By Courtney Gras, Startup Community Lead at Amazon Web Services and Author of The Student Startup Guide
The idea of starting a company in college might seem daunting. How will you have time in between classes, work, and your social life to make it happen? And yet, many founders would argue that starting a company in college is the best time to pursue entrepreneurship. Why?
Universities now provide an abundance of entrepreneurship classes and programs
There are an abundance of student pitch competitions and even student venture funds
The safety net of ‘trying’ entrepreneurship and having the option to take a regular job after you graduate
Officially launched on April 11th as part of the Blackstone LaunchPad Annual Conference at Startup Grind, The Student Startup Guide is a collection of 30+ founding stories from student entrepreneurs that started up in college. The author, Courtney Gras, spent nearly four years working at Techstars supporting student founders in the LaunchPad network. A student founder herself, Courtney wanted to share their stories and help other student founders succeed.
Here are a few top tips for starting a company in college taken from the book:
Entrepreneurship is not a profession; it is a lifestyle and a journey you must embrace. It will be difficult at times. You will feel lonely, and you will have to make hard decisions. But to get started on this journey, all it takes is the courage to do one single action to move an idea forward, such as join a pitch competition, write a business plan, buy a domain name, etc. You will be amazed by all the new opportunities that will arise and all the support you will get from entrepreneurial networks. - Valtteri Salomaki, CEO, EDGE Sound Research, Inc, University of California Riverside, MBA in Information Systems and Marketing, Graduated March 20, 2020, Minnesota Twins Accelerator by Techstars 2021.
You’d be surprised how much being a student helps in getting people to respond to your email and talk to you. Ask for things—the worst thing that can happen is they say no. Take advantage of student funding opportunities (i.e., pitch competitions, student fellowships, etc.). A critical component of doing this successfully is taking the time to practice telling your story. What we’ve noticed about these competitions is that it’s not necessarily the best business that wins, but rather the business that is best at telling their story and selling themselves as a team. - Jordyn Goldzweig and Sam Brickman, Cofounders, QBuddy, Cornell, Computer Science, Graduated Fall 2020
You can’t do everything yourself. You will need to hire others to grow your business. Your local contacts and universities are amazing resources for finding talent. People in these institutions are extremely well connected to other people, not only in the university, but also the community. You will be amazed by how much you can grow your network and build your team right at your local university—you just have to ask. - Mario Micale, Founder and Principal, Narrative Digital Media, The University of Akron, Business Administration, Graduated 2017
Create a strict schedule and stick to it. Time management is key to building a venture while being a graduate student or full-time employee because, otherwise, excuses will hold you back from giving your startup a fair chance. Schedule personal time in your day and take one day off per week. It is important to focus on your mental health and identifying what outlets help you refresh after long days of work. - Valtteri Salomaki, CEO, EDGE Sound Research, Inc., University of California Riverside, MBA with a Concentration in Information Systems and Marketing, Graduated March 20, 2020
Persistence and passion are the ingredients to success. I was only nineteen when I started my first company, so a lot of suppliers took advantage of me. I had no idea I could negotiate pricing and materials, and many future retail partners didn’t take me seriously. I kept asking for feedback so they couldn’t ignore me. When I pitched Locker Lifestyle to get on Good Morning America three times, the suppliers were begging to have my products instead of me begging them! Try and try again; persistence will get you a yes. Passion will get you what you want. - Katarina Samardzija, CEO and Founder, Locker Lifestyle and PowerToPitch, Grand Valley State University, Started with Biomedical Sciences and Switched to Entrepreneurship After Starting Her Company, Graduated 2019
I swear by the 33 percent rule and highly recommend it to other first-time startup founders. One third of your network should be people you can learn from, founders who have stood where you stand, faced the challenges you’re facing, and reached the other side. The next third should be people in the same boat as you—other young and hungry entrepreneurs whose energy, drive, and resourcefulness should inspire you. Your final third should be made up of people whom you can mentor, allowing you to give back to the same communities that nurtured you. - Mir Hwang, Founder and CEO, GigFinesse, New York University, Chemistry and Psychology, Graduated 2019
I started by pitching in university competitions and perfecting my narrative. After I had the basics of pitching down, I reached out to a few people in the AI community for advice. When I was ready to start looking for funding, these people graciously offered to connect me with investors they thought would be great partners for Otherside. Those connections allowed us to raise enough capital to get started, and the initial investors who put money in put us in touch with larger funds, which helped us in our seed round. Focus was imperative here—I made sure only to connect with investors who were great fits for Otherside. At my last startup, I wasted a lot of time talking to investors who were outside of my industry or didn’t invest in the development stage I was fundraising for, and I wasn’t able to raise capital because of it. - Matt Shumer, Cofounder and CEO, OthersideAI, Syracuse University, Entrepreneurship, Dropped Out to Work On His Startup
Want to read more top tips from student founders? Check out the book, resource guide, and online community!