My paper goods company Gentle had just launched a new product line, and the opportunity arose to host a pop-up shop in downtown Boston on a tight time crunch. It was the beginning of December, and the holiday season was the prime time for greeting card sales. So, I made the bold decision to do it without realizing, until later, that the time slot was during my last week as an undergraduate college student.
I felt like both laughing and crying as the week approached, because of the sheer hecticness of it all. On one hand, it was meaningful, as building this venture was such a large part of my college experience. On the other hand, it was right when I had final project deadlines, papers and presentations from my classes. It was the climax of my experience as a student entrepreneur — the ultimate tug-of-war between my startup and my academic commitment. Do I compromise a little bit of both? Do I sacrifice one for another? If so, to what extent?
[Related: Check out our Advice & Tips for women entrepreneurs]
I was part of something called eTower, a residential community of student entrepreneurs at Babson. We had weekly meetings with guest speakers. During Q&A time, students would often ask a variation of the question, “Is it possible to start a business as a student while maintaining a good GPA?” While everyone has their own perspectives and priorities, I personally set out to answer that question as a “yes” during my junior and senior year.
Here is what I learned along the way, which can serve as tips for anyone interested in building a company while in college.
Just start first, without letting anxiety about your grades become an excuse.
Oftentimes, culture depicts entrepreneurs as super-human hustlers, and it seems like the only way to start a business is to work on it 24/7. That is not true, especially in the context of a college environment. It can begin slowly and humbly; perhaps it can look like getting coffee with someone who has industry experience, or receiving quick feedback during a lunch conversation, or setting aside an hour a day to actually execute. Instead of feeling the pressure to jump into deep waters, just start by wading into the waves.
Establish purpose and priority.
In the beginning, clarify the reason why you are starting a business. Is it simply to learn? To build something to hopefully work on full-time after college? Though the nature of entrepreneurship includes uncertainty and venturing into the unknown, it is still helpful to understand your own priorities. That way, you can make decisions about how to allocate your time. For example, though I valued academics, I did not let school work “compete” with my business. I set a personal rule that I had to finish important academic assignments before I worked on my business (which I truthfully wanted to focus on more).
At the end of the day, there is always going to be a sacrifice
Generally, the risk in entrepreneurship is drastically minimized for students. When I started my business, I took a “no-attachment-to-outcome” perspective, but I still worked on it with a lot of passion and dedication. I have no regrets over the slightly lower grades I got because I invested more energy into entrepreneurship. The connections, hands-on learning experience and maturing that came with trying something new and different was unparalleled to any college experience I could have asked for.
Last month, as people slowly stopped trickling into the holiday market in the afternoon and the pop-up shop entered into a downtime, I stood there, pulled out my phone and opened up Google Docs to furiously type up an essay. I smiled at the craziness of it all, and could only be filled with a sense of gratitude to be—a student entrepreneur.
April Chen, a recent graduate of Babson, is currently on a break with family. She plans to still work on her business, in a to-be-determined capacity.