March is around the corner, which for college students means… Spring Break! While students across the country flock to beaches and bars, a handful will be using the time to meet with investors and polish up business plans. Here, guest blogger Brian Forrester, PSU student and founder of BuddyUp Inc., tells us why college is the best (and worst) time to launch a startup:
Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy, especially if you’re good at it. Being a student and an active entrepreneur is almost impossible. However there are some distinct advantages to starting a company in college. After reflecting on my own journey, I’ve outlined some of the opportunities and challenges that come with launching a ‘dorm-room startup.’
1. Mentors at the Ready
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about success, it’s that nobody has ever achieved it without help from others. Mentors can come in many different forms and play many different roles—often somewhere between a friend and a coach. Perhaps your mentor is a professor, or someone you’ve met at an event, or heard speak. Surrounding yourself with mentors will help you feel well supported, will keep you humble and will be a sign to others that you’re worth investing in.
2. Endless Supply of Collaborators
Unless you’re taking online classes, college means that you’re surrounded by an ocean of young, creative and energetic people on a daily basis—people eager to take on the world and, equally importantly, people with flexible schedules. If you can’t find people on campus to work with you, then you might want to rethink your idea. I interview everyone I meet. As an entrepreneur, you need to know how to spot talent and to engage it. Being able to build effective teams is an essential skill, and if you don’t have it, you’re in trouble.
3. Fewer Responsibilities
I’m 25. I have no children, no mortgage, and no car. The day I launched my most recent venture, I had less than $100 to my name, most of it in quarters. No big deal. I had a good idea and was on the fast track to making it happen. The next day, I landed my first investor. When starting a company in college you probably won’t be risking a lot of your own capital, because you don’t have any. So what’s stopping you?
4. Get Your Rookie Mistakes Out of the Way
It’s through experimentation that we gather information, and the more information we have, the greater our odds of success. Rather than reading a book on entrepreneurship, just go do it. Use your college days to get your rookie mistakes out of the way. Make lots of them. TONS of them. Make them proudly. But most importantly, learn from them.
5. Find Out if Entrepreneurship is for You
Being an entrepreneur is not glamorous. Yes, you make your own hours, but you’re going to push yourself harder than any boss or professor ever would. Say goodbye to your romantic life, to your weekends out. Forget spring break. If you’re not willing to make major sacrifices, then this is not for you. People don’t decide to become entrepreneurs because they want to be happy, or because they want to make a lot of money. Real entrepreneurs can’t help it; ideas, risk, and innovation are as critical to their existence as the air they breathe. The sooner you can figure out whether or not you’re suited to the life of an entrepreneur, the better off you’ll be.
6. You Have to Work Harder to Raise Capital and Gain Credibility
If you launch a company in college, people are going to question your credibility. But let’s be real—that’s probably going to happen no matter what. If you’re a woman, some people are going to question your credibility; if you’re a person of color, some people are going to question your credibility; if you haven’t done it before, if you don’t have a degree, if you don’t have grey hair or a fancy MBA… you’ve got it… some people are going to question your credibility. If you let adversity stop you, then you don’t have what it takes. On top of this credibility challenge is the fact that you probably don’t have much capital. And real companies tend to need real capital.
7. You Might End up Dropping Out
In college, there are two types of startups. The first is a “project,” which is essentially a sandbox company. You might take it seriously, but in the back of your mind you know you’re just practicing. The second kind is a “company company”—the real deal. You’ve formed the entity, you’ve got a team, and you’re beginning to take legitimate risks. If things go well then you’re going to allocate more and more of your time and energy to your startup and less and less to your books. I decided to take one term off to work on my venture. It began to take off, and I needed to focus. One term quickly became two. Now three. As silly as it sounds, I’ve been one class shy of graduating for the past nine months. I’ve seriously considered dropping out, but as the CEO of a startup dedicated to student success, that would be too ironic.
There are many more reasons to launch (or not launch) companies in college—this is just a preliminary list. At the end of the day, it’s up to you. Start small. Build a good team. Fake it till you make it. As Seth Godin puts it, “Studying entrepreneurship without doing it is like studying the appreciation of music without listening to it.”
Brian Forrester is the founder of YESpdx.org (the Young Entrepreneurs Society of Portland), and the Founder and CEO of BuddyUp Inc., a social academic network that partners with colleges to promote student success and retention. He is a NedSpacer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.