Five Tips for Student Entrepreneurs
By Natalie Poston, Co-Founder & COO of JoyLet
Business ideas come to would-be entrepreneurs at all phases of life. For some, a business idea is born while attending university at the undergraduate or graduate level. That is exactly what happened when Alli Cavasino and I co-founded JoyLet Baby & Toddler Gear Rentals while at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business pursuing our MBA degrees. We’ve taken JoyLet out of the classroom and into our first market in Washington, D.C.. We now serve many customers who rent premium baby and toddler gear from us to gain flexibility while saving time, money, space, waste, and stress.
While some can feel intimidated by starting a business in school or think they need to get experience outside of school before pursuing their idea, I’d argue that there is no better place to start a business than a university. By waiting, would be-entrepreneurs lose valuable support that can be found within the university ecosystem.
We have leveraged a variety of resources from Georgetown McDonough in order to launch JoyLet and have compiled our top five tips to leverage your time at university to start a business.
- Use Class Projects
In undergraduate and graduate business programs, students will find a high volume of group work. Entrepreneurs can take advantage of this by proposing their business idea as their class project. By using the venture as the focus of a group project, students can work through questions and problems and enlist the help of other students and professors. We built the initial business plan for JoyLet in an MBA class called “Lean Startup.” In this course we used the Lean Canvas framework to build the business plan, had the opportunity to interview and survey over 100 parents and pitch our idea to local venture capitalists. Three students worked on the business plan with us and contributed their ideas. In the end, our finished project was much stronger as a result of our combined efforts.
- Join Entrepreneurship Clubs
Being an entrepreneur can feel lonely at times. Building community can be key to sustaining your business for the long-term, as well as a catalyst to learn from your peers’ wins and mistakes. You can build community from the ground floor by getting involved with university clubs. Both of us held leadership positions with a variety of Georgetown’s MBA clubs on campus. As a vice president in the MBA Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club, I helped promote entrepreneurship initiatives on campus and naturally found a group of like-minded students, faculty, and alumni to connect with.
- Leverage Your Fellow Students
Your fellow students are a great resource for sourcing expertise and advice in fields relevant to your business — whether it be for business support, consulting sessions, or connections in the industry. With JoyLet, we leveraged our peers in the Georgetown Entrepreneurship startup and venture capital ecosystem to network, build relationships, and receive feedback to our strategies. Also consider finding a co-founder within your university – that’s how Alli found me.
- Identify Alumni in Your School’s Network
One of the most valuable parts of being a student is the ability to ask successful people you admire for exploratory conversations and informational interviews. The McDonough Career Center would note that it’s almost as if the title of “student” offers a gateway into conversations that would be out of reach otherwise. You can use your university’s resources and LinkedIn to identify successful alumni and reach out to them. Alumni are often interested in giving back to students and can help give advice or make introductions that will benefit your new business. Your school may even have formal mentorship programs to connect with alumni. Don’t forget that successful alumni often make angel investments in student-founded businesses individually or through organized networks. For example, Georgetown has its own angel network called GAIN that has been instrumental in supporting us. After graduation, you too can find alumni groups focused on supporting and connecting entrepreneurs like the Georgetown Entrepreneurial Alliance.
- Apply to Pitch Competitions
Many schools have a desire to support entrepreneurship within their campuses. We were lucky to be involved in the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative, which is dedicated to providing student entrepreneurs with the tools and resources they need to get started. One of the biggest resources student entrepreneurs need is capital — pitch competitions are a perfect way to secure non-dilutive funding to get student ventures off the ground. While at McDonough we pitched our business and secured over $40,000 of funding from the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Challenge and Bark Tank pitch competition. This capital allowed us to build our MVP and acquire initial customers.
These five tips are just a starting point. During our time at Georgetown we also took advantage of venture capital internships, attended events and programming that featured prominent alumni entrepreneurs, worked with career coaches to understand the opportunities for entrepreneurs, attended Chalk Talks or “walk-in entrepreneurship clinics”, and worked at the Georgetown Venture Lab with other like-minded startups.
Universities like Georgetown McDonough have a wealth of programming that can benefit student entrepreneurs. That’s why we believe there is no better time to start a business than while in school.