Student-entrepreneurs have it easy. When they want advice, they ask their professors who've likely been there and done that. When they need resources, they head off to the campus computer lab or research facilities. When they need test subjects, they turn to their classmates.
While you might think such resources dry up once you graduate, the truth is, your alma mater is likely only too eager to lend a hand. After all, many universities seek out and need the exposure and experience of entrepreneurs who are already active in the real world marketplace.
1. Exploring hot ideas. Universities are often a rich source for new ideas from their students, their professors and their own research. They also value real-world entrepreneurs to decide which ideas are viable in the marketplace. Start by contacting the university outreach liaison or a professor in your area of interest or expertise.
2. Product research and prototype development. Take advantage of the tech classes, labs, equipment and graduate students looking for actual problems to research. Some professors know how to get grants to fund development for you in strategic focus areas like biotech that would otherwise cost you many thousands of dollars.
3. Business plan assistance. Many universities offer entrepreneurial courses or evening classes that can provide assistance on creating your initial plan. Look for special programs for entrepreneurs like the Arizona State University Technopolis program, which is available to non-students.
4. Early-stage funding. Don’t look for formal venture-capital levels of funding, but certainly early-stage Kauffman Foundation grants, incubators and entrepreneurship incentives are available from endowments and state funds. Collaborative efforts with local companies like Siemens Venture Capital are available for certain technology and focus areas as well.
5. Legal guidance. Most universities have friendly law professors or an entrepreneurship legal clinic to address concerns like protection of intellectual property and privacy. These might even be available online and may be staffed by outside lawyers working on a pro-bono basis with the school. Start by contacting the law school.
6. Building a team. If you need part-time help to pitch in on a prototype, you can always find hungry but high-caliber graduate and PhD students. If you need experienced partners and vendors, many professors and entrepreneurship staff will have the contacts you need in the local business community.
7. Connections to a mentor. Similar to finding experienced team members, you can use university contacts to possibly serve as mentors. Most schools also nurture relationships with local and former executives whom they use for guest lectures to MBA courses, judge student business plans and assign as mentors for university spinoffs.
I live in the Phoenix area, home of Arizona State University. They have several "outreach" programs to help startups, including their Venture Catalyst program for business plan development, mentorship, interim management, connections and development roadmap. They also provide incubator services and space for early startups.
The Thunderbird School of Global Management, also here in Phoenix, has a top-ranked International MBA and entrepreneur curriculum, a startup incubator program and hosts a group of Angel investors to assist qualifying startups.
I do volunteer work at both of these schools, and I’m not even an alumnus from either one. Believe me, the payback for me has been large from both of them, and I’m betting that you can get the same from a university near you.
How have you used university resources to help you launch? Leave a comment and let us know.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.