Start-ups, Russian style

Students last year said the trip to Moscow was the best part throughout the whole year.” Prof Yelena Kalyuzhnova, Vice Dean International at Henley Business School, said in the pre-departure briefing session.

I totally agree.

“MGIMO-Henley Start-up Tour” has enabled us, a group of postgraduate students studying different programmes to visit The Moscow State Institute of International Relation (MGIMO) for a week, from 7th to 13th April 2019.

As the name suggests, the trip was all about setting up start-ups and a presentation on the last day.

On the first day, we were warmly welcomed by the staff and students of MGIMO. The day started with an excursion to some tourist attractions such as the Red Square and Sparrow Hills. The view from Sparrow Hills was astonishing! During the trip, we could chat with MGIMO students who were very interested in knowing more about the student life at Henley.

We wanted to also learn more about MGIMO so the students there showed us around the campus and took us to the university museum. We were amazed that the current Minister of Foreign Affairs and a lot of previous ones are the alumni of MGIMO.

In the next few days, we were divided into 10 teams, each of which consisted of 3-4 Henley students and was assigned to work with 1-2 MGIMO students who already had an idea of a start-up project in an initial stage.

My team was assigned to work with Kate, a first-year master student at MGIMO, whose project was called Joyful Chinese. Instead of pupils coming to a centre, teachers from Joyful Chinese will go to schools to teach them Chinese after class.

Her business idea was excellent. Kate’s brother, who speaks fluent Mandarin, together with Kate have already started the business for a while and it was going very well.

Still, my teammates and I have identified a few areas that Kate might not have considered. These include some new marketing strategies and potential strategic partnership with some Chinese universities and schools.

Apart from doing the start-up project, we also attended a series of lectures given by the lecturers of MGIMO Business Incubator and Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship (HCfE). They were very useful and practical, especially for start-ups. It was particularly interesting to learn about internet marketing for startups with Mr Maxim Slesarev, MGIMO Business Incubator Vice Director and we could actually implement some of the strategies in our start-up project!

On the last day, there was a competition where each team had to present the idea and the business model. Our team focused on the future plan for Joyful Chinese in 2020 to further expand the current business by hiring more teachers and cooperating with partners.

Hearing the feedback from all the judges, we understood the strength and weaknesses of our presentation. Mr Jurek Sikorski, the Executive Director of HCfE, gave our team some constructive advice on diversifying the sources of revenue.

In the end, our team were the second runner-up in “Best Start-up Consultancy Team 2019” and we also won the “Vice Dean (International) Award 2019”. It is a great encouragement to our hard work in preparation of the presentation.

The winner was TalentsGo, a matchmaker platform that connects employers offering internships and projects with university students.

The prize for Grigorii Sorokin, MGIMO first year master student in the winning team, is a place at this year’s Summer Start-up Boot Camp to be held the week of 24-28 June 2019 fully paid for by the HCfE.

It was a very pleasant experience working with MGIMO students. Not only did we exchange business ideas about the project, but we also exchanged our personal experience about different foods and cultures. It is wonderful that we understand and respect our cultural differences through collaboration. Cultural differences were not a barrier between us.

It was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my postgraduate programme. This trip has given us a chance to apply and consolidate the knowledge that we have learnt from lectures and books. Without the learning process beforehand, the trip would not have been rewarding as it is now.

By Wing Yan Cheng

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