Starting a business as a student can be a hugely rewarding, fun experience, but it is not without its pitfalls.
I started my first business a when I was still at university, so I thought I would put together a few notes on the most common challenges young entrepreneurs face.
Money worries are a huge part of student life under normal circumstances, let alone if you’re trying to start a business. If you don’t have extensive savings, wealthy parents, or some other means of obtaining capital, it will be difficult to find money, but it’s not impossible.
- Government grants - For larger ventures, grants are available from a variety of government bodies. While your status as a student will be taken into account, it will not necessarily exclude you. Grants are available from central government, regional development agencies and the EU, among others. Be sure to thoroughly research your eligibility for these grants, however, as the application process can be complicated and lengthy. In some instances it’s entirely possible you may graduate before you receive a response.
- University grants - Your university may offer grants and support for young entrepreneurs. Speak with your dean or student union rep for details.
- Competitions - Scores of competitions are available for young entrepreneurs seeking investment, offering everything from laptops and stationary to thousands of pounds in investment.
- Crowdfunding – Where online networks of individuals pool their resources is an increasingly important source of start-up capital. Websites like Kickstarter, Rock the Post and RocketHub have exploded in popularity in recent years. Being a student gives you an advantage over most other entrepreneurs using crowdfunding: you’re able to meet thousands of potential investors face to face. Most of your fellow students may be unable to fund your project in its entirety, but they can almost certainly spare a tenner. Crowdfunding also spreads risk, as no one person is investing any more than they feel comfortable with. But crucially, they are still investing, which makes them more likely to use your product, so the crowdfunding model has the potential to give you an immediate, loyal customer base. Be warned: some of these sites operate under an ‘All or nothing’ model (Kickstarter being the most notable), which means that if you don’t meet your fundraising targets within a set time frame you’ll receive nothing – so make sure your goals are realistic.
“You will never have it so easy again as long as you live”
You have probably heard this hundreds of times by now. While there is an element of truth there – and hindsight is a wonderful thing – in many ways your student years are the strangest and busiest of your life.
New friends, a new home and, for many of you, an entirely new city bring new demands and stresses. Partying hard, sleeping until midday and last minute scrambling to complete essays are all perfectly normal aspects of student life, despite what some will tell you.
The next few years will be a frantic mess of deadlines and distractions, and you’ll be pulled in more directions than you ever have before. The notion that you’ll have plenty of free time to draw up business plans and budgets are preposterous.
Your time will be limited, so learn to maximize it.
If you are studying business, or your business idea is related to the sector in which you’re studying, discuss your plan with your tutor: it may be possible to include aspects of what you’re doing into your course.
You will come up against people who don’t believe in you or your idea during the formative stages of your business. Accept this. It does not mean that you will fail, and it does not mean that you are wasting your time, no matter the position of the person telling you.
The business might be your baby, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you know what’s best for it.
One of the key skills you need to have to run a successful business is leadership, and a good leader accepts that she or he can – and will – be wrong. Surround yourself with people you can trust to give you an honest opinion, and be patient with those you choose to work with.
Accept that your business idea could be a complete failure, but also understand that this does not mean the end of your life as an entrepreneur.
Failure is an important component of success – I challenge you to find a successful person in any field who has not failed (often spectacularly) countless times over the course of their professional lives.
Starting a business is a huge undertaking, regardless of the size of your venture. That you’re even trying is a credit to yourself and the skills you will learn will be invaluable in years to come.
Remember to listen, be open and patient with those you’re working with. But above all – enjoy it!
Daniel Smulevich studied Marketing Management at university but always had a passion for entrepreneurship and business in general. He now works for Franchise Sales, where he helps people find the best sports franchise for their needs.