Starting a business is not easy. Having resources at your disposal is invaluable, and one of the best places to get those resources is in college. With a lot of attention being brought to whether or not you actually need college, I would like to present a counter-point. I started my own business this year and these are the college resources I found most helpful.
10. Risk-reduced Environment
College is a time when people are trying many new things. It is a relatively safe environment. If you start something and it doesn’t work, you are still in school, you still have a house, you still have classes, you still have friends. Being at college provides a great place to test new ideas and have a safety net to fall back on if things don’t go as planned.
What? Colleges have classes? While this seems obvious, what may be less clear is that many colleges provide entrepreneurial classes that you can take. These provide an awesome opportunity for people with a great idea to learn the skills they need to make that idea a reality. Entrepreneur Magazine has a great list on the top entrepreneurship programs in the nation.
Besides these startup specific courses, colleges offer a lot of great classes in other things. Look at these as an opportunity to learn what kind of things interest you. You may just find your next big idea by looking into the various problems you learn about in class or by looking at the problems a class faces in teaching students.
College students love new things, especially if it doesn’t cost them anything. When I was starting my company (which is college oriented) having a base of students to beta with was invaluable. College also has a number of great ways to spread the word about your product. 72% of college students have a social media profile [source]. Word of mouth works really well on a college campus. Organizations can help spread the word. At my school, people who have something to say write it on the sidewalks in chalk. With all of these modes of communication, getting your product known is easy.
If you are starting a company, you probably already know that you don’t want to work for someone else. However, internships are a great way to learn about your industry, meet fantastic contacts who will be able to help you out, and learn how the biggest players are doing it. Internship also frequently teach you new skills that you can later apply to your own interests.
Don’t have an idea yet? You may just find that you can do something better than the company you intern with.
Here in Indiana, we have groups like Verge Startups, which puts on events to connect developers, idea makers, and investors. Many colleges have career fairs, where you are likely to meet people interested in the same things you are. If your school doesn’t have an event, consider hosting one on. Most schools will let you use a space and with just a little cash you can set up a pretty awesome event.
Some colleges even have groups that will fund student-run companies. This money is usually pretty friendly. At my school, our innovation and commercialization center will provide you with a loan that, if you make it with your business, is paid back with a little interest. Many venture capitalists attend the networking events talked about previously, and look for student ideas to fund.
Other students will provide you with some great talent and skills. On the right campus, you can find business majors, computer science majors, marketing majors and many, many others. The potential is unlimited, and being on a campus makes it easy to find people. Hit up some events targeted to the people you are looking for, take some business cards, and be ready to sell your idea.
Besides meeting talented students, you can make some great contacts. In one year I have met a number of people that I can ask questions and get feedback from. These people could be students, professors, or staff of the college. A great number of the awesome contacts I have built are other business people, whom I met by attending career fairs.
Many colleges provide access to free tools, like the Adobe Suite, Microsoft products, and many others. Aside from the ones provided by your school, some products, like Prezi, offer discounts or free services to college students with an .edu email address. Microsoft’s Dreamspark offers great resources for students, especially those interested in development.
Perhaps the most useful resource I have found in college is time. While you do have classes and homework, if managed correctly, those don’t take all your time. If you live on campus, you don’t have to worry about shopping much, you don’t have to cook, and you don’t have to clean often. If you are really feeling in a groove, you can even skip showers and hygiene for a few day (although I don’t recommend it…) College can be flexible, and as such it allows you to relax and do work without having to worry about “real” life.
Conlin Durbin is an entrepreneur, developer, and designer. He periodically writes on his blog and co-founded Tebogo this year. He attends Purdue University. His long term goals include riding a dolphin and exploring the world.
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