Developing a start-up from a Soros seat
Class of 2020 & 2021: Developing a start-up from a Soros seat
by Daria Shepetko, SSE Riga Year 2 student
The Class of 2020 has just received their diplomas and has become the youngest generation of SSE Riga Alumni. While some graduates are to jump into the labour market to conquer the corporate ladder, others already started to make their first bold steps in the startup sphere while in university.
Welcome today three start-up founder stories about Nikita Stepanov (Class of 2021), Arseniy Sergeyev, and Nikita Cikaluk (Class of 2020) who chose to seize all the opportunities at SSE Riga and started developing their enterprises while still involved in full-time studies.
Nikita Stepanov, who has been balancing the roles of a CEO and a student, is a founder of an innovative research organisation Magnalysis that is transforming healthcare by integrating AI into MRI.
Nikita presenting his start-up in Fifty Founders battle in Techchill 2020
“Bringing a startup idea to life during SSE Riga course”
“I had my MRI scan at the time when the AI industry started booming and, intuitively, I saw the opportunity. Since then I got lured by the concept of using the capabilities of AI in healthcare, though without a clear vision of the application.
Once I understood how the system works and how AI could enhance it, the Introduction to Entrepreneurship (ITE) course at SSE Riga began and, in retrospect, it became a starting point for my startup. The course was a great opportunity to incubate the idea: it would evolve from a raw concept to a full-fledged competition-winning pitch deck.
The victory was inspiring! Nonetheless, however promising the idea was, the first challenge was to find people who would believe in it. And I am grateful to Krists Avots (Class of 2013, experienced startup founder, and the director of ITE course) for his mentorship, hour-long preparation sessions before the important pitch decks, and, most importantly, faith in our startup.
As a young entrepreneur, you don’t have a cheat sheet with hints or answers for any decision you make. And as a CEO, while being daring and risk-taking, you should realise the gravity of your decisions. Undoubtedly, I make mistakes - mistakes that infuriate me! But all the victories of Magnalysis reinforced my conviction that the idea has a bright future ahead.”
“Why not?” mindset
“Being a high school student, I started my first startup during the Junior Entrepreneurship Summer School organised by SSE Riga, then came my first internship in the Innovations Department at SEB. Already then I knew that I wanted to build something with a global impact and I knew the approach I wanted to take, but I was yet to find the idea I wanted to work on.
Arseniy (second from the left) and VeritaCell team
And if you have a goal and the opportunity comes, you've got to use it. During the TechChill conference, I was introduced to a biotech entrepreneur who invited me to attend a match-making session and networking dinner by Commercialization Reactor, which was a day before the Macroeconomics report deadline.
Risk failing a paper and go? I decided, “Yes, why not?”. That session marked the start of my VeritaCell journey. In the end, I did pass my Macro report and further finance courses from the first try, at the same time being involved with building the company with a worldwide impact for patients.
What sets the entrepreneurial approach apart is the try-and-test attitude - it's about failing, reflecting on mistakes, and going on with new learnings. Constantly exploring new areas instead of specialising in one helps broaden the vision. Key thing SSE Riga has taught me is to think critically and objectively, which helps me to strategically plan the company's development, evaluating different options and finding the right problem-solution fit.”
@Nikita Cikaluk is not only a LinkedIn personal branding expert with 30k+ followers but also a Head of Sales at Chisell, a rapidly expanding beauty brand that is changing the perception of natural facial development and has just reached €1mil in revenue.
“Failure is your best teacher”
“You would be astounded by how many failures I had throughout my studies at SSE Riga - 16, to be precise, and still graduated in 3 years! I have been a firm believer that you should always try yourself in different fields in parallel with acquiring your diploma. That is how you open new doors for opportunities. I believe that once you become a good friend with failure, you become the ultimate winner!
Nikita and his clothing brand Saint Issa
Given my agility and enthusiasm, my first internship in a corporate environment confirmed that it was not my fit, whereas working in cooperation with a Commercialisation Reactor Fund revealed I had a flair for sales when I organized a one-week series of event for the Silicon Valley startup guru Bob Dorf Year 2 became a breakthrough since together with a few SSE Riga graduates, we founded a successful SMM agency called VEX Media, established a men's fashion clothing company Saint Issa, and started working on a two-sided healthtech startup DoctoWell.
Though the final momentum was a quick chat with Tony Robbins (#1 New York Times best-selling author, life and business strategist) who gave me a powerful energy boost and a career direction. Inspired, I devoted myself to developing my LinkedIn profile starting with 4 likes on my first post to becoming a public figure with over 50k views per post in half a year.
“Why do you need this?”, “That’s ridiculous!”, “Drop it!” was what I heard at the outset. From my experience, don’t let the opinions of others stop you! The one who holds his breath the longest wins. I choose to be on the winner's side!”
The article was written by Daria Shepetko: 2nd year SSE Riga student and the recipient of Alumni Association merit scholarship 2020.
Cover photo from Stockholm School of Economics in Riga