Judging by the growth of entrepreneurship programs on college campuses across the country, student interest in starting new companies is at an all time high--but getting a startup off the ground has never been more difficult. While recent business school graduates have the ambition, traditional business acumen and leadership skills necessary to get a new venture up and running, they're often too saddled with student loan debt to do so. According to current estimates, the amount of student debt in the United States is upwards of $1.3 trillion, with the average class of 2016 graduate owing more than $37,000. For students enrolled in MBA programs, loans can easily creep up into the six-figure mark, and are compounded further by high interest rates and pay back plans that stretch out over decades. It's no secret--we are in the midst of a student loan debt crisis, and it is keeping would-be entrepreneurs from launching a startup straight out of school.
But there is an opportunity hidden in that obstacle: entering the workforce to spend a few years in a stable position has tremendous benefits for aspiring founders and their future ventures, and could even pave the way toward founding better, more stable ventures. A few of the reasons why include:
- A steady paycheck and reliable source of income that comes with full or part-time employment may be the most obvious benefit, and goes a long way towards repaying personal debt. Businesses--especially new, early-stage businesses--require capital to start and maintain operations. When funding from investors, accelerators and grants aren't an option, entrepreneurs must either turn to family and friends for funding, or come up with it on their own. Instead, recent grads may prioritize getting ahead of their loans early on--splitting money between bills, savings and, when possible, making more than the required monthly payment to their student loan lender.
- Benefits and 'work perks' that come with full-time employment are often just as valuable as a paycheck, and another reason why holding off on entrepreneurship isn't as bad as it seems. Especially in the years ahead, employer-provided healthcare will become essential for young entrepreneurs who once or still do depend on their parents' health insurance plans. Many jobs also offer a variety of retirement plans that pave the way for long-term financial security. Startups strapped for resources will not reimburse monthly cell phone or gym membership bills, and they certainly don't allow for paid sick or vacation time. These types of benefits don't just make post-grad life a bit more enjoyable for aspiring entrepreneurs--in some cases, they provide the safety net for their new or growing families too.
- Building a professional network is essential to any recent graduate, regardless of what their career path might look like. For entrepreneurs, networking is especially important when it comes to generating awareness for your venture, attracting investors, securing customers and building your staff. Many student entrepreneurs build up a solid network at school, but can struggle to grow it beyond their campuses or college towns. Spending a few years working for another company helps to keep entrepreneurs sharp and build up a solid list of references for the future. Many times, co-workers become co-founders and managers become mentors, helping to navigate the common pitfalls in business that until that point have yet to be seen. And, as important as building a network, graduates can establish a reputation within their organization--a reputation that will follow them into their own ventures. Becoming known as someone who can get things done is easily as valuable as the degree one earned in school.
Breaking out of the "university bubble" might actually build a better startup. Along with collecting a steady paycheck with benefits and building up a solid professional support system, delaying entrepreneurship exposes many graduates to real, important issues in their communities that ultimately translate into more successful startups. While the idea for a late-night takeout delivery service might have been a hit with college classmates, the most successful ventures solve challenges and take advantage of opportunities on a much greater scale. Entrepreneurship in action doesn't always translate in the latest and greatest drone delivery service or a social networking platform for personal chefs. Spending a few years of due diligence in the real world to find an opportunity that inspires action--be it in local politics, a non-profit or for a pre-existing business--can help students see that there are many avenues to becoming an entrepreneur that aren't all that obvious until after graduation. Ventures are only as good as the problems they solve. Finding the right opportunity is easier when one is confronted with business world challenges on a daily basis.
It's not impossible to translate a university startup into a spinout with student loans in the picture--it's just not easy. There's a critical need to reevaluate and reform the way we price and pay for higher education, but entrepreneurs aren't waiting around. Before making startup dreams a reality, entrepreneurs should weigh the pros and cons of all their options and not forget that delaying entrepreneurship does have its benefits.