At the end of January 2019, the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation organized the Days of Business Culture, and MOSOBR.TV showed a series of interviews with entrepreneurs. The head of the Technospark’s project school, Vladimir Berlizev, appeared in one of them.
Hello, we are now in Technospark, our guest is Vladimir Berlizev. He’s an entrepreneur and the head of the Technospark’s project school. Hello, Vladimir. Will you share your experience of entrepreneurship?
Vladimir My entrepreneurial activity started back in 2012 with an enrollment. Now I work in the Technospark group and go on with entrepreneurship, serial entrepreneurship to be more exact. My first startup was a project that I created together with my mate back in the day when we were students. We set it up in 2012 hyped up by the wave of nanotechnology. The idea seemed ingenious then — to create an educational product that would literally make nanotechnology tangible, and we spent the whole three years on it. We tried to turn the project into business, made a bunch of classical mistakes, and three years later we realized that we couldn’t go on with it any longer and the project died.
Reporter What did it take to become an entrepreneur and have there been any difficulties along the way?
Vladimir It all began in 2012. My mate and I had an idea that became a starting point for our entrepreneurial activity. We thought it would be cool if there were educational courses about nanotechnology in Russia. There was a lot of hype around it. And we spent three years to develop that startup. It never grew into business. The main difficulty was that we were convinced that the two of us could tackle the matters of marketing, sales, engineering, lecturing, writing texts and the rest quite well and deeply enough. It was the biggest mistake we made back then. When it was time to technologize and separate this activity from ourselves, we proved to be unprepared, and, most obviously, our enthusiasm and faith in the idea dwindled away over time. It turned out to be a great obstacle that we failed to overcome.
Reporter Vladimir, will you tell us what you are doing now?
Vladimir My first attempt at business showed that it’s impossible to keep everything in one head. A hero-entrepreneur is a marketing wrapping of people who are busy doing things. That’s why I came to work in the Technospark group where they have a mass production of businesses. And I’m engaged in entrepreneurship up to the present day.
Reporter Do you think entrepreneurs have to know how technologies they work with operate?
Vladimir Yes, they do. But it’s important to understand that they’re not supposed to be good at everything at once. Good business stems from in-depth knowledge in a subject area. At the same time, entrepreneurs should have broad background knowledge to make their idea evolve into the state of business. And only then develop it at the core of these technologies, singling out the non-key activities in their business.
Reporter What do you think of the extent to which educational activities are related to entrepreneurship? Can one be taught to become an entrepreneur?
Vladimir I don’t really think you can be taught to become one. Just imagine, you’ve completed a course and have decided that you’re the best entrepreneur in the country. The main task of an entrepreneur is to act. Can one taught to put things in motion? I believe it is rather how you think and how you organize your activity. But there are a great lot of other skills that can be trained, and they will actually help in the organization of those activities. But it’s not about learning to be an entrepreneur. It’s different. Those are not professional skills, but rather what is called soft skills.
Reporter What did you have to learn while you were doing business? Is it important for an entrepreneur to be open-minded in order to successfully develop his/her business?
Vladimir Getting new knowledge is crucial. But there is an even more important point here. It’s impossible to put all the knowledge of all areas into one head. What I had to learn and what I’m still learning up until today is how to technologize my experience. The knowledge that I apply in relation to my business. I have to pass it on to others in order to step out of this process myself. And that’s the whole point in how we approach the development of startups. It is what the idea of serial entrepreneurship is all about. You should learn something and teach it to others without going back to it again. Only then will the entrepreneur continue developing as an entrepreneur. Such enterpreneurs won’t be distracting onto things they’ve already experienced and gone through, or as we put it, technologized.
Reporter How much of importance is it to have a team in business based on your experience? How did you shape yours and what did you take into account?
Vladimir That’s exactly what I’m talking about when I say that the team has a pivotal role. But this shouldn’t be taken as that classic idea of a team, when we’re all together, heading towards the challenges of business holding hands. I rather mean a system of labor division in which every player clearly understands his/her role. And this system of labor division is unique to each and every specific business. There’s no right team-building recipe for doing business. It’s essential for all the team members to be adaptable and flexible not only as a response to external factors that are changing all the time, but they should also be ready for the overall concept and direction to change in the process. It is important to make sure there aren’t any stationary, static, inflexible members in the team.
