Two thirds of college students expect to be entrepreneurs at some point during their career, according to a recent nationwide poll by Students in Free Enterprise. This is not a surprise, given the economic downturn during the past few years.
"There’s certainly been an opportunity for people to spend time developing an idea they’re passionate about," says Carol Carter, founder of LifeBound, an educational resource for high school and college students interested in starting their own business.
Ryan Allis is no exception. While his classmates brush up on their interviewing skills, Allis won’t be looking for a job when he graduates from the University of North Carolina in three years. Dazed and confused? Hardly.
At 19, Allis is the founder of Broadwick Communications, a software development company he started during his freshman year with a friend. Working out of a small office space he rents off campus, Allis juggles a full course load (he’s an economics major) and leads the Carolina Entrepreneurs Club, a campus organization he founded.
He is currently working to publish his first book, Zero to a Million, a step-by-step guide to starting your own business and building it to $1 million in sales. Broadwick Communications currently has 20 customers and is finally turning a profit, says Allis. But it’s still a work in progress. "You have to decide between eating, sleeping, work and going out," he says.
In other words, starting your own business as a college student isn’t so easy. The Small Business Administration (SBA) says approximately one-third of all small businesses fail after just two years. "It’s a lot easier to be an entrepreneur when you’re 30, when you have an MBA and know lots of people," admits Allis.
Here are some suggestions on how to effectively become your own boss and the resources that can help along the way.
Developing Your Idea
So you have an ingenious idea that’s going to make you the next Bill Gates. Don’t keep it a secret. Share it with those you trust. Allis started his company after mingling with fellow student leaders at the first Carolina Entrepreneurs Club meeting last year on campus. It was a smart place to meet other ambitious student entrepreneurs.
Investigate your campus organizations for an entrepreneurs or small business organization. If you don’t have one, you can always take charge and start one. While on campus, talk to business professors who may offer you free advice on how to design your business model. They can be invaluable resources with both theory and experience to your drawing board.
Another helpful source worth checking out is the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). SCORE is a national network consisting of 10,500 volunteer business executives and professionals, mostly retired, which offer free business counseling.
"The SCORE site meets small business owners’ needs by providing 24/7 access to email advice, as well as a wide range of online resources for both start-up and growing businesses," says SCORE’s CEO, Ken Yancey.
You’ll learn from SCORE that there are many organizations that offer projects that allow you to test and develop your entrepreneurial skills with fellow students. One such organization is Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE).
Turning the Wheel$
Your business plan is fully polished. You have a team of reliable, motivated and dedicated business partners (maybe just you and your roommate). Now you need money to make money. Some schools sponsor business plan competitions and winners receive seed funding.
For the last 14 years, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School has hosted its $50,000 Entrepreneurship Competition and it ranks as an important event for many investors. Otherwise, says Allis, "If you’re trying to raise less than $100,000, your best bet is going through people you know and the bank."
Unfortunately, most college students aren’t able to get a loan of any substantial size approved by the local bank. That’s when the U.S. Small Business Administration can help. Currently, there are more than $30 billion in free government grants for small business and about $10 billion for entrepreneurs in the form of low interest small business loans. Check the SBA’s site for a wealth of financial resources.
But for others, funding your business may simply mean waiting on tables. Bottom line: "Don’t quit the job that’s paying your bills," says LifeBound’s Carter.
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