BY MELISSA BURNS
When you’re busy studying for finals, writing essays, and worrying about next semester’s classes, the last thing on your mind is becoming an entrepreneur. But starting a business in college can be a real opportunity for college students—and it’s more feasible than you might think. At worst, you’ll walk away with a significant experience that you can put on a resume, and at best, you can growth hack your way to the status of brands like Spotify, YouTube, or Facebook (the latter of which was actually started by a founder still in college).
Advantages of College Entrepreneurship
So why is starting a business in college advantageous over simply waiting until you graduate?
- Sheer connection potential. In college, you’ll be surrounded by hundreds to thousands of other students, all of whom are energetic, eager to learn, and motivated to find a future career for themselves. If you’re looking for partners, employees, or interdisciplinary contacts, you’re never going to find a better time and place.
- Advice from professors and counselors. You’re surrounded not only by peers, but by people far more experienced and knowledgeable than you are. Depending on the nature of your business, you may be able to find seasoned experts in your field teaching classes, or at the very least, be able to contact advisors who can connect you to those resources outside the university.
- Extra free time. Being a full-time college student is demanding, and on top of that, some students even have part-time or full-time jobs. However, most students aren’t juggling full-time work, overtime, family responsibilities, and other obligations the way most graduated adults are. You’ll almost certainly have more free time now than in the future, so it’s a prime opportunity to invest more hours in a potential business.
- Business world connections. Even if your business isn’t a success, as you develop your business, you’ll make valuable connections in the business world. For example, if you start wooing potential investors, working with other business partners, or finding new suppliers, you’ll build yourself an extended network of contacts you can use for references or opportunities down the road.
- Entrepreneurial experience (while you’re young). Finally, and most importantly, you’ll gain the experience of starting and running your own business, which will teach you invaluable lessons about leadership, creative problem solving, critical thinking, and communication–all of which are valuable to learn while you’re still young.
How to Succeed
Just because there are major advantages to college entrepreneurship doesn’t mean it’s easy or straightforward; you’ll need these strategies to find success:
- Choose the right idea. Not all business ideas offer the same degree of feasibility for college students; for example, you’ll likely need an idea that won’t require much upfront capital, and one that won’t demand an intensive investment in infrastructure. Opt for more inexpensive, nimble options for your first foray.
- Start slow. Don’t start sacrificing everything for your business. It’s a good thing to be passionate about your business and invest yourself fully in it, but not at the expense of your other responsibilities. Start working on your business slowly, and gradually scale up as you become more comfortable and familiar with the process.
- Listen to advice. You may have a great idea, but you’re still young and inexperienced. You don’t have to take the advice of everyone who offers, but you should at least listen. Absorb as much information and as many different perspectives as you can during this experience.
- Prioritize your studies. Your business does have a chance to become successful, but it’s still a good idea to complete your education. Even if you’re more excited about your business idea, try to prioritize your academic studies. Think of it as hedging your bets for the future.
- Be careful with your money. You’re likely facing a large sum of student debt, without much personal capital available to fund your venture. Accordingly, you’ll need to be frugal and judicious about how your business financially operates. The last thing you want is to accrue a secondary source of massive debt before you graduate.
- Remain flexible. Finally, understand that few paths to success in the business world are straightforward and unbent. Your business will likely take a course of development that you wouldn’t expect and can’t predict, so remain flexible enough to allow that development.
Starting a business while still in college is certainly a massive undertaking, but it’s both possible and beneficial to do so—regardless of your business’s ultimate fate. Put your fears of failure to the side and start taking advantage of the resources and opportunities that surround you.
Melissa Burns graduated from the faculty of Journalism of Iowa State University in 2008. Nowadays she is an entrepreneur and independent journalist. Her sphere of interests includes startups, information technologies and how these ones may be implemented.