Today’s article was written by Deborah Sweeney.
At this point, I think we can all name at least one business that skyrocketed to success and was launched out of a dormitory or while the founder was still in college. There’s the infamous tale of FedEx’s beginnings when founder Frederick W. Smith wrote a term paper at Yale University detailing how the shipping industry would change due to changing informational needs and advances in technology – a paper that was hardly warmly received by the professor. Inogen, a mobile medical device company founded by former University of CA, Santa Barbara student Allison Perry who recruited two of her classmates, Brenton Taylor and Byron Myers, to join her team. And of course, Sean Fanning, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates who all equally revolutionized technology with their businesses Napster, Facebook, and Microsoft.
For high school seniors looking into applying to colleges both early decision and on regular admission, the idea of going into school with a business idea that could one day potentially be the next Facebook is enough to make anyone want to shoot for the stars and begin launching their own company. College is actually the perfect time for any young ‘trep to start up their own business – you’ve probably only worked part-time and odd jobs up until this point and aren’t likely to have many obligations beyond your classes to attend with some free time to spare. But while many great businesses have started in dorm rooms, so have many untold bad ideas. These nine tips will ensure that college freshmen starting up their own business get the most out of their four year education plan while working on a five year business plan.
1. Think, Talk, Flush Out Ideas
You don’t have much to lose, so try everything out at least once. Talk about your plan with your roommates and test out ideas repeatedly until it works. Until something clicks. If you don’t feel like talking about your ideas aloud, keep a private blog or Word document of your work and record everything you’re working on and thinking about. Don’t neglect your schoolwork, but really take advantage of your time to evaluate and try our your ideas.
2. Take Advantage of the Wealth of Resources Available
Friends and fellow classmates who can serve as test cases, professors with plenty of years of business expertise, computer labs in the event of a sudden laptop crash, even the peace and quiet of a library can all serve to be the resources that keep on giving. Take advantage of them for the next four years as much as you can.
3. Take the Right Courses
It sounds like a no-brainer to some, but if you plan on selling flowers in your first business and want to grow (no pun intended) that start-up to gather up a strong following and word of mouth, there’s going to be a need to enroll in a marketing course. In addition to your regular classes, look into taking courses on entrepreneurship, raising venture capital, prototyping, innovation, and the aforementioned marketing. Not sure if you can stuff extra classes into a full credit load? Look into enrolling in summer courses. These classes may contain future business partners so don’t pass them up!
4. Find a Mentor
Who runs a successful business or works in a field close to the one you’re pursuing that you really admire, trust, and respect? If you know of somebody off the top of your head that fits those qualifications and you are already familiar with them, that’s your mentor. Ask them if you get coffee together sometime to discuss tips and tricks of the trade in going into business. If you don’t, start looking. Many universities, including my alma mater Pepperdine University, offer mentoring programs to the students to work alongside notable alumni in an effort to combine talent, academic study, and public service together to strengthen both the student and the community.
5. Take on Internships
And that is internships plural, by the way. The more you know and understand how to run and own a business, the better, and often this requires taking on multiple internships to see how a wide variety of companies operate and work throughout the next four years. Get started early and try to find an internship as a freshman to really get the ball rolling.
6. Make Sure to Protect Yourself
Form a corporation or LLC and be sure to protect your intellectual property with trademarks, copyrights, and patents on your brand, company name, and logo. The sooner you’re able to file for your business, the sooner your brand material will be safe from anyone else snatching it up for themselves.
7. Make Sure You Don’t Give Away Too Much Ownership
If you developed the company alongside another partner or several other people, document what parts of the business you’re giving away in the event that the start-up becomes extremely successful. Don’t give away too much ownership in your business. The best ideas often make lots of money, but if the owner has so many people to credit who are owed a portion of the business, it can get hairy fast.
8. Be Careful About Raising Capital
Sites like Kickstarter are great when it comes working on funding creative projects, but be cautious about raising capital for your business. Bloomberg Businessweek advises to take more than you think you need, but only if it’s cheap. When you raise capital, you have to give your investor a percentage of your business (or some other value) in exchange for the capital. If you give away too much of your business to get funding and then go public or sell that business, someone (or several someones) else owns a part of your company which can be very difficult and expensive to recover for yourself again. You often have to pay them back or when you sell the business you don’t get as much money as you would have otherwise gotten because someone else owns a share.
9. Don’t Give Up If You Aren’t Immediately Successful
Many entrepreneurs are serial entrepreneurs and if the business is a success, they may sell it and move on to establish another business. If the business tanks or doesn’t prove to be successful, try again. Keep thinking of unmet needs and evaluate ways that life could be easier with products and services developed to meet those needs.