College startups are on the increase lately. Inc and Business Insider have showcased some of rising talent, effort, and passions of entrepreneurial students. While today’s students simultaneously are involved in classes, clubs, social activities, and other elements that goes into college life, more are finding the passion to kickstart a business. And as one of those students, I can describe firsthand all the promise and peril of launching a startup during college. To give you some context, I am a rising junior studying Business Administration at the University of Vermont and the co-founder of Beacon VT, a service that finds students jobs at local businesses.
The most important thing to remember is that every University has a plethora of untapped resources. Let’s run through the ones that helped me greatly.
1. Present at University Business Competitions
“When we are selling our ideas, the audience must first buy us.”― Peter Coughter
Most universities will have several business competitions per academic year. These are fantastic for three reasons: publicity, practice and payment.
Publicity: Get the word out to your peers and professors! Professors will also generally bring in relevant, local people from the local businesses to judge these competitions. This can be your “in” to the community.
Practice: Descarte said “I think, therefore I am.” The entrepreneur version of this is “I pitch, therefore I am.” With each time you present, you will get a little better. These competitions push you to be more concise and convincing.
Payment: The prizes vary highly from competition to competition. Some can have prizes from $50 all the way up to $10,000. In the last four months, I have been a finalist in three competitions and won a total of nearly $2,000.
2. Know Your Professors
It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge. - Albert Einstein
Professors are often the best people to hear your pitch. They are experienced, helpful and have more connections than you could count.
I came to Professor Monsen when we only had an idea, and he worked with us to flesh it out to the profitable business BeaconVT is today. He was happy to tell us about resources around the community, at the university, and even get involved himself.
3. Use Community Resources
“Great things in business are never done by one person. They're done by a team of people.” - Steve Jobs
Utilize every resource inside and outside the University area. This means checking out the local business scene. My University community of Burlington, Vermont is fortunate enough to have small business support like Venture.co, Designbook, and the Vermont Small Business Development Center. Between these three, you can find funds, talent, and advisers.
Venture.co: Raise capital for your business from anyone, due to the Jobs Act, Title III “Regulation Crowdfunding”. Venture.co is a platform to raise funds of under a million dollars for smaller businesses. They provide brand expansion, fund raising management, and more.
Designbook: Find the talented, potential partners for your business. When you create a profile of your business, you tell the world why you are a game-changer. Designbook also offers a multitude of tools to build momentum for your business.
Vermont Small Business Development Center: Get advisers to evaluate your business, ideas, and skills. The Vermont Small Business Development Center allows you to find out about the workshops that happen around you to grow skills that interest you.
4. Get a Space to Table
Never forget that you make a first impression only once – be it with investors or customers or any outbound communications or even Victoria Taylor.
A few hours of tabling at the student center goes a long way. We got free tabling space by talking to several professors at the University of Vermont, and obtained over 50 student email addresses for future networking. If you do get a table, remember to have three things: swag, sugar, and smiles:
Swag: People love free things, and are way more likely to talk to you if you give them something. We spent $25 for over 100 stickers from Moo.com to give, which spread our logo onto a couple dozen water bottles.
Sugar: College students love candy, and it’s extremely cheap. We spent $5 on
2 full pounds of Dum Dums.
Smiles: Do not get discouraged. Not everyone will talk to you, or even acknowledge you at a human being.
Overall, three hours and $30 netted us 50 student email addresses, 15 applications to our website, and of course - free publicity!
5. Sponsor Local Events
“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” – Warren Buffett
One of the best ways to get people to try your product or service is to simply give it away. We made the choice of giving our service of finding a talented student for the winner of the LaunchVT Competition. It is a great talking point for networking after the event and builds up your reputation as a credible business.
“Creating a business is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep moving forward.” - Jean-Pierre Adechi, Co-Founder of Wheeli
Starting a business in college is absolutely a difficult venture. It involves hours of demanding work on top of your regular course load and other activities. For me, It included spending a lot of nights awake at 2 in the morning talking with my business partner and of course a few too many cups of coffee every day. But it’s worth it.
Sure, I missed out on plenty of beer pong or buffalo wings. However, today I have the satisfaction that our startup, BeaconVT, found half a dozen students paying jobs, proved our business model and became profitable! I can see why College startups are on the increase lately!