Tips for aspiring entrepreneurs starting university - Giving some "BRIGHT" advice
Recently I had a conversation with a student, who asked me for advice on how they could best develop their business idea whilst at university.
Whilst I wouldn't quite call myself an expert for everything entrepreneurship themed (yet). Being an aspiring inventor and entrepreneur, alongside a recent business graduate, I believe that I do have a few valuable pieces of "BRIGHT advice", that I wanted to share with future business minds starting university.
1. When looking for funding for your business idea as a student, bootstrap - don't borrow! (Plus you should save the funds you have until it's 100% necessary to spend)
I didn't see any point in beating around the bush in this blog post, as you are going to need some funding at some point during your business journey.
As an aspiring entrepreneur at university, there should be a number of opportunities available if you can look hard enough. I would say as a general rule for a student, stay away from loans if at all possible. Grant schemes and business competitions with funding will help you to measure your idea and its chances of success against fellow entrepreneurs.
In my own experiences, the BETA Enterprise scheme at my own university (Plymouth) was a big help, as it both gave me the chance to work out exactly what my idea was and how to sell it, whilst giving me the chance to get some funding at the end.
Secondly, once you have managed to gain a bit of funding, and an idea of where your business is going, use that bit of financial progress as backing to secure the rest of the money needed to set things in motion. It can often be a lot easier to pitch for a large amount of funding, if you can show progress in gaining part of it beforehand.
Finally, any time you get a sufficient amount of funding for your future business, you should treat the money you have like you would treat shares of your business idea. So, don't give it away too cheaply, and where possible only use it on things that will definitely bring your idea to the next level.
2. Find/Make a team as passionate about your idea as you are (You're at university so there are thousands of other people to choose from).
Now for the brutally honest part. As a young (or young at heart) student who is looking to create and push a business idea that you want to succeed, you are inevitably going to need some serious help. Nobody, entrepreneur or otherwise, is a jack of all trades. In my humble opinion, part of the strength of the best business people, comes in being able to identify where exactly you need support, and finding the right people to provide it.
The good news is that essentially, universities are a massive pool of people with different skillsets and passions, so make sure to take advantage of that by connecting with those who buy into your vision and ideas as much as you do.
Unfortunately there isn't a recipe you can follow that tells you how many people you're going to need to create your business team. So all I can say is that it's important that anyone who is part of developing your business idea is passionate, committed, and skilled enough to bring something valuable to the table.
3. Get as much free (and confidential) advice from qualified professionals at university as you can.
After you've created your "dream business team" of students with complementary skillsets, you're going to need to take advantage of advice from experienced professionals. This will help you identify all the steps involved in getting a business idea going, since as a student team you won't yet have a full understanding of how things in the business world work. Whilst it is beneficial to gain a large amount of your business experience yourself, it is also ok to tap into the expertise of other advisors and professionals, and for you to use their advice to help guide you on your own entrepreneurial journey.
However, when looking for the right people to discuss a potential business venture with, ensure that everyone is happy to be completely confidential with the information involved. Ideally you want to look for business advice from a relevant and trustworthy source, such as professors and other staff members at your university.
4. Start to research and write down the steps you need to take to get your idea going.
As the saying goes, "a goal without a plan is just a wish", so the first thing you need to do before looking for funding is make a plan of action surrounding your business idea.
If you get stuck on how to begin your business plan, a lot of universities will have their own business plan template that you can use. You may be able to get guidance from staff members at the careers or entrepreneurship sections of your university. Otherwise VirginStartup.org offer a pretty good template that you can follow step by step at your own pace.
5. Work on building a solid online presence for yourself and your business idea.
It is important to make sure that you can showcase yourself and your business ideas in the online world. There are plenty of ways you can do this, even without a massive marketing budget. For example, starting a website that explains your story and the ideas that you have might be a good place to start; Wordpress will let you make a basic but inexpensive website to get yourself going online.
Setting up creative social media pages is another way to promote what you're doing, but regardless of the way you choose to do it, it's key that you put your business in the most positive light that you can. Unless your future business grows to be the size of an Apple, or Google, there will always be other people with more money or resources than yourself. However, if you can sell your business idea, then chances are that eventually (and it will for sure take time), you will be able to grow a following large enough to support what you're doing, and potentially even get others in on it.
In all honesty this blog has gone on for even longer than I expected it to, so for now I'm going to leave it here.
Feel free to let me know if you would like to see more posts like this in the future.
You can follow us on Facebook @BrighThinking or on Twitter @BrighThinking1.