-friendly services or technology?

Here Madeleine Bothe, Education Manager at Climate-KIC UK (follow her on Twitter @KIC-Madeleine), gives her advice…

'There’s a revolution going on, and you can be part of it! The next industrial revolution needs innovators, business talent and scientists with the right skills to improve the environment and preserve our planet for future generations.

'I’m involved in a Europe-wide education programme for an organisation called Climate-KIC. We aim to give students who are passionate about climate change the tools they need to innovate and excel in their area of expertise.

'I don’t label myself as an entrepreneur, but there are life choices which I have made that embrace my "inner entrepreneur". I sincerely believe there’s a little entrepreneur in every one of us.

'If you’re thinking about starting a business after you graduate – or if you’re still wondering if entrepreneurship is for you – you should read the following tips from colleagues, founders and start-ups.'

1. Try any idea. 'Don’t wait for the idea to come to you, or for someone to give you an idea – just try selling something to get a taste for what your target market is, what they want from a product or service, what price they are willing to pay, etc. You will start to develop an instinct for the market. Also, check out Kickstarter, Nesta, and Indiegogo for crowdfunding ideas.' ~ Caroline Wood, founder of Clotho

Young entrepreneurs at Climate-KIC's summer school (©Jody Kingzett Photographer)

2. Practise your haggling skills. 'Go to a market or a shop and think about what price you’re willing to pay for something you want, and negotiate for it. Also, sellers will often decrease the price if you buy more than one item – but they don’t always tell you this, so always ask. You’ll learn about how to start getting your bargain, your body language and the seller’s, and when to stop. Many of us (me included) are daunted by the confrontational aspect of negotiation, but you will never know whether you can get a cheaper price until you ask.' ~ Alex Han, Climate-KIC alumnus

3. Plan your sources of funding. 'If you have an idea that you’re passionate about and you can convince others that there is demand for your idea, you will soon have to decide which source of money is the most useful. There are different types of funding: banks, family and friends, angel investors and venture capitalists. They all have their pros and cons so weigh these up very carefully when you really need to start using funding. But there’s always a lot you can do before you need financial support. Often it’s not the lack of money that breaks a start-up; it is the lack of skills (negotiation, presentation, understanding business models and understanding the customer).' ~ Abdulla Sheikh, co-founder of Whotter

4. Be a man or woman of all trades. 'As an entrepreneur you will get to be the CEO, President, Stakeholder, Chief Designer, Builder, Manager, Technician, Negotiator, Salesman/woman, HR, Finance Officer, and many more all rolled up into yourself! Not only is that experience more valuable than most work experience, but you will learn to be flexible between roles. You won’t be alone, though – your most prized possession will be a friend or partner whom you can bounce ideas off and practise your business pitch in front of.' ~ Chris Mazur, PhD student at Imperial College (alongside many other projects)

Looking out across London – and dreaming of their future companies! (©Jody Kingzett Photographer)

5. Your business model is everything. 'You could be working with existing technology, but a refined and alternative business model to reach the market might be all you need. For example, clean energy entrepreneur Jigar Shah took existing solar panel technology but didn’t simply sell them to customers. He targeted customers with big warehouses and convinced them to let him put solar panels on their roofs, and in exchange he would give them free electricity. For customers with huge infrastructure costs, this helped them save money on overheads.' ~ Climate-KIC Spark! with Jigar Shah on 3 June 2014

6. Failure is an option and it’s okay! 'Be prepared to learn from mistakes and outright failure. If you start with a "practice idea" (see number 1), then you will hone your skills for when you have an idea you are passionate about and really want to succeed. You have to be persistent. If it does not work out, don’t fret. You will learn from it and become a better person from the experience.' ~ Dr. Mike Tennant, Lecturer in Business and Environment

'Every entrepreneur I have ever talked to has said that it is very hard work. If you’re interested in working in a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday job then it’s maybe not the most obvious career choice.

'However, the same people will argue that it’s incredibly rewarding – you get to be your own boss and you get to meet so many fantastic people with similar passions. With time and effort, future ideas and funding both start to come more easily.

'If this sounds appealing, then start off by looking for support programmes through start-up networks. At Climate-KIC we have two programmes: the Greenhouse is for students and our Accelerator programme is for ready entrepreneurs.

'Programmes like this not only support you financially, but have coaches and masterclasses to develop your business skills. These support platforms are more prevalent than you think, especially in the UK where support for budding entrepreneurs is encouraged!

'Good luck, I hope you join the revolution!'

Read more:

   •  The 10 rules for starting a business in the UK
   •  My advice for new entrepreneurs, by Faraz from Pakistan
   •  How to choose an ethical career