University offers students a great opportunity to begin a business. Without the need to think about pensions, rent, a mortgage and other so-called ‘real world’ worries, most students will find they have the time to spend thinking about how they can make the world that bit more exciting by setting up a business.
But student start-ups are fraught with dangers, from unforeseen bills to legal barriers. So, we asked 4 experts in the field to provide their best advice for students hoping to be the next best thing in the business world.
Stephen Foster – CEO of ThoughtSTEM
I started my tech company when I was a student. We’ve since raised over a million in funding and have two products on the market. Two pieces of advice are:
1) Be careful about intellectual property. If you’re a graduate student (as I was), your university probably has a claim to the intellectual property that you produce. Because of this, I ended up rewriting all of my software after I graduated just to be safe. It was a pain. My advice would be to either wait till you graduate, drop out, or get things sorted with your University’s tech transfer office. Or at the very least, read your grad student employee contract carefully so you know the risks. (NOTE: If you’re an undergraduate, you probably don’t have to worry. But you should still do your research. University rules differ.)
Lindsey Handley, COO of ThoughtSTEM
2) Find champions of entrepreneurship at your University. A lot of Universities are starting to understand the enormous benefit of cultivating student entrepreneurs. If this isn’t the case at your University, make connections with professors or, better, someone higher up the chain, who might be willing to come to bat for you and your small business.
3) Take advantage of your University’s social network! Your fellow students or your professors could be employees of your business or customers! As an educational startup, in our first year, many of our first employees were undergraduate students who acted as after-school teachers and workshop leaders for our company.
Scott Sherwood, Founder of UK-based TestLodge
4) Work alongside your studies. I started my main business (TestLodge) while at full-time employment after uni, but I did start another business during my uni days. What was important for me back then was getting the time in: instead of taking a day off work or studying, trying to spend just 1 hour per day five times a week to work on the idea and to get some structure on it. It’s a bit of a ‘safety net’ strategy – you’re not pouring all of your eggs into it (so to speak), but you’re working on it gradually while still having a main focus, whether that’s your degree or a full-time job. It allowed me to get started on the business, to find out if there was a market for it and to learn what users wanted out of a subsequent full version, which helped me to plan the next steps for when I would eventually go into it full-time.
Mike Wood, Owner of Legalmorning.com
5) Delegate what you can, especially if still in school. Too many new business owners, myself included, have tried to micromanage their business. After all, it is their venture and they want to protect it and make sure it succeeds. However, based on my experience of being in school while working on a business venture, you need to be prepared to separate your education from real-life experience. Have the proper support structure so someone can step in and assist if needed. There will be times when you need to spend more time with school and having that support will help both ventures (your schooling and your business) succeed.
Do you have student start-up advice? Tell us in the comments!