Big Biz on Campus
Welcome, class, to "Biz U," Entrepreneur's new monthly column detailing the who, what, when, where, why and how of college entrepreneurship. For many business owners, college consisted of roommates, lectures, parties, all-nighters, football games and finals. For today's students, however, college isn't just a time to learn how to do your own laundry-it's a time to build a business.
"Over the past five years, there's been an explosion of interest [in entrepreneurship]," says Gerry Hills, co-founder and chair of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs' Organization (CEO) and Coleman Chair at the Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He credits some of the interest to the dotcom boom-which, despite its bust, had a noticeable effect on entrepreneurial awareness. "It's been a positive factor because it brought to the attention of masses of students that entrepreneurship is a viable career path."
The growth in recent years of not only the number of college business owners, but also entrepreneurship education and on-campus organizations to encourage entrepreneurship speaks for itself. According to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, more than 1,500 colleges and universities currently offer some form of entrepreneurship training, compared with the handful of courses available 15 years ago. And Hills has seen CEO's presence at colleges grow rapidly since its inception five years ago, to 120 chapters nationwide.
But college students aren't just learning about business-they're putting that learning into practice. In fact, says Hills, many students enter college with business ideas or even businesses already in the works. "Students used to come to college and assume that five to 10 years down the road, they'd start a business," he says. "[Today], particularly in the graduate programs . . . they come in preparing to get ideas and launch."
Finding that killer business idea occupies much of an aspiring college entrepreneur's time. Often, inspiration comes from college life itself. Students launch products and services to meet the needs of their college comrades, from food- or laundry-delivery services to dorm-room furniture retailing. "Students are often oriented toward very low-cost startups," says Hills. And since most every college student today is tech-savvy, online businesses have become one of the best routes to college entrepreneurship.
College students may not have a lot of resources at their disposal, but they do have one significant advantage over their older, more established counterparts: They're bound by nothing. Generally, notes Hills, a college entrepreneur doesn't have a mortgage or a spouse. In other words? "They have less to lose," says Hills. "They [may] have less industry experience, but I think if students pick an industry where there are an above-average number of opportunities cropping up, they can do better than somebody who has all those financial commitments."
In upcoming months, we'll explore hot topics like college business trends and how to get started. And we'll be profiling some of the most successful college entrepreneurs around. Be sure to check out our next "Biz U" column in the February 2005 issue. Until then, class is dismissed.