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Projecting Success

Creating a business as your class project can earn you success inside and outside school walls.

Want to start a business and get college credit too? Do it as a class project. In a college setting, you get feedback and can revise your plan. Some students even take it a step further, turning their projects into real-life businesses.

Luke Skurman, 25, conceived of College Prowler, a publisher of over 200 guides to different colleges (including information on the local atmosphere, campus dining and so on), as an undergraduate class project while he was majoring in business administration with an emphasis in entrepreneurship. A junior-year course at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University required him to develop a business plan, so Skurman hashed out the idea with his professor. "We thought we would collect information [for the guides] and have an ad-based revenue model," says Skurman. Instead, his professor advised him to offer a product he could sell more readily, like the book itself.

After getting an A on the project and modifying the plan throughout his senior year, Skurman recruited CMU friends Christina Koshzow, 25; Joey Rahimi, 26; and Christopher Mason, 26; as well as University of Pittsburgh alum Omid Gohari, 24, to help officially found the business upon his graduation in 2002. Their varied degrees--ranging from economics to communications--were assets. In 2005, College Prowler expects revenue to grow more than tenfold.

Even if you don't get an A, you don't have to forego the idea. For example, Frederick Smith, founder of FedEx, initially got a C on his class project for the now-behemoth company. So an average grade doesn't automatically equal failure. Jennifer Kushell, co-author with Scott M. Kaufman of Secrets of the Young & Successful, advises students who receive lower grades to ask their professors why. Was it the project's feasibility? The work you put in? Learn what you need to improve from the feedback.

Also, use on-campus resources like mentorship programs, incubators and so on to help take your classroom business project to the real world. College Prowler, for instance, secured reduced-rate incubator space from a professor and mentor who was also president of a local incubator. "Use your professors as resources--[for] the respect they command in the business community," says Kushell.

In all your excitement, don't overlook the challenges. Fred Kiesner, professor of management at the College of Business Administration at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, cautions both undergraduates and graduates to consider the realities before jumping ahead.

Do you have enough startup capital? Being young and without business experience can make it hard to get funding, says Kiesner. Do you know enough about the real business world to move forward? Use class time to seek out qualified teammates (not just friends), set realistic goals for securing funding, and research the industry in which you hope to start your business to see if you'll really like being part of it.

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This article was originally published in the July 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Projecting Success.

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