Go to school, get a degree, start working in your chosen field. This is the normal life cycle for most students. But while some students choose to pursue entrepreneurial endeavours once they have their degree in hand, others encounter business opportunities while in school and choose to do both – manage a business and their studies simultaneously. Balancing school with books can seem a juggling act worthy of a spot in the circus, but some college entrepreneurs say starting a business while in school actually helped their start-ups to prosper.
While attending business school at Columbia University, Matthew Bachman and Ben Gordon stumbled upon a mutual love of iced coffee. What started out as a passion turned into a business and Wandering Bear Coffee was brewed.
Across the country, Louie Cesario was a senior in the Technological Entrepreneurship Program at Arizona State University when a friend came home from a rare grocery store run only to realize he had forgotten to purchase shampoo. Cesario was hit with an idea – what if there was a subscription service that delivered a month’s supply of hygienic products to an individual’s dorm or student residence? This would not be a convenient way for students to get their necessities but a fun way for loved ones to care for students from afar. Sudz Club officially launched this past April.
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Starting a business from the classroom may not be the road most traveled, but these college-based entrepreneurs share their insights on why school may be the best birthplace for a business:
The school environment fosters creativity. College campuses are full of thousands of students talking about ideas, creating the perfect conditions for dreaming up a business idea. Cesario credits the school environment with not only planting the seed of his business idea but providing him with the permission to envision and launch his business.
The time of your life. Bachman and Gordon say their business would have never happened had it not been for their decision to take a two-year hiatus from the working world. “When you’re in school, you’re not in the workforce, you don’t have this paying job holding you back [from taking entrepreneurial risks]. You already made the decision to forgo a couple year’s salary to invest in yourself,” says Bachman.
Plenty of opportunity for perspective. Many startup owners make the mistake of devoting 100 percent of their time and energy into the business, which can not only lead to early burnout but doesn’t allow for the benefits of stepping back and looking at the business in a different light. Although balancing a full course load with the demands of an early company has been a challenge, Bachman and Gordon say being in school has given them the gift of perspective something they feel they would have been lacking had they started the company after graduation.
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To take advantage of the learning environment, Bachman and Gordon have tailored their academic calendars to the needs of their growing business. “We took a look at what classes were offered and tried to figure out what we wanted to learn about the business and what classes could help us achieve our goals,” says Gordon. Finding points of intersection between school and business by stocking their calendar with classes such as “managing a growing company” and “entrepreneurial selling” is what Bachman and Gordon feel will be key to managing a balance between academics and growing their business.
An on-site test market. Being a student offers tremendous assets including a captive test market who throw their support behind the product. Since Sudz Club’s target market are college students, the school environment was an ideal one to test the concept. “We handed out surveys to all of our teachers and classmates in order to gauge how much people thought they were spending a month on toiletries and how much they’d be willing to spend on a service like Sudz Club,” says Cesario.
Wandering Bear Coffee Co. also took advantage of the 25-32 age group on campus – the group who coincides with their prime demographic. “We really have turned our class into a think tank,” says Bachman. The first people to ever try their coffee were their classmates. “We were bringing gallons of it to the school and asking is this too bitter or too strong,” he says.
A cheap talent pool. A college campus is a great place to recruit your first sales team. Sudz Club recruited several students to be brand ambassadors. “We’re slowly building up a ground team around our brand and it wouldn’t be possible without the huge base of students we can reach out to for help,” says Cesario.
Access to mentors. Nowhere will you find a deeper pool of expert knowledge than a college campus. While many startup entrepreneurs struggle to find mentors in their field who can help bring their products and services to the next level, being in business school provided Bachman and Gordon with access to industry experts whose networks span the globe and who have provided invaluable advice, free of charge, both in and out of the classroom