Deni Isic and Jonathan Leuba from Uniclub
March 28, 2023
BY Ida Marie Wøhlk Vilbæk
Meet Deni and Jonathan:
Founders of Uniclub, a startup helping students organize their stays abroad at universities around exchange agreements
Enrolled in the MSc program in Technology-based Business Development together on the 3rd semester at Aarhus BSS
Deni studied abroad for a semester in Los Angeles and Jonathan went to the Azores
Founded Uniclub in 2018
Photos: Roar Paaske
How did the idea of becoming an entrepreneur arise?
Our class had the chance to study abroad as part of our Bachelor’s degree. Several of us wanted to stay at universities outside the exchange agreements at Aarhus University, which only cover selected destinations. But without an existing agreement, the application process is very complicated. Deni sat down, read through all the rules and enlisted an agency in order to go for the stay he wanted at a university in California.
He ended up helping our whole class do the same. Everybody was grateful and said it was a luxury to have a guide. This sparked the idea to turn his guidance into a service and help other students study abroad.
How did you get started with your entrepreneurial journey?
Deni did some research on the agency he had enlisted and tried to come up with a better service. The agency only received applications on paper mailed to them the old-fashioned way. And you had to search the course catalogue at the destination university on your own – a huge obstacle for students. In addition, the agency focused exclusively on universities outside Europe.
Deni used these insights to differentiate Uniclub from other services. Uniclub stands out by providing a digital platform, help for selecting courses and access to universities inside Europe.
Jonathan, who were one of the students that Deni had helped, motivated Deni to start working with study abroad counselling and joined the project – initially to set up the technical aspects of the service. But he learned so much about stays abroad that both of us now advise students about their trips.
What has been the biggest challenge in the process?
Two challenges come to mind. As a student, all funding for your startup is carved from your SU. In the beginning, you have no start-up capital, you can only grow by getting actual customers. This is a strain budget-wise.
Besides, our service is built on trust and word of mouth. Students must have confidence in our ability to place them on another continent within a couple of months. And preferably spread the word to other students. It took time to build the necessary faith in our brand.
What does a typical workweek look like in relation to combining your startup with your studies?
At the moment, we work full-time. We studied ahead this semester and have no courses until summer.
There are three types of activities during a typical workweek:
- Marketing. We run ads and do search engine optimization, focusing on organic SEO, but also investing in paid ads on Facebook and similar.
- Guidance. Students using our service have a lot of questions, so we need to answer inquiries on our digital platform.
- Events. We promote our service at relevant events, often webinars arranged in collaboration with Danish trade- and student unions, but also physical events.
How do you use your academic skills as an entrepreneur?
We both study technology-based business development, and this is a very useful toolbox for our startup. We built the digital platform for Uniclub ourselves and never had to spend money on a developer to code stuff. Besides the tech part, we also use insights in marketing and business from our degree program.
Sometimes, we could need other types of knowledge as well. Particularly in terms of law and accounting.
Where is your startup today, and what are your dreams for the future?
Our goal is to become market-leaders, first in Scandinavia, then on an international scale. Sweden, Norway, Germany and Finland each have similar types of national funding schemes, and they have more students going abroad each semester than Denmark. We will focus on expanding to these countries.
After the summer holidays, we will have to write our Master’s theses. We will probably investigate another business model for our startup, perhaps transforming our offers to a paid service.
Your best advice for other students who are considering becoming entrepreneurs?
Our best advice is to incorporate your startup in your studies. Use your real-life business case in all projects and papers. You get work done, and in group assignments, you receive valuable input from other students.
We also recommend launching and testing your product as soon as it creates value instead of worrying about perfecting it first. It is better to adjust based on actual customer feedback and compensate those customers who experience the initial troubles and defects.
Also, use affordable SAS tools for a monthly fee instead of investing in a full custom-built platform. Such tools will allow you to test and identify what you need in a product and then build a customized version. AppSumo is a great place to start.