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How to Fuel Your Student-Led Startup

How to Fuel Your Student-Led Startup
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With minimal risk and numerous resources, student entrepreneurship is on the rise at campuses all over the country. According to an Insights Report from the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, more than 1,500 universities offer some form of entrepreneurial resources, an increase of 120 percent in the last 5 years.

While most universities now offer incubators, hackathons and networking events, there are a multitude of resources that aren't limited to a specific student body. If you didn't win your campuswide business competition, never fear. You still have options to give your business idea the leverage it needs.

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Almost 80 percent of professionals consider networking valuable to career success, according to LinkedIn's corporate communications team. The same study also found that 70 percent of people were hired at a company where they had a connection with another employee at that same company.

Networking is essential for success in any career field, but especially so in the entrepreneurial and business worlds. Not only are there events designed to connect students with bright ideas to others with similar passions but also to investors and community leaders.

The Collegiate Entrepreneurs' Organization (CEO) has more than 400 chapters on university campuses throughout North America, which support more than 16,500 emerging collegiate entrepreneurs annually. CEO also hosts regional events and an annual global conference to connect members to industry leaders, successful entrepreneurs and other students. The annual conference targets students but is open to any individual.

In addition to the resources listed in this article, research networking events for startups and entrepreneurs in your community. Although these won't necessarily be geared toward student-related obstacles, you can still meet and receive advice from experienced innovators.

Business plan competitions not only provide a mechanism to finance a startup but they can lead to publicity and valuable introductions.

Business model competitions have become so popular that sites like iStart have emerged to connect students with the most appropriate contest for their circumstances. As a bonus, iStart members can place their business plans in a searchable database for anyone to view to promote connections with venture capitalists.

Some competitions, like the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, require success at a local level before qualifying to enter. Others, like the International Business Model Competition, offer the option to compete on a global level.

The advanced state of student entrepreneurship has inspired student-focused investment funds to emerge across the world.

Contrary Capital believes the next generation's most successful companies will emerge from universities. Its LinkedIn page states, "… no organization truly capitalizes on the immense talent and opportunity that abounds on university campuses across the globe. We’re fixing that."

Another resource, Dorm Room Fund, is a national, student-run venture capital fund backed by First Round. The organization has invested in 200 startups that have raised more than $400 million in the last five years.

"No matter where you are in the country, or what school you go to, you can now grow your startup with access to a strong network of investors, world-class mentors, and a $20,000 check," the company wrote in a blog post in April. [Interested in alternative small business loans? Check out our best picks.]

According to the Kauffman Index of Startup Activity, 550,000 Americans launch new businesses each month. For undergraduate students ready to explore their ideas, numerous opportunities are available in places other than their home campuses.

But that's not to say those opportunities should be ignored. The share of incubator programs associated with universities has grown to a record high of 42 percent, according to the International Business Innovation Association's 2016 IMPACT Index, up from one-third in 2012 and one-fifth in 2006.

History has clearly demonstrated that student entrepreneurs can create highly disruptive and profitable companies. For budding entrepreneurs, shoot high but do your research, because you don't want to ignore the opportunities right in your backyard.

Carlyann Edwards

Carlyann is pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Business Journalism with minors in sustainability and music at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and will graduate in 2020. She is incredibly interested by the intersection of business development and environmental preservation. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys working for non-profit organization Carolina Thrift, running and playing the ukulele.