Building a startup is hard. Though dozens of external factors determine a company’s success, a successful founder will need—at a minimum—an idea that solves a problem, a team to execute the idea, and a market for the proposed solution. It’s even harder to do that when you still have to attend campus classes, too.
I know the ups and downs of this firsthand. I started VentureBoard, a platform that empowers university entrepreneurship centers, as an undergrad and am continuing to build it after graduation. Even though being a college entrepreneur posed unique challenges, my university offered many advantages as well. Because universities are full of smart, energetic people who are eager to solve problems with new ideas, a university campus is uniquely suited to help a founder take an idea from concept stage to thriving business—creating tremendous entrepreneurial opportunity for campus students.
The Idea is Right in Front of You
Subject matter expertise helps founders start companies that solve real problems. After diving deep into an industry or process, a founder can identify pain points and solve them with technology. Whether it’s a doctor quitting her practice to disrupt the healthcare market or an accountant building better invoicing software, it is often easier to seize the opportunity where the pain points and market are well understood. Traditional wisdom might dictate that a founder first graduate campus and work in the real world, accumulating experience in an industry before branching off to found a startup. However, this overlooks the expertise and insights that students gain simply by attending campus itself. Mark Zuckerberg understood the way his classmates socialized better than those making social networks at the time, so he built a superior product FaceBook before ever graduating.
Aside from social networks, students have unique insight into higher education as an industry because they are the end users of many higher education platforms. Not surprisingly, a growing number of startups address the problems faced by students, professors, and college administrators through software. After directly using said software, students can more easily identify current problems in their university’s ecosystem and formulate methods to improve them. Software built from a student’s experience can be a considerable value proposition for a startup.
It Takes a School to Raise a Startup
After coming up with an idea in the higher education space, a founder needs to iterate until his or her solution is one that helps a large number of people—and in one form or another generates revenue. Just as a university campus helped the founder with the initial idea, few places are as ripe for ideation as a university. Professors, program faculty, and school administrators are likely willing to be interviewed, answer surveys, or try new software– particularly if your startup aims to solve a pain that they experience. When a student-led startup works closely with their university in such a fashion, the relationship not only assures they are solving a valid problem, but also creates credibility when expanding to more campuses.
Universities of all sizes also offer a variety of additional resources, including human capital. A school with a strong engineering or computer science department is the perfect place to find a technical cofounder, whereas a business school can help a programmer find someone to market a new idea. In the early stages of a startup, those can be critical roles; building out a complementary team of cofounders ensures that the company can endure a variety of problems it faces.
On top of human capital, universities generally want to see their startups succeed. Some campuses offer entrepreneurship centers (such as MKU/Strathmore/KU), incubators, coworking spaces and even seed capital available to help see this endeavor through to fruition. Smaller universities that lack some of these financial resources will still be excited to publicize your startup, which can help founders build buzz, find customers or raise external capital. And best of all, when a startup is founded in campus, all of these resources are available for free, lowering initial expenses a startup incurs while trying to find a source of revenue.
Leaping into it Full Time
Starting a company while an undergrad provides a runway until graduation, letting founders leverage university resources to improve upon their initial idea. Graduation and the semester leading up to it is a bit of a tipping point. You will need to decide to continue working on your startup, or start pursuing a full time job after graduation. Ideally your startup has created revenue or raised money before this point, so you can begin taking a salary upon graduation.
Committing to working on your startup full time post campus is a scary decision. While your friends discuss signing bonuses and new apartments, you might be deciding to stay in your college town to be closer to customers and save on rent. You might feel you’re setting your career back if the entire operation fails a few months or years down the road.
However, after making this very leap a few months ago, I can offer an honest perspective: If the idea is right and you’re passionate about the startup, there really is no choice to be made. You owe it to yourself, to your cofounders, to your university and to your early adopters to give it a shot. What a startup might lack in certainty is made up for tenfold in waking up every day to solve a problem and build a company that you created. If things don’t work out, at least you failed while daring to see your idea through. The blood and sweat you will have endured are invaluable experience that you can bring to future employers—or to your next startup.
Source: By Scott Block, Cofounder, VentureBoard – http://www.1776.vc/