3 tips to student & pre-startup applicants | Hague Innovators Challenge 2021

Surya is the co-founder of NeoStove BV, a startup that is building a space-inspired cooking device that halves cooking gas consumption, carbon emissions, and boiling time. In January 2020, the startup concept won the Hague Innovators Challenge 2020 edition in the student category. To follow NeoStove’s progress, click here.

The following tips are gathered by the author’s firsthand experience as an entrepreneur and through the learnings acquired by attending the Hague Innovators Challenge competition, YCombinator Startup School, Yes!Delft Student Startup Program and most recently the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre program at Noordwijk.

#Tip 1: Talk to customers 

Harj from Ycombinator (a Silicon Valley accelerator) gives the below framework for thinking like an entrepreneur which has really helped my startup:   

As a startup founder, you’re a doctor and users are your patients. You need to actively talk to your patients to know what the symptoms are & what they’re complaining about. Similar to how as a doctor you wouldn’t prescribe a medicine to your patients without asking them about the symptoms, as an entrepreneur you shouldn’t build a solution for a customer without talking to them to deeply understand their problems! 

If you built a solution for a problem that a customer doesn’t have, they’re not going to pay for it and you’ve just wasted time, money, and resources which might have been better spent on an actual problem that the customer has and would pay for to get it solved!


Watch the 2-minute video of Harj explaining the importance of talking to users.

Read “The Mom Test” book to know how to talk to customers and learn about their problems.

#Tip 2: Build your product and Test it with customers

Once you know you’re solving a real problem that a customer has and is willing to pay to get solved, it’s helpful to quickly build a prototype and show it to the customer to see if it actually solves their problem. Disclaimer: The answer might hurt! If it doesn’t solve their problem, keep the customer (who has a real problem) and change your solution. At our startup NeoStove, we have a problem-focused and a solution-fluid mindset and this helps us to maintain our focus on solving the customer’s problem.


Watch the 60-minute video of Michael Siebel (partner at Ycombinator) explaining how to build a product.

#Tip 3: Find a cofounder

At my startup NeoStove, I’ve had the firsthand experience of being a solo founder for about a year. It’s very hard as a solo founder to hit all the essential milestones of a startup by yourselves! What helped me in those challenging times of being a solofounder is that I kept (and continue to keep!) the problem we’re solving close to heart and realizing the impact that our solution eventually would create. This is one more reason why you’ve to pick a real problem (ideally with a huge impact potential) to work on at your startup! This will motivate you to maintain focus and to not give up when things get hard. 

For finding co-founders, start with mapping out the requirements that a cofounder must-have. Then, look into your own network to see if there’s a match. If you’re a student entrepreneur at a university, realize that you’re at an amazing place to find potential co-founders! You can also use LinkedIn recruiter tool to check for interesting candidates on LinkedIn and cold reach them with a compelling introductory message & a real proposition. Once you find an interesting candidate(s), work with them (assign responsibilities and milestones) for a few months to test if they’re actually a good fit as a cofounder to your startup.


Watch the 5-minute video of Michael Siebel (partner at Ycombinator) explaining how to find a technical cofounder:

Best of luck with your startup!