Co-up lab – envisioning yourself as an entrepreneur, or should I use another word?

A blog post by Ayla De Paepe, Career Program Manager at KI Career Service

For the longest time, I would never think of myself as anything close to an entrepreneur. It’s way too scary, it must be for people who have a perfect business plan ready to go, have investors,… In other words: not me. And I’d probably never be one either, because how does one get from “me-not-an-entrepreneur” to “me-entrepreneur”?

Now, it’s not like I’m here to tell you that in the couple of months since I finished my PhD I started a business and will give you tips on how to do it yourself, because, well, I didn’t. Didn’t even want to or consider it, and I now happily work at KI Career Service (KISC) as a government employee (so no, no new business, no entrepreneur). But yesterday I joined the first Co-up lab ( = “co-creation” + “pop-up”) organised by KI’s Unit for Bioentrepreneurship, EIT Health (European union funding in other words) and many more collaborative partners, and it did soften my feeling of “me-not-an-entrepreneur”.

What I’ve learned from yesterday’s talks and workshop in design thinking is that I maybe just don’t identify with the word “entrepreneur”, but that the content of what it can mean, and the process of “entrepreneuring” itself is not as far away from “me” as I thought. So, instead of “entrepreneur”, how about “problem solver”, or “creator”, or even “empathic listener”?

Well, wait a minute, I do see myself as a creator. Actually, if you’re doing (or have done) a PhD, you’re probably super skilled in finding solutions to problems, as that’s basically all you do, no? However, I did learn we’re often very stuck in the idea of getting it totally, perfectly right, and that this can really stand in the ways of coming up with crazy solutions to someone else’s problems. And the latter is critical: it’s someone else’s problem you’re solving. We tested this by designing a solution to the issues a fellow-workshop-go’er might have in their morning routine (or lack thereof). You try to understand the other’s situation, and come up with solutions. Of course, this was just a mini-introduction, and the idea of the Co-up program is to do this for patients, and not just for the set idea of morning routine. No, what does your target group actually need? If you’re trying to make patient’s lives better, how do you get to know what would actually help them? That’s where the empathic listener comes in.

So if you find yourself in your studies or in your PhD, and are interested in a hands-on experience of solving problems for and with patients, I can highly recommend considering being part of the non-curricular program that will run this fall. You can’t get course credits for it, but you do get a certificate, an extended network, developed skills portfolio, and lost of stuff to put on your CV! It’s presented to be equivalent of 10h per week, though that’s not how it’s organised, as in practice it’s more like a couple of lectures, and a few days of co-creation with patients and others, spread over a semester. So it will take some time, but I don’t think it’s irreconcilable with an ongoing PhD, and can be great for your future career, whether it’s in research, healthcare or entrepreneuring. Not to mention the fact that you might actually help people with your solutions…

More info on the program can be found in the Co-up lab brochure

Pictures: taken by Ayla De Paepe (me). Left: very inspiring talk on the idea “If I can be an entrepreneur, you can be one too” by Katarzyna Hess. Right: the mysterious solution my problem-solving partner created for my morning routine…


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