According to the Public Perceptions of Innovation Report from Advance Queensland, 6 out of 10 people want to be involved in innovation, but don’t know where to start.
I have been very fortunate; I started my entrepreneurial journey in my first year of uni, which opened so many doors for me. Here are the reasons as to why university is the best place to launch a startup or to be part of an innovative project.
1. A place to meet like-minded people
“If you want to walk fast, walk alone. But if you want to walk far, walk together”— Ratan Tata. Having a team is essential when you are running a startup (you may not like it, but trust me, you will agree with me more when you experience anxiety or breakdowns). In fact, a well-rounded team of individuals from diverse backgrounds will bring a diverse set of skills, knowledge and experience to make your startup more sustainable and scalable.
A university is a great place to meet people from different study disciplines, who have diverse skill sets and mindsets. Therefore, cross-campus and faculties activities are highly encouraged in university these days. For me, I met my co-founder of Startup Interns through an ambassador program and my co-founder of Meetip at a bootcamp.
If you are looking to connect with like-minded people, I encourage you to check out the networking events, meetups, case study competitions, Startup Weekends and hackathons organised by your university or student club and societies. Who knows, you may find your co-founder(s) at the next event.
2. More room for risks
Entrepreneurs are risks takers. We often say that more than half of new businesses fail during the first year. Think about it this way — if you have two kids and you are making 70K a year, would you easily give up your job to start a startup that may not last for a year? You may even find it difficult to sacrifice a weekend for a Startup Weekend. Thus, the opportunity cost of launching a startup is much higher for working professionals than students.
Uni students have more room for risks and more time to experience different things. As a student, you do not have much financial pressure and workload compared to a full-time worker. You have more time to meet people, to think about your ideas and to execute them while you are studying. Even if your startup fails, you have the capacity to validate another idea and to launch something else.
The classic example is Mark Zuckerberg – who created Facebook in his Harvard dorm room. So grab some mates together and brainstorm an idea in your room later today!
3. Free entrepreneurship supports
In the last three years, I have seen education institutions investing heavily in entrepreneurship and innovation programs in Australia. For my university, there are plenty of entrepreneurship supports, such as workshops, incubator programs, accelerator programs, hackathons, weekend of startups, co-working space, funding, mentorship and startup internship abroad programs.
Bringing together entrepreneurs, innovators and investors to help people grow their ideas into a solution for potential commercial opportunity is critical but costly. Besides, universities have the capacity to offer those supports because of their alumni network, industrial partnership and resources that have already been established.
4. You are welcome to hustle people
If you are a student, you are free-to-hustle people…
My point is whatever you are asking for, whether it be a mentorship, a free ticket to an expensive conference, student discounts for software or even a free startup t-shirt, people are generally happy to help because of your identity as a student.
By saying that, please do it assertively and always think about what value you can contribute to other people. When you have the capacity to help others, do your best to give back to the community.
In Queensland, you can find most of the entrepreneurship activities at Advance Queensland’s event calendar. You also want to check out the Startup Ecosystem Map to connect with your local innovation hubs in Australia.
5. A place to learn
Entrepreneurs are learners, and we learn by experience.
You are expected to be learning new things in your lectures and tutorials, but I would say the best learning environment is getting your hands dirty and working on uncertain projects.
“It’s valuable for people to do entrepreneurship and innovation projects as part of their studies. It’s not necessarily because we want to launch a bunch of new businesses – but trying to build something is a great example of working on a problem where we don’t know the answer in advance.” — Tim Kastelle, Director, Graduate Management (Executive Education and MBA)
If you know the problem, don’t limit yourself with existing solutions. Instead, validate your ideas, do some market research, form a group, talk to your potential customers, build a prototype and try to execute it. Even if your startup idea does not succeed, you will still learn a bunch of new skills.
People are starting to recognise that entrepreneurship is far more than just starting a business. It is about having the ability to learn new skills, to take risks and to create value. As such, enterprise skills and entrepreneurial mindsets are critical for career success.
“As the demand for entrepreneurship grows, education institutions, governments and businesses must come together to deliver initiatives that focus on cultivating, supporting and encouraging students to take their ideas to the world.” — Innovation in Employability Report, Austrade
It is encouraging to see the federal government highlighting the significance of entrepreneurship development in the education sector. I look forward to more initiatives and supports for student entrepreneurs across Australia.
* Ocean Cheung is a student entrepreneur, a startup enthusiast and an international student currently studying at the University of Queensland (UQ). You can follow him on Twitter.