Exploring Entrepreneurship Opportunities as Student: Advice from Business Leaders

Entrepreneurship Opportunities

From validating your business idea to focusing on studies and networking, 12 business leaders share their invaluable advice for business students eager to embark on entrepreneurial ventures during their college years. Dive in to discover what Eller students should prepare for when seeking opportunities to grow as both a student and an entrepreneur.

  • Validate Your Business Idea
  • Invest Early in Branding
  • Seek a Mentor's Guidance
  • Utilize Passions and Skills
  • Emphasize Financial Management
  • Take Time to Prepare
  • Create a Strong LinkedIn Presence
  • Leverage College Resources
  • Establish Solid Processes
  • Understand Legal Obligations
  • Develop Essential Soft Skills
  • Focus on Studies and Networking

Validate Your Business Idea

Validate your business idea with potential customers before diving in. This ensures that there's a market for your product or service before you invest time and money into an endeavor.

To validate your idea, conduct face-to-face interviews or informal discussions with potential customers outside of the Eller College building. Go to where your customers are. Observing their desk, the tabs open on their computer screen, and their office environment can provide insights into how to best service them.

Eller is not just about earning a degree—it's about building a foundation for future ventures. Venture beyond Mountain and Helen and engage with your customers in their own settings.

Brett Farmiloe ‘06 BSBA (Accounting), CEO, Featured

Invest Early in Branding

Don't skimp on branding, even in the early stages. Building a consistent brand takes hard work, time and money, but it's the only way to really differentiate your company and your product from the competition. 

If you don't have design skills yourself, invest in professional branding or find a graphic design or marketing student who can help you develop that brand for a fraction of the cost you might pay a professional agency. The moves you make now can help your business succeed or keep it small, so establish your brand's unique selling position ASAP.

Hardy Desai, Founder, Supple Digital

Seek a Mentor's Guidance

My top advice is to hunt down a solid mentor if you want to do so. Find someone who's been there, done that, and is willing to share their war stories and wisdom. A mentor can help you navigate through the entrepreneurial wilderness, teach you how to face challenges, avoid pitfalls and learn from their experiences. Seek out someone whose journey aligns with your aspirations and values.

As someone who helps aspiring entrepreneurs myself, I see mentorship as a crash course in entrepreneurship, customized just for you. So, don't be shy—reach out, build that relationship and soak up all the knowledge you can.

Johannes Larsson, Founder and CEO, JohannesLarsson.com

Utilize Passions and Skills

Leveraging your existing passions, knowledge and skill sets as launching pads is my biggest piece of advice for Eller business students aspiring to launch startups. As a marketing grad, I started a laptop blog aligned with my long-time tech interests while in school. By relentlessly providing value to readers through content creation, I slowly but surely built organic traffic and affiliate revenue streams. Within six months post-graduation, the blog was earning enough income to completely pay off my student loans.

A friend who studied entrepreneurship capitalized on his lifelong design talent and interests by founding an e-commerce store selling his own original hoodie prints manufactured through a custom sourcing partner. By focusing on quality combined with unique designs, he has built up a thriving DTC (direct-to-consumer) clothing line.

We both bootstrapped ventures that played to our respective domains of interest while simultaneously honing digital marketing and business operation skills critical for growth. Business school nurtures creativity and skills, so identify real problems or needs, then leverage your passions and competencies to provide viable solutions through entrepreneurial ventures. 

Be willing to start small while learning and refining based on data and customer feedback. With concerted effort over time, those small seeds can blossom into thriving businesses.

Mike Johnson, Founder, LaptopUnderBudget

Emphasize Financial Management

Practice sound financial management as early as possible. In my experience, it helped that I kept a close eye on my budget, managed expenses wisely and explored cost-effective solutions. Efficient financial management is critical, especially in the early stages of a business. It will help you effectively plan for both the short- and long-term goals of your business. 

You can also make informed decisions regarding expenses, investments, and savings, as well as identify potential areas for improvement. Establishing a solid financial foundation will allow you to be better equipped to weather any unexpected challenges that may arise down the line.

