You already know on-campus fraternities and sororities are great places to meet people. But did you know that, aside from the philanthropy, the weekend parties and the alumni mixers, your Greek organization could be the jumping-off point for your college business? It's true--from the networking possibilities to having a pre-made focus group that can judge your ideas, you're in a good entrepreneurial petri dish. "Think about your active fraternity or sorority chapter and your alumni group--both can help you," says Richard Scruggs, director of the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship at Texas A&M University in Houston. Your fraternity brothers, for example, might be the labor force to help you launch your product or service on campus. If you're talking to the alumni constituency, you might find some experienced lawyers, accountants, bankers, manufacturers, or even a mentor.
That type of fraternal networking was Ryan Bonifacino's modus operandi from the start of his business in 2004. Originally named Yakka Studios, the Newark, Delaware, company first specialized in special event and corporate photography. Since fall 2005, what is now Bozmedia has expanded into digital media services, brand management, and internet marketing and advertising. A founding member of the Pi Kappa Alpha chapter at the University of Delaware, Bonifacino, 22, became a regular at fraternity events both locally and nationally. "Our main investor was actually one of our sponsors for a fraternity philanthropy event," he says. "He loved the idea, the plan, the fraternity and our energy."
Harnessing your fraternity network is key. "You already have a strong network. You have a potential source of customers," says Tom O'Malia, director and chair of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Southern California. "You have to know what you're looking for as you're talking to these people. It's easy to collect a lot of ideas--it's not very easy to find a lot of 'pains' and create a business [to fix those.]"
Also remember that, while your network is a benefit, "it's not a silver bullet," says Scruggs. Networks are a good start, but they shouldn't be your only source of market research. And don't expect loads of free labor--if you engage the help of your Greek brothers or sisters as part of your sales and distribution, for example, you'll have to pay them, give them a stake in your company or offer some other reward for their time and effort, notes Scruggs. Also, while you should definitely chat up your business idea with your fraternity alumni for leads, don't choose a partner, banker, lawyer or any other professional simply because they share your Greek affiliation, warns Scruggs. Use the same diligence you would when considering any business professional.
The fraternity ties definitely helped Bonifacino's startup: His first photography gigs were at Greek events, and he says he "must've given out thousands of business cards at fraternity functions alone." Since graduating in spring 2005, he's built Bozmedia to $460,000 in projected sales for 2006.
His brothers would be proud.