For many of us, college is about making mistakes — changing majors, all-nighters, failed relationships, unfulfilling part-time jobs, a few (thousand) beers, maybe a misdemeanor or two. What college wasn’t about for me was an education in entrepreneurship, even though it was my major.
It wasn’t for lack of effort. I placed in pitch competitions, aced courses, won a $100,000 business plan competition and pursued extracurricular activities.
My entrepreneurship education came outside of the classroom, shaped somewhat accidentally by my stubbornness, my refusal to give up and my ignorance in thinking I could just become a full-time entrepreneur right out of college. Through failing comes valuable lessons, but you can start and fail much smarter than I did. Here are five ways I’d recommend shaping your entrepreneurship education, whether in the classroom or outside it.
1. Start super simple.
Basketball players learning the game don’t start with trying to shoot from half court the first time they pick up a basketball, nor should you try to start what you think will become the next Facebook. Start by mastering your layup.
Pair the simplest business idea you can think of that combines your biggest passion with your most marketable skill. For me, I paired my biggest passion — working to help small businesses, with my most marketable skill — writing, to create a business that creates content for small businesses. It’s far from unique, but it’s easy to find ways to differentiate your business when it’s something you’re both passionate about and skilled in, like focusing on a specific niche.
2. On the job training.
There are “jobs” that can prepare you for the start of your business, but you need to be extremely selective in choosing a job that will get you closer to becoming an entrepreneur instead of further away from it. Because of connections I made during my time in school, I was in a good position to work with a nonprofit that served young entrepreneurs and worked with experienced entrepreneurs. Every day I was surrounded by people who were doing exactly what I wanted to do.
Find a job where you will get opportunities to learn more about the business you want to start and are surrounded by people who can and are willing to help when you do start that business. Try shadowing an entrepreneur as their assistant or going the nonprofit route to find an organization that is engaged with people you would benefit from getting to know.
There is nothing that prepared me more to become an entrepreneur than freelancing. While working a full-time job, I completed more than 600 gigs on freelance website Fiverr over a three-year span. The money earned was insignificant, but the hundreds of clients I worked with, especially the difficult ones, taught me how to serve my current clients. Even if you’re not sure what type of business you want to start, freelancing will help you find ways to monetize your skills. This is a strong first step towards starting a service-based business.
4. Work for the enemy.
No startup is completely unique. There are likely several, if not hundreds, of great businesses providing similar products or services that you want to create in the future. Not every business will like teaching their competition how to start a business in their industry, but this first-hand experience specific to your future business is priceless.
5. Network widely with everybody.
Successful entrepreneurs have huge networks allowing them to reach out to other successful entrepreneurs the average person wouldn’t have access to. There is no limit to what you can accomplish through networking. Luckily for me, networking was part of my full-time job leading up to when I left to start my business, but there are resources you can take advantage of now to build your network. I took advantage of local and national events for entrepreneurs, networked on LinkedIn, and interviewed entrepreneurs over Skype to learn about their successes and failures and published the interviews online.