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Should You Start a Small Business in College?
Oh, college. I miss it enough to eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s while sobbing into my couch cushions.
While many people indulge in the stereotype of parties and drinking, college and its resources were some of the most crucial elements to me researching and pitching my business venture—a frozen yogurt food truck. Many students’ college experiences are getting a makeover; frat parties are replaced with finance meetings, and kegs with KPIs.
My college experience involved a program my senior year called Entrepreneurial Scholars (E-Scholars), where juniors and seniors spent the school year starting and growing their own business venture.
The incredible people I met and ways I grew through that program were unforgettable and made me discover how perfect college is for beginning a new venture. More and more schools, like mine, are adopting programs to encourage a love of innovation and have created dozens of resources for a student’s disposal.
Here’s why there is no better place than college to start and grow a business.
1. Access to free advice and mentorship
Where else but college do you have almost unlimited access to advice and support? From professors to the career center to a fantastic alumni network, there are dozens of people willing to help with business advice and connections.
I cannot tell you how beneficial my alumni connections have been. Finding them through my college career center, networking events, or professional panels, I worked to grow my network of mentors and advisers. In conducting informational interviews, meet-ups, and having assigned mentors, I was able to pick my connections’ brains about everything from their work/life balance to their business funding.
Want to know how to get started building your network? Start perusing LinkedIn. Look for alumni who own their own businesses or who are working their way up a company, and ask someone you know for an introduction. More gutsy? Find their email on their profile and directly ask them for 20 to 30 minutes of their time. Many of the most helpful and wise mentors I have I met through a cold call.
An early mistake I made was wanting to reach out to the highest-ranking professionals I could. I looked at Directors, Executives—even CEOs. But I soon realized that some of the best people to give me advice about starting out, where the people who had just started out (duh!). Recent college graduates often knew the grunt work that went into working at a big PR firm, or the hustle required to sell their own apparel, and could communicate to me the transition from college to real-world better than a CEO could (here’s what questions to ask them!)
2. Availability of entrepreneurship classes
You’ve got a whole business and entrepreneurship program at your disposal—go for it! Major or minor in business, or take a few classes for fun. Although my two degrees were technically liberal arts, one of my majors had business classes built into the curriculum.
Having the luxury to study a handful of things I loved, instead of just one, made me more well-rounded and gave me diverse knowledge and experiences. In addition to my Organizational Communication degree (which I’m now using for my job as a social media marketer), I also have a degree in Theater. With my two degrees, I was able to approach problems in a different way with a unique mindset. While I may have not immediately understood financial spreadsheets, I could confidently pitch my company and connect with potential customers on an emotional level.
After starting my own business at age nine, I also adored the idea of business and entrepreneurship and took those classes as a cherry on top of my college sundae. Being able to learn about entrepreneurship in a classroom setting, and then going out to put the syllabus into practice, was an invaluable experience. Mixing my two non-business degrees with my additional entrepreneurship classes gave me an opportunity to be more well-rounded and adventurous.
READ MORE: 3 Money Podcasts You Need in Your Life
3. It’s a safety net
When you’re in school, your career and business are just getting started. Everyone is bound to make a few whoopsies throughout their experience. College provides a great environment to make mistakes and learn from them because there’s not a lot to lose.
When my fellow E-Scholars and I were preparing our elevator pitches for a competition, many of my classmates found themselves unprepared, with their pitches choppy and unmemorized. The pitchers who struggled were able to learn from others, and many ended up being finalists in our next competition. Having the luxury of starting a business, within the comforts of the classroom learning environment, offered us the opportunity to make mistakes and fail
4. You still have the opportunity and time to travel
You’ve got service trips, study abroad opportunities, and other events. Although not all college travel will directly involve entrepreneurship, every opportunity you have to travel opens you up to a new way of thinking, a new culture, new ideas, and new trends.
My study abroad stay in Ireland and my business stint in Japan opened my eyes to new ways of thinking, and constantly challenged me to think outside my comfort zone. Both trips were organized by my school and cost me less than I would have spent doing them on my own.
I was able to approach problems with globalization in mind, understanding that my business (however small) can and will have a greater effect on the global economy. Where I choose to headquarter my business, where I source my product, what market I target—all of these questions were answered by my travels.
Go as many places as you can and see as many things as you can. Constantly be looking around you and studying—see what you can learn that informs your venture. Don’t feel like you have to go abroad either. There is so much to learn in a different part of the states. Go to a big city you’ve never been. Adventure out to a factory where your product is manufactured. All of these experiences will open your eyes to a new part of the world and business that you can learn from.
5. You can leverage your reputation as a college student
Yep, this actually works in your favor. Hearing “I’m a junior in college,” during an elevator pitch definitely doesn’t hurt. People remember you—your drive, your passion, and your work ethic. It’s still pretty impressive to have started a business while trying to manage all the stresses of college. If it works out, you’ve got yourself a pretty cool career (or side hustle). If it doesn’t, it was an incredible learning experience, a cool story, and something to file away for later.
In addition, when asking for help, advice, or funding, people are more likely to help if you’re in college. You would be shocked how willing people are to talk about themselves, their experience, and lend advice—they’re even more willing when their audience is a student. There is an element of service from these mentors, a “giving back,” that you can benefit from.
No matter where you find yourself for your four (maybe five) years, the entrepreneur opportunities your college offers are waiting for you.
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