Life as a college student is unlike anything else: one day you may feel like you’re vacationing at an all-inclusive resort, while the next day may be a whirlwind of stress and chaos caused by a perfect storm of schoolwork, homesickness, relationship drama, and anxiety about the future.
Despite the obligations and pressures that college students face, there is no better time to embrace - or at least explore - entrepreneurship than your years on a college campus, and that argument boils down to three primary reasons, described by Scott Kupor, COO of Andreessen Horowitz, at the latest Boise Startup Grind. Watch the full video here, and keep reading for his best tips.
Reason 1: College = Resources
Whether you’re at a major research university or a small college, every single institution of higher learning provides free resources to students that will likely be unavailable (or just crazy expensive) at any other time in life.
As a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, I have seen firsthand the incredible amount of fantastic opportunities for entrepreneurially-wired students. I have been privileged enough to be offered free office space at the 1789 Venture Lab, and a semester in Reese News Lab -- an experimental startup “lab” focusing on innovation and disruption in the media industry. Further yet, I grow from the the advice of over a dozen brilliant faculty members, and a highly-regarded Minor in Entrepreneurship program.
And at UNC, that doesn't even scratching the surface of the resources available to students. LaUNCh Chapel Hill is the local, UNC-affiliated accelerator program just steps off campus. Kenan-Flagler Business School has one of the nation’s most prolific Entrepreneurship programs. UNC Libraries has a Maker’s Lab with incredible market research tools and access to a 3D printe. And it keeps getting better: CUBE for Social Innovation is a hub for fantastic work being done by students in the social entrepreneurship realm.
And this idea of “resources” for students isn’t limited to entrepreneurship hubs like Stanford, MIT, or UNC. Throughout the country, students have access to tools - and people - that can help turn their idea into a product, and their product into a successful business while they are still in school.
Pro Tip: Make an appointment with an advisor in your university’s business school to find out how to get plugged in to your collegiate startup community.
And after all that, the most important “resource” available to you is the most simple: other students
They are your potential business partners, your workforce, your customer testing groups. And in all likelihood, their help will probably be free, and they will probably be excited to get involved Our advice: offer free food to get the best of the best on board. After all, it’s no coincidence that companies like Google, Facebook, and Snapchat were founded by college classmates.
Reason 2: The Best Ideas are Born from Collaboration
Early in my freshman year, a professor told me something that has resonated ever since. It’s an obvious statement, but it is surprisingly profound and has made a major impact on the way I see college:
“This is the only time in life where you will be surrounded by so many smart, talented and ambitious people in one place.”
For the rest of your life, you will have to reach out to people for meetings, walk into offices, drive around cities and fly around the country to meet with the best and brightest people. Conversely, in college you have those people within walking distance every day, and cultivating meaningful relationships is as easy as it will ever be.
Even if you have no intention to start a business or work in a certain industry after graduation, there is no harm or risk in having creative conversations and learning from classmates with other interests or skill sets.
REASON 3: IT’S NOT (THAT) RISKY
Pull up any article or book about entrepreneurship, and they will all say the same thing: when you decide to become an entrepreneur, you’re taking a major risk.
In college, the risk of starting your own company is almost non-existent, relative to any other time in your life. Why? Let’s break it down:
- You don’t have a mortgage to pay
- You don’t have a family to support
- You don’t have the alternative of a full-time job with guaranteed pay and benefits
- You are still young, with your entire career (literally) ahead of you
On top of those reasons, being a student entrepreneur is wildly attractive to venture capitalist and angel investors. While they may not be looking to invest in your startup right now, investors are always looking to meet and work with promising, hard-working founders. Once you are out of college and focusing full-time on a startup, your experience and industry knowledge will be years ahead of your peers just breaking into the field. Even if you are not planning on working on a startup full-time after you graduate, being able to leverage connections with investors is invaluable in any job.
In addition, bootstrapping a project on a college campus is easy, while the flexible and low-pressure college startup environment makes it fairly easy to pivot if changes need to be made.
As much as the “failure” mantra has been played out and glamorized in the startup world, the safest and least damaging time to “fail” is during an entrepreneur’s college years. Even if they only attain relatively minor success with their startup, student entrepreneurs gain immeasurable experience, connections, and wisdom by launching a venture outside of their coursework. At best, a student’s venture turns into a billion dollar company that impacts millions all over the world. At worst, they spend some time learning about business, networking, and life -- and even come away with an awesome resume addition.
The message for college students reading this should be clear: Go for it, and take the leap of faith. There’s no better time to test your entrepreneurial chops than during your college years.
Which colleges offer the best environments for student entrepreneurs? Let us know in the comments and on social media!