Making The Grade
University students today no longer covet management positions with high salaries and stable pension plans. Scared off by the downsiz- ing of corporate America, they're becoming entrepreneurs instead.
Nationwide, schools of entrepreneurship are turning these talented students--and their fledgling businesses--out into the world. And because students who double as business owners can access state-of-the-art computers, research libraries and entrepreneurial professors who give free business advice, they're in a critical position to prepare themselves for the real world.
But even with such incentives, college entrepreneurship has its pitfalls. "It's difficult to give the business the attention it needs," says William D. Bygrave, director of the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. "And if the business grows rapidly, the student might drop out of school."
Jeremy Weiner, founder of Cover-It, a textbook-cover manufacturer in Boston, agrees. "At times, I was very close to quitting college," he says. "I had to say no to sales, and it hindered my company's growth."
Upon graduating, students must decide whether to continue without the support of parents and college loans. "When [college entrepreneurs] leave school, they're no longer surrounded by friends and family," says Bygrave. "They suddenly have overhead, and the business has to support them with an adequate income."
For most students schooled in entrepreneurship, however, the independence is well worth the risks.
By The Book
There was never a doubt in Jeremy Weiner's mind about what he wanted to get out of college: entrepreneurial experience.
As a sophomore on summer vacation, Weiner discovered the niche market that would eventually put him into business as owner of Boston-based Cover-It. "I went by my high school, and my former principal was still having problems with damaged textbooks [because they weren't properly covered]," says Weiner, 24. So he quickly proposed to provide free book covers to four local high schools. He profited by covering the costs--and the book covers--with advertisements paid for by local businesses.
When he returned to Babson College in the fall, a professor helped him write an award-winning business plan. "College definitely helped me because [I could consult] the professors at all times," says Weiner.
Today, Weiner admits he misses the on-call availability of such consultants. But despite the disadvantages that come with leaving school, one benefit is obvious--being able to focus on the business full time. Cover-It is certainly a positive example of that; the business has grown 580 percent since Weiner graduated last year.
On The Outside Looking In
The thing many college entrepreneurs miss after graduating and taking their business full time is, well, everything--from free access to computers, office equipment and work space to advisors available 24/7. William D. Bygrave, director of the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, offers these tips for going full time:
- Don't buy anything you can lease or rent. If you need office furniture, buy secondhand.
- Consider renting office space in a facility where you can share the cost of office machines and a receptionist.
- Keep your personal expenses as low as possible. Months may go by before you'll be able to pay yourself a salary.
- Network with contacts who have given you useful advice in the past, including former professors and classmates.
William D. Bygrave, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cover-It, (617) 232-6500, fax: (617) 232-6511