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How to launch a startup while still studying at university

Shaun Gold

Entrepreneur / Author / Speaker
Regardless of what type of company you want to start, look to your university as a resource and a place to experiment.

Ah, university. Uni.

A place of learning, experimentation, exploration, and of course, partying.

Lots of parties.

In fact, depending on who you ask, a university is either an institution of higher learning or a four-year party with a six-figure cover charge.

It makes sense that you want to start a company while still a student. Not only might you be able to pay off your degree, but you also may avoid that dreaded post-college job hunt.

But is university a great place to start a company? If so, how do you go about it? Where do you start? What can you really do and accomplish?

This is precisely what this article is going to answer.

University is a great place to start a company

If you are already enrolled in a university or planning to go, you already have an advantage over those who are in the workforce.


Because a university gives you access to thousands of other students who are in the same generation as you and who have the same interests. Among your classmates could be your future customers and more importantly, your possible co-founders and partners. Here are some examples:

  • Peter Thiel, Max Levchin, and Elon Musk (the Paypal Mafia) met via student networks at Stanford University and the University of Illinois.
  • Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg met his co-founders while at Harvard.
  • Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman were friends while at the University of Virginia.
  • Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin met at Stanford University.
  • Robinhood’s founders Vlad Tenev and Baiju Bhatt were roommates at Stanford University.

Your cofounder may be the hard-partying kid at the end of the floor at your dormitory or it may be your partner in that group project that you were recently assigned. You never know until you begin talking to them and brainstorming. University gives you that aspect. Everyone wants to talk, make friends, and explore ideas.

And speaking of ideas, classes offer you a forum to not only learn, but experiment with ideas. It is far better to brainstorm and test your business hypothesis cost-free and risk-free among your peers than to raise funds and go straight into business with limited market knowledge. As classes are mandatory, you should use them to your advantage.

Many universities also offer startup pitch competitions, business plan competitions, entrepreneurship workshops, incubators, alumni angel networks, and some even have student venture funds. Take advantage of this while you are a student, it will open doors and could make a world of difference.

Why else is university a good place to begin a business? You have limited responsibilities and room to fail. The vast majority of university students don’t have adult obligations yet (children, a mortgage payment, your anniversary trip to Cancun). As you grow older, these obligations increase. As an adult professional, you may not be able to launch a company because you won’t have the cushion to fail or even the time and energy to undertake such a venture. Simply put, university is the ideal time in your life to fail. You have the rest of your life to make up for any financial losses and the lessons learned could be invaluable. 

Finally, the youth are the future. Many successful business leaders often mentor younger entrepreneurs and seek to guide them through their wisdom and experience. This includes everyone from successful alumni (who often return as guest speakers or visiting professors, giving you an opportunity to ask them questions and network) to current professors.

And speaking of professors, they have office hours for a reason. Use them. Visit with your professors. Pick their brains. They have a vast amount of knowledge and can truly help you.

What you need and how to leverage the university.

Starting a company at university is similar to starting a company outside of a university. You need to address a few things:

1. The problem.

What is your idea of solving a problem? Is this problem something that affects you and your fellow students daily? Why are you the person to solve this problem? What unique talents and skill sets do you possess that give you an advantage over others (I.E. adults)? Why now?

2. The market need.

Who is your demographic? Do they really need the solution you are offering? You don’t want to waste your limited time and resources on something that could be useless to the general market. Survey your fellow students and get their thoughts on the matter.

3. The competitors.

Who else is in this space? What other companies are selling similar products and services to yours? How entrenched are they? Why is your product or service different from their offering? Why would it succeed?

4. The business plan.

Come up with a business plan that showcases the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and most importantly, the financing required. It is easy to have an idea but nearly impossible to successfully execute on this idea if you don’t have a proper plan in place. Better yet, enter your plan in your university’s business plan competition if they have one. This will allow you to gain great insight and feedback.

5. The team.

Your team at this stage is most likely your friends or roommates who believe in you and are just as passionate about the opportunity. You will be too early (and too broke) to make a key hire so you have to use what you have. As outlined previously, some of the greatest startup teams began as university friends. You can do the same. Pitch your peers. See who is interested, who is excited, who has their own skills and connections to make your company the next great dorm room startup.

6. The minimal viable product (MVP).

Those building the MVP while in university have an advantage, they can use university resources and the lack of a full-time job to focus fully on their product. Never before has building an MVP been so simple. No code tools like AppSumo are plentiful and affordable. Payment services can easily be set up in minutes via Stripe or Paypal. Offering a product for sale is as easy as having a Shopify account. Sites such as Upwork and Fiverr provide talented freelancers to fit any budget (assuming you can’t get classmates to help you out for a drink or a free lunch). Product feedback is also easier to gather as you have roommates, floormates, classmates, and professors who you can approach. Their feedback can help you make a simple MVP great.

7. The legality.

What are the legal requirements for your company? Does it require certain licenses to be in business? Do you know how to incorporate and what type of corporation to have? As a student, you may have someone who is majoring in pre-law who can help. Better yet, drop by your university’s law school and seek help (another advantage of being a student).

8. The financials.

Starting up can be costly, depending on the vertical you are entering. While tech advancements have made it easier to launch a startup, sooner or later you may need outside investment. This may be difficult for a university student with a limited track record and career. Fortunately, there are funds such as Dorm Room Fund and other resources to help you as a student founder. Here is a complete list.

9. The marketing.

What is your marketing plan? Social media? SEO? Physical flyers left on cars and under dorm room doors? Marketing is going to present a challenge and eat up a lot of resources so it is best to experiment with what you have at hand. Try word of mouth among your fellow students. Experiment to see what drives conversions. You may be surprised at the results.

10. The why.

This is the most important question to ask before setting out to start a company. Why are you doing this? Is it to be your own boss? To have an impact? To avoid having a real job? To get rich? Or simply to do something that you love? Talk with your friends and professors, pick people’s brains, join business clubs. Do everything you can to define your why. After all, the why will determine the how. It is important to remember that anyone with a proper why can survive anyhow.


Just because you are in university, doesn’t mean you can’t start a company. Some of the greatest founders began their careers from their dorm rooms and they lacked the technologies that are widely and freely available today. University is a great place to begin a company due to the sheer amount of resources available and more importantly, the room to pivot and fail. Because startups are risky endeavors, it is better to attempt to start a company and fail while at university than make an attempt when you are already in the workforce. The former provides a cushion and the ability to begin again while the latter may leave you in a weaker position. Regardless of what type of company you want to start, look to your university as a resource and a place to experiment. The lessons you learn through personal experience could be greater than what any lecture could provide.