While many people know the story of Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft who dropped out of college to create the company that would become synonymous with personal computers, fewer know the success stories of those who started their own businesses while attending college. Of course, Larry Page and Sergey Brin started Google while they were students. But there are many others. Even you could be one!
Students at the University of Washington’s Business School. Image by Wonderlane via Flickr.
Enter a Competition
Starting a business while you’re in college might be a little easier than having a go at it with no support system. For example, the MIT $100K scholarship is open to students of the prestigious school who have business ideas. Winners receive financial aid, but even if you don’t take home the prize, the competition connects you with networking, mentors and educational tools to help develop your business. NYU hosts the $200K Entrepreneurs Challenge, while Harvard’s Business Plan Contest doles out $170K to winners, according to under30ceo.com. Competitions like these range in size, but if your school or community offers something similar, try your hand at it while you still qualify.
Take Advantage of Other Resources
Another way to take advantage of everything available to you as a student is to take business classes, even if you’re not on the fast-track to a business degree. If you have open hours, learn how to manage your business. In the digital age, online marketing is a class that helps your company flourish. In fact, one study by Borrell Associates determined that nearly 90 percent of local advertising will be done via the Internet by 2016. People like Frank Britt, the CEO of Penn Foster Education, have used their degrees in marketing to help shape the world, and the Internet has changed the state of marketing significantly. This is one reason established small business owners return to school to take updated business and marketing classes. If you’re already in school, it only makes sense to take those classes now while you’re motivated.
Of course, if you want a full business degree, you’re not alone. According to an IES study in 2009 of 1,650,000 degrees, 358,000 were for business. Even in a struggling economy, people value business lessons.
Build Your Network
Like few other organizations, college connects you with potential associates and mentors. Your marketing professor might have real world experience. Some teachers might run their own companies during the summer. Build relationships with these people, and if you find someone with whom you especially connect, develop a mentor-mentee relationship. Some schools provide programs specifically to finding mentors, and yours might not be a professor at all. Think of these programs as the academic version of the TV show “Shark Tank.” You’re not being filmed, but you’re still provided the opportunity to ask questions and get guidance from a professional.
Perhaps the best advice you can receive is to try and try again. You may not succeed at first. You may need to channel your focus, pitch to a different demographic or spend a lot of hours developing product in your garage, but it’s all worth it if your dream comes true.