As soon as I walked into the Collision Conference exhibit hall, I met a team of fraternity brothers in matching t-shirts who were showcasing their cloud-based promotional products company. That evening at Night Summit, I ran into another group of young men who launched Create Your Play, a legal betting app.
Much has been written about how Gen Z will be the most entrepreneurial generation to date, but is "Greekpreneurship" a trend or simply a coincidence?
Michael Gillman, co-founder of Create Your Play, is a senior at the University of Indiana. He quickly rattled off the names and Greek affiliations of several other classmates who are launching businesses while in school -- all in the Greek system.
It makes sense on many levels.
- Fraternity and sorority members are inherently social. Many of their product ideas are based on bringing together groups of people and they use the Greek system as their beta test population -- not just at their own school but nationally. For example, Create Your Play has users place bets using virtual chips and competing against their peers to win professional sports championship tickets and cash prizes.
- The Greek system has natural funding sources. Former members of their organizations are prime prospects as investors. According to the Fraternity Advisor, of the nations 50 largest corporations, 43 are headed by fraternity men and 85 percent of the Fortune 500 executives belong to a fraternity. (Sorority statistics are elusive, however.)
- They have ready-made business partners. For example, three Theta Chi frat brothers at the University of Florida formed Always True Company, a street wear clothing brand, in memory of a deceased brother. Working and living together makes running a business more efficient.
They have a built-in customer base. Whether they are selling food, fashion, or services, these Greekpreneurial brothers and sisters are the 2018 equivalent of Tupperware or Avon salespeople, hitting-up their friends and housemates as low-hanging-fruit customers.
Having a side gig is always a challenge, but imagine having tight deadlines on homework and finals. According to Gillman, "Time management is key." He and his co-founder both have GPAs over 3.0, while fulfilling their fraternity obligations and working on their business.
Are you the parent of a college-age entrepreneur? You won't necessarily be able to discourage that spirit, but be sure to teach him or her to present well -- a skill that public speaking expert Kindra Hall believes is the most important gift a parent of a founder can bestow. I would add solid accounting and budgeting skills to that list.
The true test for many of these Greekpreneurs is whether they can maintain and scale their businesses once their built-in customer base graduates. Although some have done research beyond their campuses, others were not even aware of similar products/offers for the college market. At any age, finding a successful mentor increases the chances of success.
The founders I talked to all say they are at least going to give full-time entrepreneurship a go upon graduation. They had better start working their LinkedIn networks for funding before they don those caps and gowns!