Mark Damsgaard, Founder, Global Residence Index

Take Time to Prepare

I know it's exciting, and you're full of ideas, and you want to start now—now, NOW—but I recommend taking your time to make sure you've learned as much as you can and that you're ready.

While I agree that there's no more effective education than going out there and falling on your ass, I also know how disheartening it can be. Remember that one-fifth of businesses don't make it to their third year, and fewer than half reach the 10-year mark. Is a lot of that related to luck and the general state of the economy? Yes. But a good idea and a well-thought-out plan can keep you afloat if you've taken the time to "cook" your idea for as long as it needs.

The best advice I can give you is to not rush it.

Rick Berres, Owner, Honey-Doers

Create a Strong LinkedIn Presence

Crafting a well-developed LinkedIn profile is essential for being taken seriously as a businessperson, even if you are still in school. Create separate but linked profiles for yourself and your company. In both, articulate why you do what you do, how the business idea came about and how you implemented it. Your profiles should clearly show the evolution from past ideas to your current business and give a glimpse into your future aspirations, as success stories are universally appealing.

Regularly post events, milestones, wins and articles featuring interviews with you to maintain a high-quality presence and keep your business in front of readers. Make sure your profile includes all contact information, such as your cell phone number for text messages from prospects, providing immediate access to you and your offerings.

It's important to check your LinkedIn profile frequently to stay current and respond promptly to opportunities.

Marc W. Halpert, LinkedIn Coach, Trainer, Marketing Consultant, connect2collaborate.com

Leverage College Resources

I didn't start my business while I was a student, but I was definitely thinking about it, and I took advantage of the opportunities available to me in Eller. I think the steps I took would also work well for someone launching their business while they are still in school.

During my master's program, I found a faculty mentor and did an independent study course in which I worked on my business concept with guidance from my mentor. I also learned a lot about product development and design thinking in Marketing 559: Innovation and New Product Design, and I recommend that course for aspiring entrepreneurs. 

For undergraduates, I highly recommend taking advantage of the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship to develop a business plan and prepare to launch. It's an amazing resource for all University of Arizona students.

Jennifer Yamnitz, Independent Marketing Consultant, Jennifer Yamnitz

Establish Solid Processes

I would say to really "nail" your processes in the early stages so that when scaling happens, it's easier to do so as you're already set up for it.

Many startups neglect their processes for internal hiring, training, and comms, only to then struggle to scale due to the lack of them. The more you can refine your processes from the outset, the better equipped you'll be to grow in the future.

Wendy Makinson, HR Manager, Joloda Hydraroll

Understand Legal Obligations

Understand the legal responsibilities before you take anything on. You must familiarize yourself with basic compliance requirements around taxes, operations, employment, safety and more. As a student, these topics are likely something you haven’t dealt directly with yet, so it’s best to consult a lawyer to walk you through everything you need to know.

If you can manage compliance and start building your business now, you may be able to establish a solid foundation for your business during school and set yourself up for exponential growth after you graduate and dedicate your full-time efforts to it!

Robert Kaskel, Chief People Officer, Checkr

Develop Essential Soft Skills

In addition to business knowledge, focus on developing soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving. These skills are essential for effective entrepreneurship and will benefit you in various aspects of your career. I also find that building soft skills as a college student is essential for personal and professional development.

Join clubs, student organizations, or sports teams to foster teamwork, leadership, and interpersonal skills. These activities provide opportunities to collaborate with diverse groups of people and develop effective communication. Also, attend workshops and seminars focused on soft skills development. Many universities offer events that cover topics such as communication, time management, and leadership. Take advantage of these opportunities to enhance your skills.

Renan Ferreira, Head of Communications and Director of Sales, RealCraft

Focus on Studies and Networking

When I was in business school (2019-20), the temptation to do this was very high. Thankfully, I was warned by the career counselors to take a breath, focus on the classes, and focus on building a strong network in the school. This was very good advice. Not only would I have been overwhelmed and distracted, but both my new venture and my education would've also been affected for the worse.

Trevor Ewen, COO, QBench


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