The rise of the College entrepreneur


Headbands of Hope

The old wisdom of waiting until you were out in the work force with years of experience under the proverbial belt before taking a stab at running your own business is falling by the wayside. Every year sees more people who are starting their first ventures before they’ve even walked across the stage to receive their degrees. As the speed of innovation continues to accelerate, it stands to reason that student entrepreneurship will grow to become a powerful force in the economy. It’s already become enough of a movement that what started as a college-based music festival business has morphed into an enterprise that now helps to cultivate emerging waves of college entrepreneurs.

The challenges facing the fledgling undergraduate mogul are mostly the same as those encountered in the post-academic world, with the added burden mostly coming from the need to overcome perceptions related to youth and relative inexperience. However, just about all first-time business operators will have to deal with questions related to their lack of experience and youth can be a tremendous asset in today’s markets. Younger people are part of the most dynamic consumer base, the ones driving the constant change that’s fueling and forever altering the economy, so they may be the best suited to help new enterprises connect with customers and thrive.

19 and on Her Way

In this article from Entrepreneur, Jess Ekstrom, founder and CEO of Headbands of Hope, talks about her experience as a student businessperson. She discusses the unique benefits of a college environment that could prove invaluable to someone running a company while still studying for exams.

You’re directly tapped into a vocal, social media-savvy market. Your classmates should be among your earliest targets for your product or service. When you win them as customers, you benefit from the ripple effect generated by their posts on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. A few sales among your fellow students could help quickly grow your base and begin to establish your brand. It’s never too early to start building mind share, after all.

You’re surrounded by people who are learning to specialize in areas that could be of value to you. So you know nothing about coding web pages. Big deal. Find someone on campus who does. Stumped about the most effective ways to market your new company? There’s likely to be at least one marketing or communications major around who could help. All around you is a wealth of resources going back and forth to classes. Many of your fellow students would be willing to trade their expertise or even work for free to gain valuable experience for their academic and professional resumes. Plus, reaching out to your classmates to fill in your ability gaps helps you learn the vital business skills of networking, delegation, and management.

There are often unique opportunities to get the word out. Ekstrom organized her friends and others into groups of campus representatives for her company. You’ve probably seen reps for large businesses on campus before such as students who espouse the benefits of credit cards or mobile devices. There’s no reason not to make use of the concept in building your own brand. Another way she built mind share on campus was through the use of her work in front of others as a student tour guide. She made sure to talk about the fact that she ran a business and went into some detail about her company whenever she introduced herself. Everyone you meet is a vector to spread awareness of your business and also a potential customer. Capitalize on the contact you have with your classmates every day.

You’re a positive example, which comes with opportunities. Don’t be surprised when the administration wants to make you a poster child for the school. As they put you in the spotlight to encourage your classmates and prospective students, you can make use of the platform it makes available to further spread the word about your brand and its products and services. It’s basically free advertising.

Plan Well

As your business grows, you’ll want to make sure you develop a comprehensive plan to help control your future expansion. You should already have established at least a basic business plan outlining your enterprise’s purpose, its targeted markets, products and/or services you offer or plan to offer, and step-by-step growth plans. Experts such as Warren Stephens recommend any company in its early stages have a solid business plan in place to help navigate the rough waters often faced in the first few years of operation. Consulting with a financial services company with startup expertise would be a wise thing to consider.

Major in Success

While starting a business at any stage of life can be equal parts exciting and daunting, the unique opportunities available to many who are still in school make college entrepreneurship increasingly attractive. The unique academic atmosphere offers exploitable benefits that could prove difficult to tap into again in quite the same way later. When the speed of change and the shift toward youth importance in the market, the future may very well belong to the college entrepreneur.