12 Essential Steps for Rising Student Entrepreneurs

Every year, countless students from all majors flow through the IDEA office, looking for advice to jump-start their plans for a venture startup. From business plans to investment options, all parts of a student-run venture are crucial for liftoff.

To start the semester, we put together a list of 12 venture “must-dos” for rising student entrepreneurs!

1. Talk to customers.  Many entrepreneurs are in love with their product ideas. They trick themselves into believing that the world will beat their way to their door and purchase their products.  There is nothing more humbling than a conversation with a target customer who does not NEED what an entrepreneur spends his or her nights dreaming about.  But that input will sink in and with time, will come better and more innovative products.

2. Gotta have team.  Great products and great markets are not enough. Every venture needs to have a strong core team and a network of trusted suppliers who can accomplish all of the milestones that lie in front of it. All members of the team need to have a clear understanding of their roles. Strong teams accept the leadership of the CEO because he or she has empowered the team to do their jobs.

~ Dan Gregory, IDEA Faculty Advisor

3. Conduct as much market research as possible.  Identify your typical consumer and quantify how many there are, how many you can reach, and how much revenue can be generated from this consumer base. Also, know your competition. Understand the facets of their business that differentiate them from you and other competitors, their prices, costs, and offerings. 

4. Know the cost. Knowing the cost of pieces that go into the product or service is crucial. This will allow you to know whether you are paying too much for a component when buying from a third party and give you a huge competitive advantage.

~ James Gorman, Head Coach

5. Hire people smarter than you. There is no shame in not being the smartest person in your startup. Hiring people or recruiting people smarter than you can only continue to drive your venture to the top.

6. Don’t be afraid to tell others about your idea. People are commonly afraid to let others know about there idea. The chances are very slim that they will run off and try to compete with you. Realistically, they will let you know things that you may not see yourself.

Chris Wolfel, CEO

7. Network with others. Surround yourself with people you find interesting. Conversations with this group not only develop your own thoughts, but tap massive collaborative potential as well. If they can’t help you, they probably have a friend that will. Invest in these relationships today.

8. Persist. At first, the best ideas typically don’t make sense to most people. Don’t let this deter you. Work hard to gain traction. Success is a function of effort and failed attempts. Keep at it.

9. Listen. It’s easy to only notice what we want to notice. Do your best to remain objective. A slight tweak in your target market or product utility might be holding you back from exponential success.

~ Matthew Saitta, Investment Officer

10. Build and test the product. Most ventures make the mistake of building a product or service they want to make and assume will be a hit. Instead they should be focused on building an idea, testing that idea with consumers, and then building an evolved product or service around what the market demands.

11. Finance. Finance. Finance. Many new ventures fail to grasp the financial side of building a business model. Explosive growth or unrealistic revenue and profit projections is not what is important to potential investors.  Having conservative projections that show a long-term path to profit, but also fit in line with the strategic goals and milestones of the business model is much more important.

12. Passion goes a long way. Technology today has created a resurgent entrepreneurship spirit across the world and has thus created a very competitive environment full of great ideas. The environment makes it even harder and scarier for a new venture to become successful. But one thing stands true – there is no substitute for passion and hard work. Staying determined and undeterred when hardship likely comes can sometimes be the difference of a successful venture.

~ Mark Ferrara, Investment Analyst