10/15/12 – This guest post is written by Jessica Rawley, a research associate in the Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Enterprise at Colorado State University. Jessica recently attended the National Business Incubators Association Training Workshop in Milwaukee to learn from the experts how best to support student entrepreneurs.
Last week I attended the National Business Incubators Association Training Workshop, which is designed to encourage best practices in business incubation and acceleration services. As with most conferences, this was full of breakout sessions, keynote speakers, free lunches, and business suits. Despite the fact that most incubators support tech ventures, I still came away with four interesting insights.
- Working with student entrepreneurs and incubating their (very early-stage) businesses is very different than working with later-stage entrepreneurs. When working with first-time entrepreneurs, the focus needs to be equally on developing the entrepreneur and their ‘mind-set’ as well as incubating the business. We love the inquisitive and coachable students who are asking the right business questions, and want to help turn them into serial entrepreneurs who actively answer tough business questions.
- Having a connected ‘start-up ecosystem’ that offers support from early to later stage is key to harnessing entrepreneurs’ talents. It is just as important to support earlier stages of venture development as it is to develop a pipeline for student entrepreneurs to grow into this ecosystem.
- Although it sometimes seems like an intangible benefit, the mentor network is indeed a key advantage for client entrepreneurs. Working with students, it’s important to build a mentor network that has the interest and ability to work with early-stage entrepreneurs who are often more open to new ideas, more willing to try new things, are more positive about opportunities, and are hungry for feedback.
- Funding for student start-ups is always a challenge considering they are riskier prospects to investors. Therefore, it is absolutely critical for a student incubator to provide some funding opportunities, whether that be access to a seed investment fund or simply honing pitches for an investor audience. Any opportunity to get these inspirational, energetic students to network with community members and potential investors will help prepare them for the scrutiny that will come with trying to attract investments.
So what will I do with these bits of wisdom? Bring them back home. The College of Business offers incubation services for our student entrepreneurs. Through a variety of programs, mentors, competitions, and educational opportunities we encourage the development of our student entrepreneurs, and have every ounce of confidence that these are the future leaders of our business community. Our mission, in the end, is to turn their entrepreneurial spark into student start-up fireworks.