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Six Reasons why Being a Student is a Competitive Advantage for your Start-up

Side view of a lecture hall with theatre style seating and a presentation stage at the front.

The media does a really good job at showcasing people that dropped out of college to become massive successes. What the media doesn’t necessarily show are the people that dropped and didn’t become the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. Approximately 20 per cent of small businesses fail within the first year and by the end of the fifth year, about half will have failed.

People must realize that colleges and universities can be great platforms to start a business and there are many reasons why being a student is a competitive advantage. In all honesty, many of these may be difficult to fully appreciate but, having now seen what life looks like on the other side of school, we can assure you these six at least hold true in our own experience.

1.  Access to and learning from other students

A school environment can be a brilliant place to meet and interact with more people of a greater diversity of perspectives, skills, and experiences than you might in any other situation. It is hugely valuable as you seek to think about and understand the world in new ways – a process well placed to spark novel ideas and to help you find those necessary to bring them to fruition. Additionally, other students can be potential hires or even your business’s target market. If you are starting a company and trying to get students to sign up for your product you are in an advantageous position because you are surrounded by them. You can empathize with their day-to-day concerns, understand how to reach them effectively and activate them on campus.

2.  Networking

Oftentimes, successful entrepreneurs, creatives and leaders are invited to universities and institutions to speak to students, answer their questions and share advice. For them, it’s a way to give back whilst having a pulse on what the younger generation is paying attention to. For you, it’s a chance to network with those who could be potential investors, advisors, customers or even hires. There’s an age-old adage in start-up land for those fundraising: “If you want money, ask for advice, if you want advice, ask for money”; as a student, everyone assumes by default that you’re looking for advice – and that’s a powerful thing for getting a foot in the door.

3. Your mindset

A school environment cultivates a mindset of curiosity, learning and dealing with ambiguity and the unknown. It’s difficult to fully appreciate when your entire life, as far as you can remember, consists of classes and period bells but that environment is very different from the life that follows a formal education.

Innovation and discovery happen when seemingly disparate ideas are brought together in new ways and there is no better environment than one dedicated to teaching a broad body of knowledge to help spark that innovation and discovery. For example, there’s the now-famous story of Steve Jobs taking a class on calligraphy for the interest in it, only for that class to later inspire the beautiful fonts that became synonymous with the first Macintosh computer and helped established them as the computer for designers and artists.

That environment of learning attracts the very types of people you’ll want by your side in the early days of any entrepreneurial venture as you learn to navigate ambiguity. Those hiring for a start-up will often offer “the speed of learning” as a benefit that only a start-up environment can offer. In the midst of school, that hunger for learning is close to heart for many and a unique advantage if pointed in the focus on the creation of something new.

4. The theory is important

If you are studying something more theoretical which you can then apply to your company, the results can be incredible. I have friends who got their master’s degree or undergraduate degree in a specific topic and are now building a business around that topic they studied. It becomes a competitive advantage because they’ve learnt everything around principles and theory about their industry. It also helps them come off as more credible when pitching to investors. 

5. Access to university resources

The ability to go to a library with millions of resources or be at a campus with incubators, start-up events, clubs, grants, fellowships and more is very valuable. Universities have many resources built out for entrepreneurs to take advantage of (and if they don’t you could be the one to start them). 

6.   You learn discipline

It’s tough to manage a course load in college (especially if you’re not living at home and are in a new environment), but it will prepare you to manage a start-up where priorities are always changing week over week. You will sometimes feel like you are procrastinating and you might even feel very lonely in your battle to build a business, much like finishing your studies. That mental discipline is something you build up as a student and will support you throughout your career.

In conclusion, there are numerous advantages to running a business while being a student. The ones above are just scratching the surface and the earlier you start running a business, the sooner you will realize that the world is truly your oyster and no problem is too big to solve if you can rally a community together to solve it.