Young people have ambitious ideas and the will to act, but they sometimes need extra know-how and a bit of encouragement. This is when an experienced and open-minded mentor can help. One such youth competition with a mentoring programme is Prototron. Marko Paavel, the Head of the Energy Business Unit at Harju Elekter Elektrotehnika AS, talks about his experience with the programme.
What does mentoring offer the young participants, how time-consuming is it and what are the thoughts of the members of the winning Ultralink team on Marko’s mentoring? We let the programme participants discuss this and share their thoughts. Hopefully, this post will inspire other enthusiasts to become mentors and share their advice with the youth as well.
What is Prototron Junior?
Prototron Junior is a technology and entrepreneurship competition for 13–19-year-olds. In this competition, young entrepreneurs pitch an idea and, if they are successful, get given the opportunity to implement it as well. Ultralink was the winning team of Prototron Junior this year. Their winning product is a self-disinfecting door handle that uses UV-radiation.
Marko says that the opportunity to give something back to society has always felt close to his heart. Since he previously supervised students at TalTech, he quickly agreed to do a similar thing in Prototron.
“Some call the new generation the snowflakes, but this is not what I see. I can say that most of the young people today are ready to build and create something with their own hands.”
The mentoring sessions took place once or twice a week for about an hour using Microsoft Teams. “I asked them questions and brought out the principles and actions required for the process of launching a new product. The team gave me an overview of their action plans and I gave them advice on how and what could be done better,” says Marko. The most challenging issue in the process, he adds, was the given time frame: “The time for building the prototype from scratch was quite limited.”
Are young people ready to listen to and use advice?
Marko says that his mentees knew very well how to receive constructive criticism and learn from it: “They had to come out of their comfort zone many times.” The Ultralink team members commented: “Marko encouraged us to do things that seemed unpleasant – we gained more experience because of it and we probably would not have won had it not been for him. For example, he advised us to do market research by phone, not by e-mail. Otherwise, we probably would have taken the more comfortable route and sent out e-mails. It makes a high-school student go weak at the knees to make a phone call to the manager of a company, but all in all, we managed.”
What has this experience taught you?
Marko says that supervising the participants of Prototron is quite a challenge: “In a student company, you’re not dealing with top professionals, but people who are striving for that. This means you must choose the correct approach. Secondly, the mentor may not be familiar with the field of the product, therefore they must make an effort and think more broadly. The Ultralink team did not have an obligation to work with me – they could have simply ignored my advice and done things their way. It gives one a great feeling if you can share your ideas and they are listened to.
The members of the Ultralink team encourage all who are considering whether to become a mentor to take on this journey: “We believe this role can make a change to everyday work. You can see the development of a student company and feel proud. We feel that Marko being there made us feel secure and gave us the courage to keep going.”
Why did Ultralink win?
“If I look at the companies that made it to the top five, I think that the jury was impressed by the prototype made by Ultralink,” says Marko. “The product is relevant in today’s world and offers a necessary technical solution to help stop the spread of the virus,” he adds.
As the winner of Prototron Junior, Ultralink were awarded the initial funding required for the production process. They have an agreement with Marko that they can contact him again anytime, as the company needs to develop both technologically and in finding reference clients.
“We named our company Ultralink – it’s made of two words that characterise our product: ultraviolet radiation and a door handle. It is easy to say and remember,” comment the members of the student company. There is an inertial sensor in the door handle that detects if someone touches it. After that, the diode of ultraviolet radiation, which kills bacteria and viruses, is activated. What is the cost of the product? “Our product is not much more expensive than other high-quality door handles. Considering the technology inside, the price is about 150 euros,” explain the winners.
Author: Helen Külaots