Where are you setting up shop post-graduation?
Here at The University of Pennsylvania, the vast majority of technology and entrepreneurship oriented graduates have packed up and moved to New York or San Francisco. While that makes sense for seniors who have accepted full-time positions in the technology industry, I was surprised to hear that most student founders were leaving too.
As a Dorm Room Fund Partner, I have been lucky enough to speak in-depth with student founders from Philadelphia’s University City, Penn State’s Happy Valley, Ann Arbor, The Research Triangle, Boston, NYC, The Bay Area and more. When starting a company the choice of location really depends on the type of business you are building, the college you went to, and your unique business needs. For founders drafting their pro/con lists, I’ve listed eleven reasons for sticking around. Check out the key reasons below, and feel free to comment with your own opinions surrounding the decision of whether to leave or stay put.
1. Access To Cheap, Quality Technical Talent: While there might be hundreds of brilliant engineers running around campus, good engineers are a hot commodity in The Bay Area and NYC. Lucky for you, student engineers want real-world experiences that will help beef-up their resumes once they enter the working world. If you offer current students a rich opportunity to learn, which is flexible with their class schedule, then they might intern for you for free or next to nothing. Also, some universities offer students class credit for internships. With the cost per class at a private university as high as $5,000, you might have a very lucrative proposition.
It can seem that startups outside of the big two cities are at a disadvantage when hiring full-time, because engineers generally prefer to live in those cities. Your advantage is that you have the opportunity to access the brightest minds first, have them buy into your vision, and convince them to stay.
2. Confident Team Building: One of the hardest challenges when starting a business is finding the right initial team members who set the company culture. If you stay near campus and hire current students for semester-long internships, then by their graduation you will have a clear picture about whether you want to permanently add them to your team. In addition, it is easy to learn about someone’s work ethic by talking to their peers who have worked in a group project or taken a class with a potential hire.
3. Be Scrappy: Without a meal plan or dorm room, graduated founders often see operating expenses skyrocket. New York and San Francisco are arguably the two most expensive cities in the nation, where rent, groceries, talent, and daily expenses just cost more. By staying where you are, you can bootstrap longer, stretch your round further, and hold onto more of your business’s equity. Plus, you’ll seem really scrappy and savvy to any investors you approach.
4. Stay Close To Your Mentors: As a young founder you will inevitably need guidance along the way, and you have accumulated mentors during your tenure as a student. The ability to pop into an industry expert, supporting professor, or administrator’s office as soon as something goes awry is invaluable.
5. Be The Center of Attention: Any potential partner, investor or customer will run a quick Google search, and it is a huge plus if you have an established web presence beyond your own site. In NYC and San Francisco, you will be competing for the attention of journalists with thousands of other businesses. One of the easiest ways to build your visibility when TechCrunch isn’t knocking is to have a strong relationship with someone at your school newspaper and keep them updated as you accomplish major milestones. They will probably also have connections to local reporters who can help you expand your reach even further.
Aaron Dinin of Rocketbolt has found this attention to be invaluable in gaining both investor and customer attention:
“By operating out of Durham instead of one of the bigger tech hubs, RocketBolt has been able to get plenty of attention from investors and customers around the country. One of the reasons for that success has been not having to cut through as much ‘noise’ coming from other local startups.”
6. Free Workspace: Besides the ability to bum around campus and do work from the library, many universities are actually offering students free offices. At Penn, there are several places that will offer you a free desk and access to a conference room. While you need to apply when you are still a student, once you graduate they generally won’t take the keys away.
7. Power Individuals Come To You: Famous and successful individuals frequent campuses for speaking engagements and come with the mindset of wanting to impart their wisdom. Keep track of when these events are happening, and go! Capitalize on their giving mindset and approach them with a genuine, thoughtful question that pertains to your business. Who knows? Maybe they will connect with you again and open up their network to you.
8. Test Market: If you are working on a business that is consumer facing, college campuses are fantastic test markets. By calling on your peers to try out your product, you can get quick feedback and iterate faster. This is especially true of products with a social aspect, where you can get a critical mass of connected individuals interacting quite quickly.
9. Fewer Distractions: If you stay in your college town, you won’t feel the pressure to schmooze at every tech meetup and be seen at every event. With your class already having graduated, you can put your head down and get the job done. Isn’t that what building a business is really about?
Dorm Room Fund founder Dan Shipper has said that building his business outside “the echo chamber” has been invaluable.
10. You Snoozed Through Your Degree, Now What?: It can be hard to realize the value of the resources at your disposal in the college setting until you have real world experience to put them into perspective. By staying close, you can audit valuable lessons, make use of library databases, attend relevant conferences and speaking engagements, and perhaps even ask the professors to help you to apply their research directly to your business. Coursera has nothing on that.
Dorm Room Fund Founder Alison Berliner of PopInShop has reaped the benefits of campus content:
“You not only have access to professors but also to courses or content you want to apply to your business. I’m attending a conference at Wharton next week on operations in retail, and my team and I regularly tap into the market research databases that only students have access to.”
11. It’s Okay To Fail: There’s something about a college campus that rewards risk and destigmatizes failure. Even though you might have already graduated, you still started as a student entrepreneur and will have a forgiving network of supporters on campus.