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Aspiring Entrepreneurs: Do These 7 Things in College

Stuart Draper, founder and CEO of Stukent, shares 7 things aspiring entrepreneurs should do in college. Whether students are in their first year of college or are seasoned seniors, Draper’s tips can prepare them for the world of business. 

Draper founded Stukent in 2013. By 2018, it made the Inc. 5000 list as one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. and made the list again in 2019. He also founded a nonprofit organization, Charity Fast, and bootstrapped Get Found First, a digital marketing agency, then sold it in 2015. 

He created these 7 tips for aspiring entrepreneurs from his years of experience as a successful entrepreneur. 

1. Start Young

Young woman with brown hair biting down on a pencil, looking at a computer screen.

You should take advantage of opportunities while you’re younger and you’ve got nothing to lose.

When Draper began college, he wanted to have the Bill Gates or Steve Jobs experience. He hoped he’d have a billion-dollar idea right out of college, but that didn’t happen. Instead, he learned the best time to fail is while you’re still in college. After all, failure is the best teacher.

2. Take Entrepreneurship Classes

A full classroom of students from behind.

“Sign up for them, take them, as many as they offer … I recommend taking them all,” said Draper. 

He was given the opportunity to sell sleeping bags on Ebay for extra credit in an entrepreneurship class which ignited his passion for business. On top of that, learning how to build business plans and improve them has been a constant for Draper throughout his career. 

But most importantly, entrepreneurship classes host guest speakers. You don’t have the opportunity to rub shoulders with entrepreneurs too often, so when you have the chance to learn from their experiences firsthand, you should take it. Learning from those who’ve gone before you can get your creative wheels turning and help you navigate the business world.

3. Launch a Startup

Young woman sitting on a couch, using a computer, smiling at the camera.

Some things just can’t be learned from a textbook. Take Draper’s experience with Hot Stuff, a cinnamon roll and hot chocolate business he started for a college class, for example. He learned:

  • It’s hard to make money with $1 products.
  • High margins don’t matter.
  • You must have REALLY high volumes.
  • Inventory can and will go bad.
  • Location matters.
  • Brand perception matters.

It’s one thing to memorize concepts, but it’s another to put them to use in the real world. 

4. Sign Up for Business Plan Competitions

Young woman working near a computer in a room with lots of windows.

The experience you can gain from extracurriculars is invaluable. Regardless of your chances for winning that business plan or case study competition, you should always take advantage of opportunities that come your way. The things you learn in the process could earn you millions in the future.

While you’re at it, don’t be afraid to dream. Talk about your future. Talk about the things you’d like to accomplish. You might have a billion-dollar idea. And if you need inspiration, read books, follow influencers, and subscribe to magazines!  Draper even recommends actually selling something. Try summer sales or help another aspiring entrepreneur.

5. Network

A group of young adults communicating.

You hear about networking all of the time, but what does it actually mean to network?

Well, Draper suggests you should do the following:

  1. Build solid relationships with your instructors — they know companies and can introduce you to them.
  2. Connect with other students — they might get awesome jobs someday and can help you get a similar one.
  3. Stay in touch with classmates after graduation — they might reach out 10 years from now with awesome opportunities.

6. Start Somewhere

A male runner at the start line, holding a baton.

In college, Draper and a friend started a business installing Christmas lights. They didn’t build an intricate business plan, implement strategic marketing, or conduct market research. They simply sent out flyers with prices and contact information.

He recalled, “We didn’t even know what we would say. We would bring a notepad and look at the house before we knocked on the door and kind of get an idea for the number of hours it would take and the price per hour we wanted to make … we made like eight grand.” 

You don’t know how successful you can be until you try. So, start somewhere and do something.

7. Intern with a Promising Startup

A room full of people in front of a board that reads, "Startupday."

It’s much less painful to learn from other companies’ failures before jumping into your own startup. 

If you intern with a promising startup, you can see how the process works, what it takes to run a startup, and how a startup can become a successful, long-term venture. Take notes on the things that don’t work and the things that do. You might find the information beneficial years down the road when you begin your own startup.

Bonus Tip: Start a Side Hustle

A laptop displaying a young man's website.

Use the skills you develop from classes, internships, or projects to build your professional portfolio on your own time. 

A side-hustle can quickly turn into a profitable business venture! If you are great with Google Ads, you could offer to help a local company with their digital marketing. If you love to write, you could help a friend or family member launch a content marketing plan for their online business. The options are endless. 

One Thing Leads to Another

Draper said, “With careers, one thing leads to another. You need to start making decisions now because those decisions you’re making now will affect your ability to succeed later.”

In the news, you’ll read story upon story, making it sound as if building a business happens overnight. But that simply isn’t true. As Tom Clancy said, “An overnight success is ten years in the making.” 

So, put in the work now. Try out these 7 tips for aspiring entrepreneurs and see where they take you. Who knows? You might have a billion-dollar idea, but you’ll never know until you try. 

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