How to Get Ahead as a University Entrepreneur
Posted on January 11, 2013
So you want to be an entrepreneur, but you’ve decided to go to college. Your mission is now to provide yourself with the best possible foundation to build your business upon. Getting involved in your university’s entrepreneurship organization can open up enormous opportunities to you by allowing you to surround yourself with smart, innovative, and passionate young people.
Universities are the Best Place to Start a Business
While you are in college you have a tremendous opportunity to start a business simply because people are more than willing to help you. If you want to start a business at a business school, you have whole departments of brilliant professors who can provide guidance on your venture. Whether it’s marketing, management, information technology, finance, accounting, or legal, you have a built-in network of experts. You also have a huge talent pool of like-minded individuals working in classes and groups right beside you — they might be your co-founders or first employees.
College campuses are also the perfect test market for your product or service. High concentrations of well-connected people will indicate very quickly whether your business is going to catch on or not. Just look at dorm room sensations like Facebook, Napster, or offline businesses like College Hunks Hauling Junk.
Even if you don’t want to start a business immediately, learn from people who have real-world experience and are willing to mentor soon-to-be entrepreneurs. This is the only time in your life you will be surrounded with so many opportunities.
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Startup Your University
If your school doesn’t have an entrepreneurial program, then use your entrepreneurial skills and start one. At my alma mater, Bryant University, we built our Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization into the nation’s top ranked program four out of five years in a row. We brought together a charismatic team of young people who were motivated to take home something more than a diploma. This attitude was contagious. The more fun and success we had, the more word spread across campus — people wanted to be apart of what we were accomplishing.
When we brought 50 students half way across the country to the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s National Conference, we came home with enormous media recognition for our university. Being president of Bryant’s entrepreneurs’ organization gave me credibility and experience, which I still speak about everyday with investors and media outlets.
The most important thing is that your entrepreneurship program adds real-world experience to you and your fellow classmates. Your goal should be to ultimately increase the value of you and your classmate’s degrees.
The Alumni Advantage
The difference between the value in a degree from Harvard and a degree from your local community college can be summed up in one word: relationships.
Whether you went Ivy League or not, your school can open doors for you. Who is the most notable entrepreneur that went to your university? Who are your classmates’ parents? Create a plan that will allow you to tap these networks. Meet with your alumni organization, start Googling, ask your professors — there’s no reason you can’t network with your university’s elite.
Successful business people also love the opportunity to go back to where they got their start. Find opportunities to get the alumni involved in your entrepreneurship organization. Invite them to speak on campus, to sit on panel seminars, to be a part of an entrepreneurship board, or become a mentor to a student who is launching her first business. Why not start an Alumni Entrepreneur Hall of Fame? Do anything to recognize them and get them involved. Find a way to leverage their knowledge, connections, and experience to make your organization a success. When the time is right, have them take out their checkbooks and start a scholarship program or work with them to establish a fund for student startups.
Leave Your Legacy
College is supposed to be the best four years of your life; it’s up to you how you spend them. Be remembered for throwing great parties, or be remembered for building your school into an entrepreneurial powerhouse. Or, in the case of National Lampoon’s legendary student entrepreneur Van Wilder — do both.