Painting the Blank Canvas:

How to Be an Entrepreneur in College

By Sidhant Ahluwalia (originally published on Medium)

To begin with, I’m not a nerd, I’m not a valedictorian, I’m just another college student with a dream to make a living after graduation. Over the next 5 to 10 mins, I’m going to take you over my story of what I did in college to make the most of my time. Below are 8 steps I took to get to where I am today and by the end of this, I hope to inspire you to find your steps to make a successful college career.

1

Learn a handy skill.

Over the summer of my sophomore year in college I picked up on iOS dev, a skill not many people have a great understanding of. Being able to code in swift and learning from taking a summer course and youtube videos prepared me for my first internship at a tech startup. Getting involved in a new startup is an experience you can’t replicate - it’s like working on a group project with a 24-hour deadline, all the time. Let’s say “intense” is a modest word to describe it. Skills such as App Development can and are being used by most firms/startups and being able to master such skills will differentiate you from the crowd. Not only do skills such as these help you get experience in the corporate world, but it also makes you self sufficient to start your own business.
2

Take an entrepreneurship (ENT) course.

As much as people value a technical background, having the necessary soft skills - such as communication, working with partners and getting through failures - are things people aren’t experienced with; trust me you want to get this out of the way while you’re in college. Learning about making business plans, financial plans, executive summaries and selling your ideas in college is the best platform to build on these skills. The buzz words count, industry terms can make or break a pitch, MVP, Disruptive Tech, value proposition and Lean startup are a few of them, add them to your dictionary now!
3

Always have a side hustle.

As busy as college gets, remember why you’re here. Is it for the parties on Friday nights? The mixers on Thursday? The hangover Sundays? Be focused, have a project that you’re passionate about, take it outside your class time and make it happen. It’s important to work on things you care about to know the impact you can make to the world, so go ahead, find a problem and solve it. For me I used college as a giant inflatable, anything you do in college is like doing something on the side.
4

Meet the right people.

Find people that contrast your skills, something I learned along my journey is that we are around people that like the same things that we do. If I’m good at programming, it’s highly likely that my good friends will be good programmers as well. Think about it, when you want to start a business, you want to have a CEO, CTO and CFO - would you want your c-suite to be full of people who all think alike, who can basically program anything? No, right?! You want a diverse set of people that bring in different perspectives and skills to the table. This step is crucial to success, so go ahead and expand your circle.
5

Make it BIG!

Be it a business or building a community, make it big! For me building a community was what mattered the most; building a community of like-minded people can make big things happen. After all, you’re who you surround yourself with. Founding a club usually just takes a few people and a statement of interest. If there isn’t the community, go make it... that’s what entrepreneurs do. The same goes for a business, and the single most important purpose of a business should be to get known. If you don’t make it big it doesn’t count!
6

Find the successful few.

Running an organization can be challenging, but you’re not on your own: use tried and tested methods to build on (you don’t have to reinvent the wheel). Find what students at your university care about. Is it working on building products? Learning about how entrepreneurship is applicable in different fields? Something other than that? Make sure you’re targeting the right audience, as this is a very important step for building the community. Make sure you’re not providing a service that already exists - create something new, fill in a new niche.
7

Try the alternative route.

You’re not an entrepreneur if you don’t know how to raise money or pitch a project you’ve been working on. Being a VC may have been a dream in the past, but in today’s date people are encouraged to try become campus partners for VC firms. This is a great way to meet entrepreneurs and like-minded students. Dorm room fund, Rough Draft Ventures and tons of other venture capital firms are made to fund startups out of college dorm rooms. I’m personally involved with GroundUP ventures and I can say for sure that it has given me the opportunity to network with people from all around the globe to talk about things that interest me.
8

The sky is the limit.

I can assure you that you’re only restricted to the limits you set, college dropouts have made some of the biggest companies we know today, one of such has over 2 billion users. Believe in yourself and make it happen - set those ground rules and the rest will follow.

These steps aren’t a roadmap to having a successful college career. I believe everyone has to find their route, their calling and this is how I found mine.

Sidhant Ahluwalia is a member of University of Rochester’s Class of 2018. He is working toward a Bachelors of Arts degree in Computer Science, track in HCI. A student in the Hajim School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, Ahluwalia is also a campus partner for GroundUP Ventures and co-founder of Meliora LaunchPad, an entrepreneurship club for innovative students.