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It's April, and you're nearing graduation. Your business has been your life while in college, but can it extend beyond those ivy-covered walls?
It depends on the business, says David Minor, director of the Neeley Entrepreneurship Program at the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. "A lot of times, students have businesses in college to make extra money, but they're not ones they would consider expanding beyond the college years."
Before you burst onto the post-college business scene, spend time evaluating your product or service, and see if there is a realistic market outside the college environment. Do you have to modify your offering in some way to transfer it to the outside world? Research is key here-while you're still on campus, use all the resources at your disposal, including entrepreneurship centers and professors whom you can easily turn to for guidance. "Try to find a mentor in a [similar] industry," says Minor. This mentor can help you plan your transition to ensure you're fully prepared for the change--and that you don't miss anything.
The student founders of GlobalComm Suppliers were all about preparation when it came time to transition their business to the big time. Dennis P. O'Donnell, 22, and Eric Griffin-Shelley, 23, started selling high-end cell phones on eBay in 2003. Finding an eager market and fielding demand from wannabe eBay sellers, they began wholesaling the phones on a larger scale. They have since moved almost entirely away from eBay to focus on wholesale.
These childhood friends ran the business for two years from their respective schools (O'Donnell at George-town University in Washington, DC, and Griffin-Shelley at Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania), and in early 2004, they devised a plan to make the business work after graduation. They took extra classes during the summer to help free up their schedules, hired student employees to do shipping and other mundane tasks--and kept things static. "We held off, senior year, from expanding," says O'Donnell. "We kept our clients happy and made [the operation] easier to run." And near the end of their senior year in 2005, as they prepared to make the leap, the pair secured office space in their current King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, location so they could immediately start growing. With 2006 sales projected at $4 million, the strategy worked.
It might help to liken your transition to that of a college athlete turning pro, notes Justin B. Craig, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Oregon State University in Corvallis. You'll be doing everything on your own, so prepare yourself mentally and financially to leave the safety of the college infrastructure, including the fun stuff like free broadband access, phone lines and web space. "The playing field changes--it really gets competitive," says Craig. "If you take this on, and [entrepreneurship] is going to be your career, make sure you step up. You're going into the majors."