Most aspiring entrepreneurs look to their alma mater, or any university, as a source of classes that can help them, but neglect to think outside the box or take advantage of all the other resources to be found there.
The lesson of finding help, connections, and even funding where other people may never look is one that makes all the difference in the entrepreneur lifestyle.
As a startup advisor and investor, living in an area with several local universities, I’m continually surprised by how little many entrepreneurs know about the resources available from these institutions. Even if you are no longer a student, or not enrolled now, it can pay big dividends to get to know people there and explore the possibilities, including the following:
Potential to get technical work done as a class project. Every university has grad students and professors who are anxious to find a project with high commercial potential to use as the basis for a thesis or an advanced class project. They have equipment and smart students that would otherwise cost you a fortune through an outside contract.
Online or evening entrepreneurship classes for anyone. If you need help building your first business plan or financial model, it’s getting easier and easier to find what you need, as well as connections to peers and investors, without an expensive business consultant. Visit the university library for access to otherwise costly business reports.
Access to intellectual property and current research. Most universities have a file of patents from project work that they are willing to license to any entrepreneur for business commercialization, with little or no cost up front. Other project and research reports in their library are a rich source of new ideas, if you are still looking for a place to start.
Get help with grant funding and incubator resources. Every startup needs to start their funding search looking for grants, with no equity dilution, as well as contests and foundations. These often lead to angel investors and venture capital investments later, or connections to local company venture funds for selected focus and technology areas.
Find technical and legal guidance and advisors. The best university professors are anxious to get involved in real-world business ventures as advisors to maintain their currency and improve their academic credibility. Their value to you is great industry connections, free legal advice, shared learning, and credibility for you with investors.
Attract a co-founder and key team members. Universities are a great source of hungry and passionate people looking to get involved with the next big thing, or an opportunity to change the world. They have connections to industry associations and entrepreneur organizations that can kick-start your networking efforts, both locally and globally.
Access to entrepreneurs-in-residence, business mentors. Most schools have a rich pipeline of real-world executive volunteers available for mentoring. These also get used for guest lectures in business classes, judges for business plan competition, and introductions to accredited investors. They can also connect you to area businesses.
Visibility to startup job opportunities and career guidance. Even if you are not a student, you can visit the job center to see what’s happening in your area that may be of interest, or check out what your competition is doing. If looking for help, you can find interns willing to work for the experience, and real insights into new customer segments.
For example, I live in Arizona, home of Arizona State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Both provide entrepreneurial guidance for aspiring entrepreneurs, have technology resources, and access to expert staff members. I have done volunteer work at both these schools, and I’m not even an alumnus from either one. I’m betting you can find something similar at a university near you.