Fall semester is starting up in no time, and that means it’s time to start picking courses. A lot of students ask me how I founded Course Hero while I was still in college at Cornell, and the truth is that I took advantage of the resources around me to get my company off the ground.
Not every school offers a separate program, but if you’re interested in expanding your entrepreneurship experience or just building a solid foundation for pursuing your own business down the line, I’ve shared some advice from my experience as an undergraduate entrepreneur.
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No Brainer: Check out your schools entrepreneurship program
First and foremost, the best, if not simplest, way to kick off your entrepreneurship education is to enroll in an Intro to Entrepreneurship course at your school. Cornell actually had a full entrepreneurship program, and I made sure to not only take the courses, but to also talk to key faculty in the program to learn more. I got great advice and mentorship from John Jaquette, and I’ve carried that relationship with me after I graduated and as I continue to move forward with Course Hero.
Attend a Lecture Series
Take advantage of the lecture series offered by your school. These events are great opportunities to hear from a breadth of influential people who, whether entrepreneurs themselves or successful in other areas of their lives, have had to strategize and surmount tremendous obstacles to get where they are. You can learn a tremendous amount by exposing yourself to their stories. Cornell actually offered an entrepreneurship-specific lecture series as a 1-credit class that I found really inspiring. Speakers like Bill Trenchard did a great job of demystifying the process of building a company from scratch. The key take-way was, “just do it.” Clearly, I haven’t forgotten that.
Research, Research, Research
Have questions, like how do I incorporate? How do I value my startup? We all do. Don’t worry, it’s normal. Take the initiative to read a book, read online, and find a mentor. You can always find a solution to problems and questions that arise throughout the process, and what really distinguishes an entrepreneur is his or her dedication to tracking down the answer. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that if you hit a point where you feel like you can’t find the answer on your own, go find someone who can help you. Entrepreneurship is constant problem solving.
Participate in a Competition
Many schools offer entrepreneurship competitions, and if one is not available at your school, there is likely one in the area. Admittedly, I didn’t participate in the Big Idea Competition at Cornell, but these competitions are great opportunities to build out your idea. Many have a forced timeline that entrants have to adhere to (eg, present your idea on X date, present research on X date, full fledged business plan on X date etc). Competitions force you to examine your idea thoroughly and judges give you valuable feedback on your progress and presentation. Even if you don’t win, just being a part of the experience will help you better formulate your idea.
Reach Out to a Professor
See if there is a professor expert (e.g. doing research) in your potential startup’s field. Reach out. I talked to some Entrepreneurs in Residence at the Johnson Business School at Cornell, like Zach Shulman, in addition to several professors doing research on social media in Cornell’s department of IT. Professors really appreciate you showing interest in their field and will more often than not be willing to help you out or at least sit down with you to talk through your ideas.
Connect With Fellow Students
Initiate a conversation with a student who may have skills you need to accomplish your startup’s goals or may just know someone he/she could introduce you to. When I was starting Course Hero, I went to the engineering quad at Cornell’s College of Engineering and talked to the registrar to see if I could send out an email to Computer Scientist students. I actually met my first programmer and team outside a room in Duffield Hall (a main building in the college of engineering). Albert Ho, Course Hero’s first programmer, was a complete stranger before that initial conversation. I showed him mockups of what I wanted to build and gave him the pitch. We started working the next day. And then he helped recruit more student programmers: we were up to 6 of us within 2 months. The ripple effect of each new relationship never ceases to amaze me.
Look For A Near By Tech Incubator
Go beyond campus and see if there is a tech incubator near your university (hell, there may actually even be one within your school). If there is a startup incubator on your campus, like Cornell’s EStartupLab, or near your campus, learn more there. In the Bay Area, check out Y Combinator, Plug And Play Tech Center, 500 Startups (though this by no means is an exhaustive list, especially here in Silicon Valley).
In the end, being an entrepreneur is not just about having an idea—it’s about having the initiative to go out and make that idea happen. Take advantage of the abundant resources available in college to expand your entrepreneurial education, and when you have a great idea, as Bill Trenchard said, “Just do it.”