Aside from being ultra-successful businesses, what do Reddit, Snapchat, Dropbox, Microsoft, Facebook, WordPress and TIME Magazine have in common?
They were all started by college students.
Starting your own business is an incredible way to learn new skills, hone your leadership abilities, and give your resume a boost. There’s always the chance you will hit it big and become wildly successful, skyrocketing your post-grad career prospects from associate to CEO. Even if your business doesn’t take off, you’ll walk away with far more knowledge and better connections than when you started.
Though college can feel like a full-time job, it may actually be the perfect time to build your own company. The university setting can provide endless resources for your first business venture if you just know where to get started. The first step in the journey is developing an entrepreneurial mindset.
Entrepreneurs view the world through a specific lens, always on the lookout for problems to be solved. One of the best methods for starting a business is identifying needs in your own community. What tools or services do other college students wish they could have? Are there areas in which your university could improve?
Selling your product or service is greatly simplified if there is already a direct need for it. To identify these needs, listen to conversations of people around you to identify the pain points in their lives.
Perhaps students you know want healthier food options on campus, better tutors, or a service to manage their class schedules. Ask people what their ideal college experience would look like, and build the missing pieces. You can do the same thing with your city as a reference. Look for areas of improvement in your neighborhood and brainstorm solutions to the problem.
Inspiration struck Babson College freshman John Goscha in 2002 during an entrepreneurial brainstorming session at college. Goscha noticed that he and his friends would often write ideas on pieces of paper and stick them to the walls, only to tear them down again when plans changed. The process was cumbersome and inefficient, and Goscha wondered if there was a way to turn all of the walls in his dorm into dry erase whiteboards instead. The concept for IdeaPaint was born.
Goscha went on to work with several labs to develop a paint that could transform any smooth surface into an erasable canvas, and finally brought it to market in 2008. Now, having gone through several rounds of funding and winning multiple awards, IdeaPaint is a full-fledged company, allowing college students and creative thinkers to write their ideas all over the walls.
One of the most valuable resources a university can provide is a network. Reach out to your entrepreneurship club or department to see if there are other student business owners who can show you the tricks of the trade. Socials and dinners are a great way to meet potential mentors and business partners.
Most colleges have an alumni list of graduates who would love to see students from their alma mater succeed. Contact the alumni relations department to help set you up in meetings or look up your school on LinkedIn for ideas of who to connect with. Finding a mentor in your field of interest is a great way to get guidance as you build your company.
Universities are also a perfect place to recruit other students to help you craft and hone your vision. Perhaps you want to build a SaaS product but don’t have the technical chops. Ask around in the computer science department to see if anyone is looking for an internship. Most schools also have clubs for people interested in sales, marketing, and engineering, all of which would be great pockets of talent to tap in to.
Finding the time to develop your vision can be one of the trickiest parts of starting a venture in college. Thankfully, there are ways to combine school work with entrepreneurship to check two boxes at once.
Professors love to help students with their passion projects. Talk to your professors to see if you could tailor some of your assignments to your business. If you need to create a business plan as a homework assignment, make it about your company. Use your time writing press releases in your public relations class to get the word out about your next venture.
Many departments also require that students do an internship for credit. If you’re proactive, you can likely arrange to work on building your own company in place of an internship. This way, you can fulfil college credit and develop something that will be valuable to you for years to come.
If you know where to look, universities are goldmines for free resources. Until you need to expand into your own space, use classrooms and library space as free real estate to develop your company in.
Take advantage of offerings like free printing, Wi-Fi, and computers. Check to see if your school has technical spaces like a wind tunnel or 3D printer that you could use to prototype your product. You might be surprised by what is available to you!
Beyond the free perks, many schools offer grants and scholarships to budding entrepreneurs. See if you can join hackathons or startup competitions to win prize money or funding for your venture. You may just be able to score some free seed money, an early investment in your company. In some entrepreneurship programs, students can pitch their ideas directly to venture capital firms or angel investors, who will invest money in exchange for equity, or part ownership, in the company.
Not all businesses require outside funding, either. Some entrepreneurs choose to “bootstrap” their company and use only their own money until more can be made from sales. Some people raise money directly from family and friends. Whatever option you choose, make sure to consult with trusted advisors before investing money into a business venture. Nothing in business is guaranteed!
If you’re willing to take the time to develop your passion project, the university setting can be an incredible place to start your first business. Whether you build out a landscaping business or design the next Google, don’t miss out on all of the fantastic resources at your disposal. Everything you need for your first company is available if you just take the time to search for it.