What’s Really Stopping Students from Being Entrepreneurs?

02 Apr

ImageOn Monday night, I attended a speaker series called Rebuilding America: The Path of an Entrepreneur. The event brought in several exciting and passionate speakers around the theme  – “Don’t wait! Pursue your idea now.” Speakers focused on how easy it is to start a business, how entrepreneurship aligns our work with our passions, and how many great resources are out there for young entrepreneurs. Pretty exciting stuff, right? I thought so, but apparently students didn’t. The room was only a quarter full. Why?

The answer to that, I think, lies in one of the messages that speakers brought up over and over again – “Now is the perfect time to start a business because you’re in college! You don’t have any commitments like rent or a family and there isn’t much expected of you besides going to class.” If you’ve paid attention to the college entrepreneurship space like I have, this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this message and it’s flat out wrong.  

I’m not sure how, but people who spend enough time outside of college seem to forget just how much of a commitment it is. Sure, students don’t have rent, but they have tuition. And even if it’s covered by family or loans, there’s the matter of actually passing classes to stay in school – pretty big commitment. Students have flexible schedules, but they’re also expected to do homework and study. As for family, students may not have spouses and kids, but do they have roommates and friends. At college, that’s they’re family.

My point is that college is designed to be a full time job, and just like anyone with a full time job there isn’t much time to start a business (let alone attend an event about starting a business) in the time that’s left over. People start companies in college just like people start companies in their spare time after work, but it’s really, really hard.

The speakers at Rebuilding America said that it was a shame the room wasn’t full because entrepreneurship is such an exciting opportunity. I agree, but how are they surprised when they are telling students who do show up that entrepreneurs work more than all of their friends and have to constantly tackle big problems. That isn’t catering to anyone other than the students who are already going to make that big extra commitment of taking on a start-up and those students don’t have time to go to the event anyways!

If we really want to grow entrepreneurial spirit on college campuses, pretending that being a student isn’t a full time job is not the answer.

If we are going to foster a movement of entrepreneurship among college students, it needs to be embedded into the curriculum. We need to move from ‘school and start-ups’ to ‘school for start-ups’. A really exciting example of this is happening at the Smith School of business (Full disclosure: Where I work). The Fearless Founders program at the Dingman Center for entrepreneurship offers for-credit classes to students developing a start-up in addition to all of the extracurricular support the center offers.

Overall, I agree with the speakers at Rebuilding America. College is a great time to start a business. The resources, networks, ideas, and talents on a college campus are incredible. But if we really believe in developing more entrepreneurial students at college, we need to give them the time and space to actually do it. 

photo credit: rpm therapy

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Posted by on April 2, 2014 in ~Uncategorized


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