7 Reasons To Start A Company While In School

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By Swathy Prithivi (Head of Corporate Development, Sonim Technologies)

Rockstar career trajectories aren’t about playing it safe. Luckily if you’re in school, starting a business might be the smartest risk-free career move you could make.

While in graduate school at Northwestern last year, I was a student by day and the co-founder of a social gift recommendation startup, Present Bee by night.

Drawing from my experiences, here are the top 7 reasons for starting a company while you’re still in school:

  1. Access to important and influential people. Colleges are a hotbed of potential advisors. Professors in technology, marketing, law, communication, accounting and management collectively hold an incredible wealth of knowledge. More importantly, they actually enjoy helping out motivated students wanting to start companies. Not to mention that it is part of the reason they went into academia in the first place! You’ll constantly be amazed at how willing they are to tap into their expertise and deep networks to help put you and your startup on the right path.
  2. Resources, resources, resources. Free WiFi, superior computer labs, heavily discounted student software, copy and fax machines, scanners, printers, meeting rooms, conference facilities, amazing library material that you’ll have to give up your first born to afford when you leave school…need I say more? Universities are some of the most technologically connected places and almost any resource you’d need to start a business is available right in front of you at a fraction of what it costs out in the real world. You’re paying for these resources in tuition and student fees anyway, so why not take full advantage of it?
  3. Huge market research/customer/employee base you can lure with pizza. Your friends, friends of friends and even their friends all want to help you. Pick their brains on the products and services they like, get them to test your product, give you invaluable feedback and even get them to become loyal customers. Sometimes all you’d have to offer them in return is free pizza or muffins. Also, if you’re looking for help with your startup, there’s no better place to be than on a college campus. Colleges are filled with bright young people who are eager to learn & gain new experiences through [poorly-paid or mostly unpaid] internships that help them fill their resume. Look around you in your classes -– your co-founder or first employee might be sitting right next to you.
  4. Student loans are not as expensive as having a family and a mortgage. Now is the time to take financial risks with potentially large payoffs. Even if your startup fails, which it probably will, you’re young and you can move on more quickly from being broke than when you have to support kids, a spouse and recurring payments on your house. Plus ironically, having a track record of building something and managing a team in your own startup makes you more attractive to other employers should you decide not to go the startup route.
  5. Time. School has flexible timing -– you can pick your class schedule of choice every semester/quarter. You can stack all classes in two days or have them all in the evening if you want, which would then give you a lot of free time to start and run a business. Going out into the real world after graduation means your time suddenly becomes very restricted. You’re expected to spend 40 hours (or more in most cases) rooted in your office seat and will only be able to work on your startup in your spare time, which may not be much.
  6. Don’t let schooling interfere with your education. Yes, Mark Twain said that and you should definitely listen to him. Schools teach you a lot of interesting things but there’s also a host of topics that they don’t even begin to cover. Startups can definitely help you fill that gap. Some valuable lessons I’ve learned through Startup 101 –- how to get people (other than your mother) to use your product, how to work 20 hour days with people in one room and not kill each other, how to build a realistic financial model that isn’t limited to looking pretty in Excel and many other gems. Also, if you’re unsure whether you’d like to run your own company after graduation, the best way to find out is to start one while you’re in school.
  7. Entrepreneurship is sexy. When you’re asked to introduce yourself, the line “I started a company” never gets old. Enough said.

To close, let me quote Marc Andreessen, the founder of Netscape, investor, startup coach and all-round extraordinaire:

“Start your own company. If your startup fails, try another one. If that one fails, get back into a high-growth company to reset your resume and get more skills and experiences. Then start another company. Repeat as necessary until you change the world.”

Also check out a classic talk from Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, on Why to Not Not Start a Startup. I’d like to hear from you student (and non-student) entrepreneurs out there –- what’s the most interesting reason you’ve started a company?

Photo credit: Dima Mirkin

Special Note: This article was originally written for and published by Tech Cocktail on July 24, 2010.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Swathy Prithivi runs Corporate Development at Sonim Technologies, maker of the world’s toughest phones. Swathy is fascinated by startups, business and anything technology related. Swathy co-founded Present Bee, helped run Northwestern’s Entrepreneurship Center and in a previous life managed supply chains in Asia. Swathy blogs at Swathy’s Scribbles. Follow her on Twitter at @swathyprithivi.