For many business school students, there's no need to wait until graduation to work on a startup. Developing a business idea in between – or even during – class is ideal.
Gayle Laakmann McDowell, a 2011 graduate of the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania, built CareerCup, which helps computer programmers prepare for interviews at tech companies, as a student.
"I tried as much as possible to leverage certain projects for my business," she says.
For example, she used a class assignment on pricing to figure out how to price products for her own company. "It was a great way of being sort of able to kill two birds with one stone," she says. McDowell now works full time for herself and has published two books on how to land jobs at technology companies.
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Experts say more students are choosing a career path similar to McDowell's: starting a business while in business school. Below is a list of tips for effectively using b-school to become a boss before graduation.
• Consider schools with a strong network: Through its Owen Entrepreneurship Center, Vanderbilt University helps students connect with people who can help make their business dreams a reality.
"We can bring together mentors who are former entrepreneurs who can help our students work on things," says Germain Boer, director of the Owen Entrepreneurship Center. "We can connect them to alums who've done businesses similar to what they're doing. We can connect them to people with funding they may want to talk to."
Boer says on campus, students can run ideas by peers for feedback, a tactic McDowell also used while at Wharton.
"Your classmates and your professors will be able to give you great advice but only if you're open about what you're working on," she says.
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• Take advantage of funding opportunities: A number of schools provide resources for getting seed money to support startups. At Vanderbilt, a student can apply for $25,000 to fund a new venture.
"We usually get three to four students per year who qualify for this," Boer says.
Carnegie Mellon University has offered student business teams between $5000 and $10,000 for new companies, says Arthur Boni, a professor at the Tepper School of Business.
In the fall, Texas A&M University will start awarding seed grants to early stage companies, says Richard Lester, executive director of the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship at the Mays Business School.
Every school may not have the budget to financially support new businesses. In these cases, students can turn to incubators such as Y Combinator and TechStars, companies that invest in startups, Boni says.
• Discuss academic limitations with classmates: Busy students may have to choose between working toward a high grade point average or a successful company. McDowell chose the latter while at Wharton.
"I think I was in the 30th percentile," she says, noting that her less than stellar grades were typical of student entrepreneurs that she knew of.