Written by Megan Benjamin
So you’ve got an idea—a world changing, moneymaking, once-in-a-lifetime idea—and now you just need to figure out how to make the whole thing happen. Lucky for you, there have never been more resources for STEM majors looking to take a stab at entrepreneurship. Colleges across the nation have outstanding entrepreneurship programs (many specifically for engineers and technical folks), entrepreneurship resources, and of course, a network of successful alumni to help mentor you through the process.
If all your “entrepreneurial spirit” has you a bit lost, here’s a little roadmap to get you from initial inspiration to buzzing business.
Get inspired. Colleges across the nation are hot on the trail of engineering entrepreneurship, because they know just as well as Silicon Valley venture capitalists that big ideas are abundant among their student population (think Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Mark Zuckerberg… and the list goes on and on). Most four-year universities have entrepreneurship programs; so if you’re at a loss on how to make your big idea reality or if you simply need inspiration coming up with your next big idea, try taking an entrepreneurship class or attend a few seminars to learn the ropes. If you don’t have a great idea yet, you will probably have one that can make you a pretty penny after investing some time in your college entrepreneurship program.
Compete in the Microsoft Imagine Cup. Ripe with resources and a hefty sum of prize money for its winners, the Imagine Cup is a great excuse to get spurred into entrepreneurial action while solving some of the world’s greatest problems. Get your hands dirty creating, business planning, and making thing happen without ever setting foot into a business school.
Plan it out. Great businesses stem from great planning, not just hopes and dreams. For all you need to know about organizing and writing a functional business plan, click here. (You’ll probably also learn a fair deal about business planning if you take that entrepreneurship class or sign up for the Imagine Cup mentioned above. Just saying…)
Find a mentor. It’s always best to learn from the best, or at least from someone who’s been there, done that. Some colleges have an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR)—a successful, serial entrepreneur who hangs out at your college campus all semester. If you don’t have an EIR at your school, reach out to your alumni network to find an entrepreneur in your industry. Your mentor can help guide you through the intricate details of business and help you think through all your challenges and strategy questions related to your start-up.
Convince someone to pay for it. If you need money to get your idea off the ground, figure out exactly how much money you need to get started, then ask for it. Not everyone gets (or deserves) a cool million from VC funding, so be prepared to ask “angel” investors to help you out. For college kids, it’s not a bad idea to look to family and friends first. They are more likely to invest in an inexperienced entrepreneur, because, well, they love you. If it’s not a loan, be prepared to pony up part of your company, future revenue, or anything else within reason to make a deal.
Incubate it (and get some cheap space that’s not in your parents’ garage). Lots of colleges have local entrepreneurship communities, or incubators, to help get your idea off the ground. They provide services from cheap rent and administrative business support to networking activities, loan support, and Intellectual Property management, as well as the invaluable resource of being part of a community of startup entrepreneurs just like you.
Work for it. And try not to quit school while you’re at it. It won’t make mom very happy (even if she did invest in the idea).
And there you have it. It won’t be easy to start your own company, but it will almost certainly be worth it. Reach out, get help, get started, and good luck!