From the September 2003 issue of Startups

You should wait until you're older and have more business and real-world experience before starting a business. You should just focus on school for now. Nobody will take you seriously at this age.

You'll hear all these reasons--and more--about why you shouldn't start a business from your friends, your parents, your advisors and many others who only have your best intentions at heart. But before you start believing what you hear, take a moment to think to yourself, What would have happened if somebody had told these arguments to and convinced:

  • Bill Gates who left Harvard to start Microsoft
  • Michael Dell who left the University of Texas to start Dell
  • Milton Hershey who opened his first candy shop when he was 18
  • Fred Smith who, while attending Yale, received a "C" on his Fedex business plan and decided to start his business anyway
  • Steve Jobs who left Reed University to start Apple
  • William Hewlett and David Packard who started HP out of a garage after graduating from Stanford
  • Or the thousands of other young people who have started a business and been successful

Imagine the potential that would have been stifled if these visionaries hadn't started businesses when they were young! Imagine how our world would have been different without an HP, a Dell, a Microsoft, a Fedex, a Hersheys or an Apple.

Young entrepreneurs are not anomalies. Below are six ways that youthful entrepreneurs have the cards tipped in their favor:

1. It's easier to exceed expectations and harder to not meet them. The fact that adults expect less from young people can be used to your advantage. It's OK if you're not perfectly polished. It will take less effort to please clients and make a name for yourself with the media.

2. There's little competition from other students. How many students do you know who are entrepreneurs? There are definitely not many, which makes your story more press-, scholarship-, competition-, client- and award-worthy. And remember, accomplishments that are incredible in college become less impressive as you get older.

3. There are resources that support youthful endeavors. There are many nonprofit organizations and individuals that focus on or are more than willing to specifically support entrepreneurial youth. First on this list is your school, which probably has teachers who can assist you or who have contacts in the business community that can further your goals.

4. You have an existing passive secondary stream of income. Students often have income coming in from their parents. Enen if it's not consistent, then it's at least something you know you can always fall back on. If you're venture fails when you're young, you probably won't starve or lose your house in the process.

5. There's a synergy between your school and your business. The practical knowledge you learn from running your business can help your academic work and vice-versa. Some schools will allow you to earn academic credit from or do an independent study of your business. You can also base class projects on your business. That means, you might be able to create a marketing plan or develop new sales strategies or markets for your business on your "school time."

6. Your creativity is probably at a high point. Young people have a fresh perspective on the world. This perspective lends itself to seeing many opportunities that haven't already been exploited. The founders of Microsoft, Yahoo, Dell and FedEx all saw unique opportunities and capitalized on them when they were still students.


Michael Simmons is a student at the Stern School of Business at New York University and the author of The Student Success Manifesto: How to Create a Life of Passion, Purpose and Prosperity. You can download his free ebook by visiting his Web site.