Student entrepreneurs have a consistent set of questions that I hear almost every time I talk with them: "How do I get a job with a promising startup?" "How do I start my own company without any experience or money?" or "How do I get to have your job one day?"
These are great questions--and may be the subjects of upcoming articles themselves--but what I'm thinking about today is why I keep getting these questions. Entrepreneurship is hot on college campuses, and more and more universities are offering entrepreneurship classes and programs. So why do I keep hearing the same questions?
I suspect the answer is two-fold. For one thing, teaching entrepreneurship isn't like teaching most subjects, because learning how to start a company is something that must be experienced. It simply can not be taught entirely out of a book, or in a classroom. In addition, other actual entrepreneurs are essential to teaching entrepreneurship. Not just one: several, with different experiences and expertise. Students who want to start their own companies need to learn by doing and be mentored by a community of fellow entrepreneurs. Add these elements to traditional higher education, and I bet I'll stop hearing the above questions with such frequency or urgency.
However, putting all this into place is difficult for most universities, whose expertise lies with traditional education. Fortunately, events like Techstars Startup Weekend and Blackstone Launchpad powered by Techstars are awesome ways to expose students to the experiential learning and networks of real entrepreneurs that their colleges may lack. These programs bring together the university and the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, and everybody wins.
Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed--which includes supporting and nurturing students who are or aspire to be entrepreneurs. Through Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars, we are working with seven universities including Cornell, NYU, and USC to provide opportunities for students to experience personalized mentorship programs that teach them the central tenets of entrepreneurship and provide them with a community that understands their unique challenges. "Blackstone Launchpad powered by Techstars is more than a community of individuals designed to support entrepreneurship and business development. It is a family of people with a singular mission of giving back and giving forward. I know my business will be more successful because of Blackstone Launchpad," says student entrepreneur Catherine Hoffman.
We encourage entrepreneurs to get involved with the student founders in their area in order to help foster the entrepreneurial spirit of the next generation--one of Techstars most important values is #GiveFirst. But if you as an entrepreneur want some more reasons to get involved, here are a few:
Cultivate future talent
Companies are always looking for new talent, but finding the right people can be challenging. Entrepreneurial skills like creativity, problem-solving, and determination are tremendous assets for students joining the workforce, particularly startups. Even with internships and job experience gained while in school, a recent graduate has more classroom than hands-on work experience. For founders, getting involved is at local colleges is a great way to both meet and mentor new talent.
Get better feedback
At Techstars, we believe that the best mentoring experiences are mutually beneficial, two-way relationships. Through mentoring students and aspiring entrepreneurs, founders provide advice or guidance and share their own experiences--and in return, get access to feedback on their own ideas from smart people who are in a different age bracket. Mentoring is a rewarding #givefirst activity--I almost always find that I learn as much as I share.
Support your local startup ecosystem
Entrepreneurs are critical to driving a strong global economy, and I've had the unique opportunity in my job to see the transformative power entrepreneurs can have on their local communities. Universities are a crucial part of a startup ecosystem: they provide ideas, talent, and leadership. Founders can help universities grow their entrepreneurial education by advising them, speaking in classes, and providing internship opportunities for entrepreneurial students.