Q: How to manage our education and dream of becoming an entrepreneur? Is it better to drop out of college to start our own company? I have a fear that if I wait until I get a degree then someone will implement it.
A: “Should I stay in college or drop out to start my business?” Many of the aspiring entrepreneurs I work with ask me this question. They have what they feel is a great business idea and want to start working on it right away. They worry that someone will steal their idea if they don’t launch their company now. Staying in school seems to interfere with their dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
I have spent half of my career starting and building companies and half my career teaching entrepreneurship. Here is my recommendation about education: While I believe there are times when leaving school can accelerate the development of a company, I feel it is best to finish college in most cases.
Below are three reasons why staying in school can actually help with the development of your business opportunity.
1. Help develop your concept.Ideas and business opportunities are not the same thing. Our startup failure rate is high because people launch ideas. A true business opportunity meets the conditions of the NERCM test: 1) Need, 2) Experience, 3) Resources, 4) Customers and 5) Model. In other words, your chances for success go up significantly when you prove there is a need for your product, you have adequate experience, you bring together sufficient resources, you have customers committed to buy and your business model is sound. These five factors take time to develop, and you can work on them while you are a student.
Nearly all universities have courses in entrepreneurship, a center for entrepreneurship, business plan competitions, guest speakers and faculty members who have started companies. Some schools even offer a minor in entrepreneurship for students from any major. So take some courses, work on your business for class assignments, enter competitions, and get feedback on your concept. In addition, most startups need to pivot several times before they gain traction. As a student you can test, alter, and refine your concept prior to your launch. When you graduate you will be better prepared to build a company that will succeed.
2. Build up your network of mentors and advisors.
Successful entrepreneurs build a “brain trust” of mentors and advisors as they develop their company. This group of savvy tutors can provide advice, eliminate road blocks, introduce important contacts, identify funding sources and assist with product distribution. Universities are great places to find these mentors and advisors. Visit with faculty members who understand your industry as well as consultants in your university commercialization office. Enlist these people to help with your venture – this is part of their job. Also, ask them to introduce you to others who might have specific experience and skills you may need. The larger your brain trust the greater your chances for success and universities are full of knowledgeable and experienced mentors who can help.
3. Access to valuable resources
Successful entrepreneurs are masters of efficiency – they have a real knack for finding and utilizing a host of resources other than money to get started. Most universities are full of free or low-cost resources for aspiring entrepreneurs.
For example, students studying graphic design can help you develop your logo, website and brand imaging. MBA students can help you develop your product line and business plan. In addition, as a student you may have access to 3D printers, a fabrication shop and free or low-cost software for a variety of functions. So scope out all the resources available at your university and use the ones you need to develop your company.
Related: 7 Reasons to Start a Business While in College
In summary, if you happen to have a proven concept that is validated through growing sales and you need more time to scale your company, you might take time off from school to see what you can do. You can still take a class or two part-time, which I recommend. On the other hand, if your concept is in the early stages of development and needs more testing and refining, stay in school and use all the resources available to you to create a true business opportunity. When you graduate and launch your company, your probability for success will be high.