Resources for students starting a business

The Baltimore Sun

Michael Simmons started his first business, a Web development company, as an underclassman in high school. By the time he was a senior, he was netting $50 an hour, better than what most high school students earn mowing lawns or baby-sitting.

Today, he and his wife, Sheena Lindahl, both in their 20s, run the Extreme Entrepreneurship Education Corp. and visit college campuses across the country to help motivate and guide budding entrepreneurs.

And there is a growing audience of young men and women eager to receive that message.

In 2005, more than 1,900 nonprofit colleges offered classes or degrees in entrepreneurship, up from 253 schools two decades earlier, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which doles out grants for entrepreneurship programs on campuses. At the same time, the number of students enrolled in courses has swelled to 200,000 from 16,000.

Why are today's youth so enterprising? Experts point to a growing skepticism about job security. "Students have seen their parents lose jobs from downsizing," said Michelle Keller, a senior program analyst at the Kauffman Foundation, "so they'd rather take their chances being their own boss."

And it's not just business majors who are launching these ventures. Students across all disciplines, from engineering to liberal arts, are learning entrepreneurial skills.

At the University of Illinois, 7,000 undergraduate and graduate students took at least one course in entrepreneurship last year, said Paul Magelli, director of the university's Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership. Even traditional course work is beginning to incorporate some lessons on entrepreneurship.

For example, social workers are trained to help people get on their feet and become independent, so teaching entrepreneurial skills to students training to be social workers could be helpful, Magelli said.

If you'd like to pursue your own business, here are some pointers to help you get started.

Use school resources.

While you should first check your school's policy about running a business from your dorm room, as a student you can take advantage of campus services, such as a Web connection and utilities.

Your college may also provide additional support.

Washington University in St. Louis runs an entrepreneurial program that gives students access to advisers, storefront space and other useful tools, including information on raising money and paying taxes.

Howard University periodically is host for a marketplace, allowing student vendors to promote their services and products.

Even if your school doesn't offer similar programs, check whether a course in entrepreneurship is offered, or if there are any student groups with a business focus.

Set small goals.

As you think up your business plan, keep it manageable.

"Raising money is the main challenge for students," Simmons said. "Instead of creating a business plan that requires $10,000, break the project down into smaller goals."

Simmons, for example, used preorders to help finance the printing of his book, The Student Success Manifesto (Extreme Entrepreneurship Education, $19.95).

You can expand your business once the first leg of your project succeeds and you start to earn money.

Watch your budget.

Speaking of cash, starting a business does require some capital. Many student entrepreneurs turn to parents, credit cards or student loans for seed money.

Also, many entrepreneurial programs hold competitions for student business plans, awarding grants or scholarships to the winners. Check with your school for information on local competitions.

Many industry groups, including the National Federation of Independent Business, offer scholarships (go to page/youngentrepreneur foundation.html).

Be ready to multitask.

Finally, another reason to build your business slowly is time: Being a student is a full-time job. But leaving school with a degree and a secure position as chief executive is not bad for someone in his 20s.

Carolyn Bigda writes for Tribune Media Services.

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