While many young people are starting to understand and embrace the concept of entrepreneurship – they’re being introduced to it as early as high school and college – those entering college for the first time may have no idea what entrepreneurship means and how it relates to their personal and professional goals. What better way to learn than from your own peers? Students at Clark University are doing just that and you can too.
Clark University’s Initial AdvantageTM (IA) student entrepreneurship club has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 2004. Initially comprised of only a few members, IA served primarily as a "think-tank" where students interested in entrepreneurship could congregate to share cool and creative ideas.
Although the think-tank concept remains a central component, the 25 member club now boasts a laundry list of tangible accomplishments ranging from the launch of numerous student-run businesses to its recent incorporation as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
As one of the founding members of IA, I have seen the group take shape over the years. From fundraisers featuring hip-hop music battles to used text book sales, the club has become well known around campus for its innovative and unconventional approach to nearly everything.
The list of opportunities IA provides its members, other students and the community include: Networking seminars featuring top national entrepreneurs, field trips to entrepreneurial businesses and support for launching student-run business ventures.
Due to the growing number of students coming to IA meetings with hopes of starting a business, we took the necessary steps to incorporate as a non-profit organization. We believed taking that step would enable us to serve as an incubator for future student agencies through support from corporate donations.
IA has benchmarked some major goals for 2007 including: fostering more concrete business relationships in the local community, launching several new student agencies and receiving some generous funding from a number of corporate sponsors.
Despite IA’s success it has not been easy to gain awareness and credibility from the school’s student body. To combat any skepticism students might have about a new club, IA teamed with the university’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship program to educate students and demystify the stigma associated with entrepreneurship.
Here are some tips for starting your own on-campus entrepreneurship club or non-profit group:
- Don’t be afraid to start something new; introducing peers to the idea of entrepreneurship should be thought of as an opportunity, not a challenge.
- Know what you’re about. Lay out your club’s mission. This may seem tedious, but it will help you present your club in a professional manner to members, advisors and donors.
- Register as a student organization. Most universities require you to register as a student organization in order to gain access to perks like: free Internet publicity, special budget requests, on-campus event spaces, etc.
- If you’re not ready to launch a full-scale club, try organizing a forum-style gathering of a few students and professors to help get things started.
- Plan unique and thought-provoking activities that members will not only be able to learn from, but also add to a résumé or portfolio.
- Recruit someone who has extensive entrepreneurship experience to be your advisor. The knowledge and network connections this individual can give you are priceless.
With absolutely no budget during IA’s first year, we still managed to experience strong membership growth. There were several keys to our success that you could use to promote your entrepreneurship group despite a lack of resources.
Word of mouth. WOM is integral to any organization’s success. Make sure that your core members are dedicated to promoting the club so that people on campus will start talking about your group. Once your members’ friends see how much time they are devoting to the club, then those friends will want to know what the hype is all about.
Professionalism counts. Professional may seem like a broad term, however, acting like a legitimate professional is absolutely necessary if you want to be taken seriously as an entrepreneurial organization. Your level of professionalism may be the deciding factor when it comes time to ask a local law firm to donate some pro-bono work in order to incorporate your first student business.
Don’t be afraid to ask for resources, especially money. Universities have pools of money for students to use, but whether or not you can access those funds all depends on how motivated you are to work for it. If you want a specific amount of money, start networking with student counsel and school administrators and let them know about your idea. Once they tell you what you need to do in order to gain access to these funds then take the necessary steps to do so.
Stay active in other student organizations. Most IA members are extremely active in additional student organizations, and these club-to-club relationships can provide significant resources for both groups.
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