One of the biggest lies about college is that the only thing you can do there is prime yourself to go get a cubicle career at some big company.
If you listen to about 95% of guidance councilors and professors, that’s exactly the impression you’d get.
That’s the impression I got when I was in college.
But you know what’s cool?
The times are starting to change.
Society is starting to realize the awesome entrepreneurial things that college students are capable of doing, and the immense value that they can create for the marketplace.
Schools are starting to realize, “dayum! Maybe we should start promoting entrepreneurship with our students!”
People with bucketloads of money are starting to realize “maybe investing in these kids is a good way to keep building our portfolio!”
And a few select college students who were smart enough to pull off entrepreneurship are saying “maybe I should give back to other college students who are trying to do the same thing”.
Here’s some specs on 5 awesome resources available to university entrepreneurs. If you go to a sizable university (even if it’s just a public state university!), I guarantee you that your university will have some of these resources.
Feel lucky that you have these! These are resources worth tens of thousands of dollars that you get for cheap / free just because you’re a student. Imagine how jealous everyone out of school is! But seriously if you don’t take advantage of these and then complain later (“there’s no resources to help me become an entrepreneur! waaaah!”), I will come over there and annihilate you:
1. University incubators and accelerators
For example, my alma mater Arizona State University has an entire office space (SkySong) devoted to student entrepreneurship, and offers funding and mentorship to student startups through its Innovation Challenge and Edson program (up to $25,000 in grants), and free office space for a year through the Edson program.
Not every university has invested tens of millions of dollars in student entrepreneurship like ASU has…but many universities at least have a business plan competition that includes a nice pile o’ cash as a prize.
Beware, though: universities have essentially 2 reasons for helping out:
1. a genuine sense of helping students pursue entrepreneurship as a career path, and
2. To gain ownership of intellectual property you develop using university resources (it’s called technology transfer, and it’s something you should be intimately familiar with and ask about before accepting funding or services from a university: see the Edson Program’s FAQ #13, and more information from the University of Arizona’s technology transfer office).
2. University business consulting.
Universities often offer programs specifically designed to help the surrounding business community. As a student, you’re prime to take advantage of these for your own startup endeavors.
For example, ASU has the Innovation Advancement Program that does business and legal consulting (they charge around $400 for a semester of work; many schools do it for free). The University of Connecticut has the Connecticut Center for Education and Innovation (CCEI)–which does business consulting–and the IP Law Clinic, which offers free patent filing and analysis.
3. Meetup groups.
You know how 98% of people just give you a weird look when you say you want to pursue entrepreneurship? Well, Meetup is a great way to connect with the other 2% of people that get you, man!
There’s tons of startup Meetup groups, too (even in small cities!). Just go to Meetup.com, sign up, and search “entrepreneurship <your city>” or “startup <your city>”.
It’s amazing to me how few students actually take advantage of Meetup. For example, I help run a Meetup group in Hartford, CT, that hosts monthly coworking. After 10 or so sessions, a university student has only shown up once. Why university students would turn down free pizza, free beer, and the opportunity to meet other entrepreneurs at a coworking event is a topic that must be outside of my expertise, because to me, it makes no friggin sense.
4. Professors who actually care about entrepreneurship.
Not every professor at your school is some old stodgy academic who’s spent the last 30 years complaining about having to teach 6 credit hours this semester instead of 3 and writing academic journal articles that no one will ever read.
Some of them are a goldmine of information and expertise you can use to help you as you start your company; and, they make excellent mentors too.
At ASU, I met a professor who had made serious cha-ching starting companies, and basically just chilled out and taught classes for the semi-retirement lifestyle (“I have to go to New York this weekend for a board meeting” was one of the most frequent things I heard him say”).
How many kids do you think actually went to his office to ask about starting a company? I don’t know, but I’m guessing it wasn’t more than a few. And like most genuinely helpful people, I sense he would have been willing to help almost anyone that went to his office hours.
How to find professors who actually care about entrepreneurship:
- Go to your school’s management or marketing department (in the School of Business), and ask the dean / someone else who seems like they are in the loop with the department if any professors there have a background in entrepreneurship. (Of course, if the business school has an entrepreneurship department or classes–which ASU did–talk with them).
- If you’re want to do a web startup, do the same thing with your school’s computer science department.
- Be wary of professors who “teach entrepreneurship” but don’t have an actual background in starting companies (some of them just researched entrepreneurship academically; I’ve found those professors often don’t have any practical knowledge about entrepreneurship they could pass on to you).
Mark my words, you’ll be amazed how much progress you can make by just asking!
5. Computer science clubs and classes; and university software development programs.
Looking for a programmer? Don’t pay some shady freelancers on ODesk to program your app…try to get kids from your school’s computer science department to do it instead!
Of course, there’s the obvious option of going to CS clubs and student orgs and pitching them. You can also put fliers in the hallways of the CS dorms! (That’s how my brother, a CS major who is a complete genius at anything web-based, almost got picked up by a student web startup).
But there’s other ways, too:
Often, computer science students are required to complete a capstone senior design project class…that means that the school accepts industry projects, and has the students work on it for credit.
If you can find a way to get in on this…I know Arizona State University and the University of Connecticut have it, for example…it’s essentially a goldmine of free (or inexpensive) programmers. For example, UConn only charges around $7,000 for a year of programming to non-students (and I’ve seen this for as low as $1,500 at other universities)…and has even done work for free for student startups.
The great thing about the senior design project is that it’s monitored for quality and progress by the students’ professors, which makes using the SDP a lot less shadier than getting a random freelancer.
Did I get you excited? Good.
Just go to your school’s computer science department and ask about the senior design project, or any other program where students get credit for doing programming.
Do they say “startups have to pay a fee”?
Bullocks. Everything is negotiable, especially if you’re a university student.
NOTE: The senior design project usually only happens at the beginning of the semester or school year…in other words, you can’t approach them in October or March with a new project…you have to do it when classes start.
”RC, it almost seems like your advice is too simple…just go talk to people, and they’ll help you out??”
YES, you dolt!!!
Just showing up is 80% of the win!
Here’s an example:
Yesterday, A-list blogger Srinivas Rao, founder of the awesome interview podcast BlogcastFM and the personal development blog The Skool of Life, hosted an office hours session on Spreecast that was advertised to everyone.
Here, Srini engaged one-on-one with attendees, and you could ask him questions and talk with him about basically anything!
I learned 2 things from yesterday’s office hours:
1.) Srinivas is an awesome guy that genuinely cares about his readers, and,
2.) It’s amazing how few people took advantage of this opportunity.
To my utter amazement, there were only about 15 people who logged on to the Spreecast.
Now, that made for an awesome and intimate event…but think of how many people missed the chance to build a cool relationship with a top blogger and the other awesome people who attended the session.
All they had to do was log on to the site! I bet you some of those people who missed the event last night are cold-emailing him pitches for exposure today…an e-mail I’m sure will go straight into the Recycle Bin.
The point is: there’s so much that can be gained from just showing up. And as you beginto develop your startup career and bud as an entrepreneur, never forget the value that comes from persistence and simply being present.
Just show up.
Have you had any experience with these college resources? Any that I left out?
Let me know in the comments below!