How Entrepreneurs Can Balance School and Business
Although many would-be entrepreneurs may think it’s best to wait on their budding business idea until they graduate, some savvy entrepreneurs are jumping into business while still in school. How do they manage both?
Figure out your priorities.
While some student entrepreneurs try to have it all (a high GPA and a profitable business), Stephanie Shyu, co-founder of AdmitSee.com, a peer-to-peer social network for college students to share advice about applying to school, campus fit and career opportunities, says something always has to give. “Running a business is, at a minimum, a full-time class if not a full-time job,” she says.
Because Shyu saw her company as a potential career path after law-school graduation, she prioritized it over, and sometimes at the expense of, her academic performance. “How you decide to allocate your time should be driven and informed by whether you see a future career with the business and your post-grad plans,” says Shyu, who encourages student entrepreneurs to remember why they’re at school in the first place: “To best position yourself and identify opportunities that will help launch a career.”
“You can always take time off from school to pursue a truly unique and viable business idea, but the reverse isn’t always true,” she says.
Create a schedule to manage your time effectively.
As a student, you have the luxury of downtime which you will never have as a working professional to use to pursue a business idea. Nick Porfilio, CEO of Saveful.com, a tech startup that helps users save money on a range of products, designed his schedule so he could focus on either school or business at one given time, taking classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday only, leaving the other days of the week to focus on the business.
Take advantage of student discounts.
Being a student also gives you access to free or discounted services. Porfilio was able to get a free operating system and office software simply because he was a student. “One class gave me a $100 credit to a cloud-computing service and another gave a license to expensive design software,” he says. Porfilio also received free printing and access to survey software, as well as free access to virtually expensive data sets.
Make use of university resources.
As a student, you have access to a vast network that you will never see again in your life. Expert faculty members, academic courses and student organizations are all at your fingertips, so take advantage while you can. Professors often make great advisors and can be well-connected, helping to make introductions to contacts who can help grow your business.
If you’re looking for co-founders, getting involved with student organizations can help you meet like-minded people. School can also be a great place to get some startup capital. Many universities hold business-plan competitions that dole out prize money or can help connect you with potential investors. Shyu and her partner entered a competition during her last year of grad school which ended up netting them their first investor.
Dylan Osborn, CEO of NiLi, a nightlife app, says school gave him the opportunity to come face-to-face with seasoned entrepreneurs who provided critical advice and introduced students to influential guest speakers. “I was lucky enough to have Elon Musk as my commencement speaker for graduation and he gave us some bits of advice,” he says. One tip Musk gave his graduating class was to take advantage of youth and the opportunity it provides for you to try something huge and fail.
Integrate your business into your schoolwork.
Who says school and business have to be separate entities? Taking courses that support your business is a great way to gain the knowledge and expertise you need to be a more effective business operator. As a law student, Shyu took business school courses in entrepreneurship which helped her draft her business plan.
Porfilio says he found ways to use schoolwork to help his business as much as possible. “I did a for-credit independent study one quarter where I was able to do research on the business case for the company I was looking to start,” he says. “Another quarter I took on a project-based entrepreneurship class in which I was able to design and build a prototype of the product I wanted to develop.” What can be better than getting a school credit for researching and starting your own business?