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College Entrepreneurs - Do You Have What It Takes?

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Think you’re busy with classes, extracurricular activities, and partying? How about adding a business startup to the equation?

Being a young business owner seems to be the hip thing to do right now. More and more students are taking business risks while in college with the hopes of earning a big payoff. It’s no wonder that colleges are catering to this growing interest with sophisticated programs. Once taught only in the school of hard knocks, entrepreneurship is becoming a mainstream college subject. At some schools, entrepreneurial studies is a major, as fundamental to business education as accounting. More than 1,600 colleges and universities now offer programs in entrepreneurship.

The exact methods of teaching entrepreneurship vary from school to school, but most use a combination of learning methods – traditional course work, a variety of speakers, and real-time consulting work. All the resources for learning how to start and run a business are usually available. Students are given the tools to take their creativity to the next level. Students often start entrepreneurial clubs at schools that don’t have formal programs.

Entrepreneurship in college seems to be booming. Students saw the dot.com boom go bust, but have remained optimistic. These failures have actually encouraged students to see entrepreneurship as viable. Students used to think they’d start a business some years after graduation, but many are now entertaining this idea well before they pick up their diplomas.

Some well-known entrepreneurs who started their businesses while in college include Bill Gates (Microsoft), Michael Dell (Dell computers), and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook). Entrepreneurs are, by and large, risk-takers. College students are prone to take risks because they are usually unencumbered by family and financial obligations. They have grown up with technology and their skills lend themselves too many tech-based businesses. Business ideas are often stimulated in the rich intellectual atmosphere of a college campus. Professorial advice is freely available and a market of eager, young consumers is at the fingertips of the college entrepreneur. A college campus is also a great incubator for student businesses because of the pool of students hungry to work. Students also have access to online databases for researching businesses. Influential people and possible investors may also be more open to being approached by a college student than they would be to others.

The most common piece of advice given to entrepreneurs seems to be – just do it. Don’t wait too long to launch your business. Don’t make excuses for why it won’t work or why you can’t do it. Don’t let fear, lack of money, insufficient time, or other obstacles stand in your way. Even if you fail, you still will have gained a great learning experience. Other things that will help you include:

  • Be a problem-solver. Find a need or a niche and demonstrate that your idea can fill it. Do your homework so you truly understand the market into which your product or service falls.
  • Gain exposure to others who have started successful businesses. (especially other college students and recent grads that can inspire and motivate you)
  • Be innovative. Hone your idea by sharing knowledge and brainstorming with other college students. Try to hang out with other students who have businesses, or ideas for businesses. At any given college, there is a group of students either thinking hard about entrepreneurship, or doing it. Entrepreneurs don’t usually have just one good idea. They have a million, and they test the ideas out on friends all the time.
  • Network and get a mentor. Every networking connection will help your business idea grow, and a mentor will be an especially helpful contact. Find someone who can feel invested in your success — someone you can bounce ideas off of and who can provide you with reality checks. Be sure to have business cards for networking.
  • Take on extracurricular leadership roles to gain management practice and consider working at an entrepreneurial company to attain practical experience.
  • Be prepared to present your idea professionally. Speak with confidence and contagious enthusiasm when you tell others about your business idea. Don’t be too cocky. When pitching your idea to money people, partners, or important advisers, dress professionally and ensure that presentation materials – slides and printed pieces – look polished. Rehearse your pitch.
  • Start your business and get class credit, too. Many organizations were started as projects for entrepreneurial and other classes. The most famous example, of course, is Fred Smith, who got a C on his class project — the idea that became FedEx.

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