While most entrepreneurs in the United States tend to start businesses after the age of 35 according to the Kauffman Foundation’s Index Start Up Activity, about 25% of entrepreneurs start businesses earlier. Some of these entrepreneurs start businesses while they are still in college. For those of you still in college and wanting to launch a business, I can’t stress enough the importance of building your network.
Thankfully, when you are in college, you have a wealth of connections available to you if you know exactly where to look.
According to the Startup Genome Report, solo founders, on average, take 3.6 times longer to scale when compared to startup teams of two or more. It also found that teams were more likely to attract investors, and experience success in comparison to solo founders. The bottom line: building your team is essential to success.
In the YC experience, two or three cofounders seems to be about perfect. One, obviously not great, five, really bad. Four works sometimes, but two or three I think is the target. – Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator
So who on campus are your magical three? In my experience coaching hundreds of college teams, the most successful teams were able to recruit the following key players:
The Admired Student Organization President
Not only are student organization presidents fairly well known on campus (and off campus), they also tend to be extremely well organized. Their personal networks tend to be more advanced than their peers and their ability to lead tends to also be a well-tuned skill. Perhaps most importantly, they know how to get things done. They aren’t afraid to rally the troops and take action. In an entrepreneurship perspective, they won’t be afraid to test ideas on strangers or ask for a meeting from a CEO. They will also likely be the one to keep the team on track in regards to their milestones. They are normally results AND people driven; qualities any start-up team needs.
The Experiment-Driven Engineering Major
In my experience, this may be the hardest relationship for a business entrepreneurship student to foster. Their ways of thinking around a problem couldn’t be farther apart. Sit in any product development meeting between business students and engineering students and it becomes clear that they consider problems in a totally different way. Business students tend to think of problems in product development from a user appeal perspective (how will the person use it, what will the experience be like, what benefits will they experience, etc.) and engineering students tend to think of problems in product development from a practical perspective (what is it made of, what function does it really need to get the job done, what technology works best, etc.). This isn’t always true, but it tends to be the norm in my experience.
Both of these perspectives are absolutely crucial. While the initial conversations may be hard, developing a relationship with an engineer on campus puts you in a position to develop a feasible product.
The Well Networked Professor or Dean
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Nothing excites a driven college dean or entrepreneurship professor more than a start-up coming out of their university. They all secretly want to be associated with the next Instagram or Trulia or StubHub (all came out of Stanford University). If you can find that faculty member or administrator with a true passion for their students, hold on to them like a squirrel holding on to their last acorn before winter.
Schedule a one-on-one meeting with them to explain your idea, your traction, and your vision. If you can get these folks on your team, they will expose you to networks you would never would have discovered on your own. Not only are they aware of national business plan competitions (AKA: debt-free money awards), but more than likely they are also connected to individuals looking to invest in student start-ups. I’d highly recommend requesting a meeting with these individuals once every two or three months just to update them on your progress. They know the doors to open and they will open them.
Bonus: The Graphic Design Major
While not essential, this sure makes life easy on you. Why? The simple reason is that a graphic designer will make sure that every piece of communication from executive summaries to pitch decks will look professional. College students majoring in graphic design are also working to build their portfolios, so they are motivated to create content. If you are able to bring in a graphic design major as you are just starting to build your brand, they will probably be more excited about contributing their expertise. As in the case of the experiment-driven engineer, you will speak different languages. However, if you can start the conversation early in the concept building phase, you might be amazed at how much that perspective can catapult you past your other college entrepreneur peers.
Side: There are many awesome university programs that house entrepreneurship students in various colleges (engineering, arts, etc.). This post is mainly geared towards those entrepreneurship students housed in traditional business schools.