6 Ways to Land Start-Up Funding on Campus
One of the quickest ways to dash an aspiring entrepreneur's start-up hopes is a lack of funds.
Many times, the ideas we come up with for innovations, improvements and new companies are halted by our inability to raise the necessary capital to turn our thoughts and dreams into a reality. Fortunately, for the college entrepreneur there are several avenues to generate enough capital to pilot and, if successful, grow a startup.
Here are six tips to help college students leverage campus resources to land start-up funding.
1. Tap your network. Don’t be afraid to share your great idea for fear that someone will steal your hard work or mimic what you’re trying to do. Plus, people can’t help with things they don’t know about. If you're scared of your idea being taken, pitch a watered down version of it to your friends and friends of friends. There are too many different funding opportunities that arise sporadically for you to track on your own.
2. Business plan competitions. Competitions are an incredible way to showcase your idea to entrepreneurs and peers that may be able to provide you with valuable insight. One of our team’s first funding sources was a business-plan competition with a $1,500 award to the top three teams. Apparently, the deliberations came close and we didn’t win, but the head of the competition was so intrigued by our model and potential that he found another way to get us $1,500 for our first year. The following year, we were eligible to apply again and we were selected as one of the top three.
3. Bootstrap, pivot, bootstrap. Draft a realistic budget and get as close as you can to it. If you feel like you hit a wall, work with what you can. For instance, the original cost of my startup's educational help services was $45,000 to consumers, but as our target launch date approached, we realized the cost was too steep.
As a team, we sat down and decided what compromises we could make. We wound up with a program that operated at a comparable quality at almost one-fifth of the cost. By running at $10,000, instead of $45,000, it was almost as if we raised another $35,000. This also translated to a competitive advantage for us.
4. Have skin in the game. Dedicating time is the first step to committing to your idea, but when you put some of your own money on the line, you achieve a new sense of responsibility and level of commitment. Also, using your own money provides leverage to raise more.
5. Use your school’s entrepreneurship center. At Cornell, our entrepreneurship center played a critical role in supporting us early on. As we got close to launching, we found ourselves speaking with the director of the department and he quickly offered financial assistance through the university entrepreneurship center to get us going.
6. Try something unconventional to raise awareness. Just $2,000 short of our goal, I decided to run a triathlon and match any funds raised. In our first year, it translated into the money we needed and more than 50 different supporters. The following year, we kept many of the supporters engaged in our progress, and a couple of them reached out with advice and opportunities that we have since been able to capitalize on.
How have you used campus resources to help land funding? Share your tips below.
Are you an enthusiastic college- or graduate-student entrepreneur, eager to share your on-campus experiences? Apply to be a YoungEntrepreneur.com College Treps columnist.