Reporter Are there any typical errors that you would like to point out to protect those viewers who are dreaming of becoming entrepreneurs.
Vladimir I think I’ve made a few typical mistakes myself at the beginning of my entrepreneurial path. I can speak of them with a certain degree of responsibility. The first mistake is the fear of starting to do things. You don’t really have to complete all online courses, go through all lectures, or read all books to be an entrepreneur. The key is to be ready for action and put things into motion. You shouldn’t be scared of that. Here I can mention the experience of Nikola Tesla, Dyson or other entrepreneurs that you are bound to know. They weren’t afraid to take risks, they made mistakes, fell, but always got back up on their feet and went on with their hustle. You shouldn’t be scared. That was our typical mistake to be too afraid to start. But as soon as we started, we no longer felt this way. The second mistake lies in the difficulty to separate entrepreneurship from engineering. We do a sort of screening throughout the Business Debut game series where we actually see that it is a typical mistake when someone at an early stage of a startup fails to draw the line between engineering and entrepreneurial activities. But it is necessary to do, even if not straightaway, but one has to prepare and go for it so that further experience won’t turn out to be fatal. Because it is quite common too.
Reporter Will you explain the difference between an engineer and an entrepreneur?
Vladimir An entrepreneur answers the question of what to do. And an engineer knows how to do it. If one person tries to answer both questions at once, he/she will manage to do so but for a short while. That’s why you should filter out the matter of how to do things or take the engineering position.
Reporter The system of education in Moscow puts emphasis on nurturing those skills in pupils that they will actually need in their real life. How can the so-called skills of the 21st century help in the entrepreneurial activity?
Vladimir Of course, it’s important to have breadth of knowledge and be able to socialize using your meta-professional skills. But we work within the other paradigm. We put children in conditions that are close to reality or real environment of business development when they come up with an idea. They elaborate on the idea in our project school all by themselves like grown-up startupers. We believe it is the most effective assessment method. That’s why we pay so much attention to such skills as teamwork, creative thinking, communication, etc. But what’s most important is the development of adaptability, ability to reinvent and adjust to the ever changing world around us. It’s silly to believe that the plan that we made half a year or a year ago will remain without change. Children’s most frequent mistake is when they start putting their projects into life and then find themselves unprepared for moments when everything changes dramatically. It stifles the whole project and it stops, gets forgotten or children simply switch to another one. In our project school we try to let such mistakes happen. We arrange activities in a way that children are ready to act in a situation when nothing goes according to plan. And it will never go according to plan if it is a real-life activity. At the very least, in the future the competence of adaptability will help the children to identify their place in any system of labor division. Whichever direction the children take in life after our project school, they will always benefit from their skills to interact within a team, build systems and identify their role inside them. And that’s what we do in our school.
Reporter What do you think defines success in business?
Vladimir We can call a business successful when it makes a profit. It is a fact nobody can deny. But let’s not forget that when entrepreneurs conceptualize their business, they have to think of the relevance of their product. They should think of a business that helps people and makes the world a better place. If the business is successful and things are going well, it brings the entrepreneur a feeling of satisfaction, apart from the profit. And it is much more important than money I think.
Reporter What would you recommend those of our viewers who want to become entrepreneurs? Where should they start, what isn’t worth being scared of and how can they overcome their fear?
Vladimir Next time you come up with yet another business idea (and you will come up, for sure). You should clearly identify the time, the deadline when you will have to move on to the creative activity. Which means stop thinking, figuring, elaborating, and start acting. An entrepreneur will be haunted by this fear all the time, because the state of uncertainty is too frightening to any person. But I don’t want to say that as soon as you embark on the action and implementation of your project, those questions and issues you haven’t given a thought will be automatically resolved. You will probably answer a couple of them but you will end up having another thousand ones. It is this state of uncertainty, constantly arising issues, and finding solutions to new problems that keep an entrepreneur moving forward. They help to turn an idea into a lucrative business that will be bringing both satisfaction and profits. This state of uncertainty is the norm and it is absolutely not to be scared of.