The VIA program mandates students to embark on a comprehensive business project, starting from idea generation and culminating in successfully launching and selling their innovative offerings in the marketplace (Markman, 2016). To support their entrepreneurial endeavors, each student receives funding of up to CHF 1000, which is sponsored by corporate entities and administered through an association. Working in teams consisting of 2 to 4 students, participants have nine months to develop and make their innovations available to potential customers.
To ensure a sound legal framework and protect students from potential legal risks, a non-profit association has been established to serve as a "holding" company for the students' start-ups. This entity safeguards their interests and provides a supportive environment for realizing their entrepreneurial ventures. Students receive regular guidance and mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs, executives, and professors throughout the program. These coaching sessions follow the renowned "lean startup methodology" developed by Eric Ries (Ries, 2011) and Ash Maurya (Maurya, 2022)., providing a structured framework for project development (Sull, 2004), (Aulet, 2013).
Upon completing the program, students can continue their start-up ventures outside the legal entity established for the VIA program. Notably, all profits generated during the course of the program are distributed to the participating students, enabling them to reap the rewards of their entrepreneurial efforts. This approach emphasizes the practical and tangible outcomes of the program, fostering a sense of ownership and motivation among the students.
This program began in 2013 and has been continuously improved to fit different situations. On average, we have about 20 students each year, adding up to around 200 students who have taken part in this hands- on entrepreneurial experience. Students really enjoy this program. At first, they're not sure what to expect, and they find it confusing to figure out all the steps needed to start their own business. But over time, they learn that their initial ideas don't always work, and the real market behaves differently. Eventually, they develop the mindset and skills to adapt, change direction, or keep going, depending on how things are going.
In the end, students look back on their journey and feel amazed. Most of them are really thankful for this unique experience that has taught them so much. The best part is that the challenges students face in this program are like the real challenges of working in a team and starting a business. The money for this project comes from local small businesses that we partner with. We also have mentors who help students from time to time. These mentors share their own experiences, introduce students to their networks, question their ideas, and support their progress. We choose these mentors carefully and give them a small payment for their time and effort.
The VIA program empowers students to transform their entrepreneurial ideas into viable businesses through a comprehensive and supportive framework. The provision of financial resources, coaching from experienced professionals, and adherence to the lean startup methodology contribute to a rich and impactful entrepreneurial learning experience. By engaging in real-world ventures, students gain invaluable insights and skills that prepare them for success beyond the confines of the program.