5 Ways College Can Prepare You For the Startup World – Beyond Just Your Classes

College…the best years of your life!  Or, the most stressful, the most sleep deprived or most likely, some combination of all the above!  College is not just about the classes that you take, the tests that you stress over or the things that you learn from textbooks.  College is so much more, and for the entrepreneurial thinker, college can be the launch pad to becoming the entrepreneurial leader that you want to become.

Let’s start by taking a look at the cost of college.  Taking into account the average cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, the average credit hours taken per semester and the average number of times a class meets, we can estimate that every class meeting costs an in-state student around $34 and an out of state student around $95.  I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but spending an entire class sleeping turns out to be a very expensive nap in my opinion!  As entrepreneurial thinkers, we can’t afford to waste a moment or a dollar, so let’s look at ways to maximize our return on college investment!

Take this time to train yourself to act like an entrepreneurial thinker every chance you get!

Class is not just a class, it is a formal meeting.  You should arrive on time (dare I say a few minutes early) and you should be prepared.  Try showing up to a client meeting without having done your homework or showing up late to an investor pitch – it rarely goes well.  If you create these habits now while you are in school, they will be like second nature when you are building your venture.

Look at every assignment, project, essay and requirement as an opportunity to learn something new, build your portfolio or practice skills that you will need as an entrepreneurial thinker.

Have a tough history project due in a few weeks? Practice your research skills and write the best report that you can write.  Then put it in your portfolio to show off your research skills and to demonstrate your interdisciplinary perspective.  Have a science experiment to create and present, practice your planning and documentation skills while creating the experiment and then practice your creative thinking as you prepare an engaging presentation.  Again, put it in your portfolio to demonstrate these skills.  Don’t be afraid to show off a little bit!

Become a renaissance man or woman.

The old saying, “chance favors the prepared mind” is a truism like no other.  Want to be a better creative thinker, you have to prepare yourself to be more creative.  Want to be a better innovator, you have to give yourself the tools to do so.  Now is the time to learn everything that you can learn.  You never know when two seemingly unrelated ideas are going to come together to create an innovation baby. (If you want an example, learn about how the Edison Electric Pen and the art of tattooing made an innovation baby!) And if you haven’t noticed yet, you will never again be surrounded by so many free or inexpensive opportunities in your life!  Never learned how to dance the tango, attend the ballroom dance club.  Never tried your hand at a pottery wheel, proceed directly to the NC State Craft Center.  Do not pass go and do not collect $200!  3D printing, intermural sports, video development, the adventure club, robotics, bone marrow donation…the list goes on and on and they are all available on your beloved Wolfpack Campus!  Why not even find something that you really love and take on a leadership role within the organization?  I’ll bet that those leadership skills will come in handy when you are trying to build an entrepreneurial venture!

While you’re out filling up your idea toolbox with the items that you may need one day, don’t forget to build your personal network as well.

If you graduate with a network of only people from your classes, in your major, you have missed out on an enormous opportunity. Finding people who think differently than you do will give you a long list of potential business partners, employees, clients or friends as you grow your ventures.  Who are you going to call when you need someone to walk you through setting up payroll? Chances are it won’t be a chemical engineer or a political science major.  Call them for other questions, but find your accounting friend for the payroll question!

Last, but certainly not least, build your professional network.

Your teachers, advisors, mentors, project sponsors…these are the people who may be able to mentor you through starting, building and growing your venture after graduation.  There will be no other time in your life when people will be so willing to help you.  You’re a college student who wants and needs help.  Who’s going to turn you down?  Well, some people might, but your chances are better now than they will be after graduation.  Show them that if they invest their time in you, it will not be wasted. Show them not just who you are now, but who you want to grow into.  Impress them now, and you’ll have them in your corner as you grow your venture.  Where will you meet them?  In class, at events, at tailgates during football season…  You never know where they will be, but you can be certain that you won’t meet them unless you show up.  Shameless plug for the Lulu eGames on April 20.  Hello networking opportunity!  If this article is talking to you, you’ll immediately Google it and sign up!  We’ll talk more about working with a mentor in an upcoming post.

So often, college becomes something that we have to get through on our path to where we want to go.  If you slow down and think about all of the ways that college can help you beyond just the degree, all of a sudden, it becomes a more exciting place. Enjoy your time here, make use of every opportunity that you are presented with, create opportunities out of things that may not be so obvious to others and train yourself to be the best entrepreneurial thinker that you can be.  Go Pack!

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