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via Forbes : This revelation might seem counterintuitive, but the environment in which Millennials must operate is difficult. This generation carries more debt than its predecessors, much of it in the form of student loans, which encourages them to seek steady paychecks rather than the risks of entrepreneurship. Even the final option of bankruptcy provides little comfort, as student loans are usually not eligible to be discharged.

Despite the obstacles, young entrepreneurs do have options. With a little planning and commitment, would-be founders can kick-start their entrepreneurial dreams before they even graduate from college.

The False Choice Of School Vs. Business

People like to paint the world as black and white, especially to new high school graduates. The options are limited: Start a business now, go into a trade, get a job, or go to college.

Fortunately, reality is not so cut-and-dried. Students can start companies while they study, and founders can go to school after getting their businesses off the ground.

Although the parable of the college dropout-turned-billionaire is popular among the startup crowd, the truth is that educated founders tend to run more successful companies than uneducated ones. A college degree is more than a prerequisite to landing a traditional job; for entrepreneurs, it’s an opportunity to learn real-world skills and start building a network of like-minded, well-studied people.

Universities are finally beginning to catch on, offering programs that give students opportunities to show their business savvy while preparing them to operate in the open market. Schools such as Harvard University and Columbia University sometimes provide students with funding for startups, while others offer entrepreneurship programs taught by successful founders.

Students shouldn’t have to choose between paying the bills and starting new companies. As more universities offer programs to guide them through the challenges of entrepreneurship, fewer students will have to make that unfair choice.

How Young Entrepreneurs Can Get Started Immediately

For students and other aspiring entrepreneurs, navigating the startup landscape can be difficult. These 4 tips will help prospective founders turn their ideas into reality.

1. Join An Accelerator.

What better way to start quickly than by joining an organization that helps people do just that?

Corporate accelerators are great options for full-time founders, but students usually don’t have the clout, capital, or time to join. To solve this issue, school-based accelerators are becoming more common.

UMSL Accelerate in the University of Missouri system is one such program. Aspiring to become the “Stanford of the Midwest,” this program helps develop entrepreneurs during their college years, providing opportunities for them to flex their entrepreneurial muscles before and after graduation. Faculty and members of the community are also welcome to join, and UMSL Accelerate actively fosters collaboration between these groups.

“Entrepreneurship is about taking action,” says Dan Lauer, founding executive director of the program. “Learning by doing is one of the most effective methods for mastering concepts and is the fundamental building block for our courses.”

2. Build A Strong Business Plan.

Anyone can build a business plan, but even most graduates fail to consider every factor involved in running a company.

The best plans account for the strengths of the founder, acknowledge weaknesses in the offering, and demonstrate a full understanding of the competitive landscape. By following a guide, students can fine-tune their plans to stand tall beside proposals from established startup successes.

Aspiring founders should study their competition as if writing a research paper. Most of the critical information for this task is available online through newsletters, email lists, and search engine results. By tracing competitors’ pipelines, students can project their own sales processes and anticipate challenges before they occur.

3. Rely On Community Wisdom.

Countless college students have started companies. Many of them make the same mistakes. New founders can avoid suffering through common pitfalls by listening to the lessons of those who came before.

Most young founders wish they had taken full advantage of the resources available to them in college. After graduation, campus resources (such as conference rooms, tools, and fast internet) and expert consultations with professors become more difficult and expensive to secure. Further, college provides access to both like-minded potential co-founders and a large pool of accessible customers, making school the ideal laboratory for testing new ideas.

4. Find A Mentor.

Professors and teachers in entrepreneurial programs are always looking for talented, motivated students to mentor. For young founders, developing strong relationships with a few key mentors can make the difference between early struggles and rapid growth.

Not all mentors have to be billionaire CEOs. Many are leaders of successful local companies, respected field experts, or popular consultants. Student accelerator programs and networking events provide excellent opportunities for founders to share ideas with people who have been there before and start mutually beneficial relationships.

College students and recent graduates have a lot to worry about, but in the right environment, their dreams of starting new businesses can become reality. From 18-year-old freshmen to adults returning to finish their education, college provides the perfect opportunity for founders to give their companies a head start.

 

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