How to build a tech start-up while studying
Have you ever wanted to be in command of your future? University is one way of achieving this, but another way is to start your own business. With an innovative idea and a team behind you, something fantastic could flourish into an exceptional enterprise. But how do you begin? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and businesses don’t boom overnight. It takes time, dedication, and a few other steps that we have yet to mention. We at Cybernews Academy present our guide to building your tech business at university.
What is a start-up?
A start-up is a newly established business that aims to provide an innovative product yet to be observed on the market. Startups are typically characterized as young companies or businesses in their infancy. Forbes explains that startups are “rooted in innovation and aim to remedy deficiencies of existing products or create new categories of goods and services, disrupting entrenched ways of thinking and doing business for entire industries.” This is why startups are commonly referred to as “disruptors” as they are shaking up the industry with their ingenious innovations.
Big tech started small
There are a few familiar faces you may know that became famous through their startups. Here are the global tech giants that grew from a tiny startup seedling.
- Meta: Arguably, one of the most prolific startup stories is of Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook.
- Amazon: Another familiar story of a humble online book retailer turned multi-million dollar corporation figureheaded by Jeff Bezos.
- Apple: The colossal tech giant Apple, founded by Steve Jobs, Stephen Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne in Jobs’ garage.
- Tiny Speck (aka Slack): Tiny Speck was a startup founded by Stewart Butterfield. Its first product was a computer game called Glitch. From there, Tiny Speck evolved into Slack after Glitch’s closure.
The four I’s
The four I’s are important when distinguishing corporations from startups. Coming up with an idea that is exclusive to you is crucial. You don’t want to do what everyone else has done before. Otherwise, you aren’t disrupting anything, you're just moving with the rest of the flock. From the Latin ‘innovat’ meaning to renew or alter, innovation is the process of doing something new or improving existing products and services through new methods, ideas, and solutions. Next, we have iterations. Startups will perfect the product by making tweaks and changes based on post-usage feedback. Startups are characterized by their fast pace and increase in growth. If you are building a startup, you will want to look at rapidly growing your ideas to break into the market and go public with the product or service.
Building your business
Now we’ve got the four I’s in check, we need to identify how exactly you will begin building your business. There are some key things to remember before you start: startups take time, commitment, and dedication. It won’t be easy, especially when balancing your studies while launching your startup journey.
Analyze, assess, and identify
The first step to launching your startup is analyzing your expertise. What am I good at? What am I passionate about? Mentra, founded by Jhillika Kumar and Conner Reinhardt, is an example of a successful startup. This company combines its passion for accessibility and diversity while exploring its expertise. Both Jhillika and Conner identified the area they are passionate about and conducted thorough research on their topic of interest. A lot of time, commitment, and energy went into the company, and the duo created their business while studying at university. The pair began their startup journey while studying computational courses at the Georgia Institute of Technology. They recently received a $1 million pre-seed deal with investor Sam Altman of OpenAI.
Teamwork makes the dreamwork
Establish your dream team of individuals who have a strong technical background and a shared loved of STEM. When assembling a tech startup, you will require a lot of people with different expertise. You will need the technical guys, your communicators, leaders, developers, and designers in order to create something sensational. University is an excellent environment for collaboration and can foster some inspiring innovations.
The ideas stage is the most pivotal step in the startup process. You may already have this step established, or your ideas may come to you gradually. It’s always good to brainstorm ideas with your team while considering trends, needs, and gaps in the market. From this point forward, you should evaluate each idea's feasibility and scalability. What we mean by feasibility is how likely this idea will develop and flourish into an exceptional tech business. You will need to assess what potential hurdles you will encounter and how you plan to overcome them. Scalability relates to the business's ability to grow without limitations. You must address how big this company could become without hindrances like limited resources, poor technology, and infrastructure.
Mastering the Minimum
You want to build a Minimum Viable Product or MVP that will meet the consumer's needs and successfully patch a hole in the market. Most startups are created because the founder wants to address a personal concern and must find an alternative solution. Jhillika Kumar mentioned that this step must be taken before assembling your startup. “You don’t want to invest a ton into the company before you build an MVP and test it out.” An MVP is a basic product in its early development stages. This MVP is usually a piece of tech that meets the minimum requirements for operations. This product can then be adapted and improved for future use. You want to have this established before you invest time, money, and effort into building your business's infrastructure. Knowing who to sell your product to is key. Therefore, researching and understanding the tech landscape is fundamental to achieving startup success.
Research and validate
While developing your MVP, you will want to research the market and ensure your product or service is needed. The tech landscape is lucrative but oversaturated by samey services. Market research is an essential business technique to understand the market demographic, buying behavior, and attitude. This step gives you the ability to look at your product objectively. Is this product necessary? How will this be received? How will it perform? This step should also help you identify potential problems within the product design. Use a suitable market research method to fit your brand and product. Focus on the tech market and identify your customers. Once you have the data, you can validate your findings through surveys, interviews, and feedback.
Use what you know
While studying at university, you should have acquired a wide range of knowledge and skills that you can use to develop your business. Soft skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, and even technical skills specific to your STEM subject will be handy. Use all you have to your advantage, network with other students, and learn your peer's strengths. Say you have a peer who’s a brilliant programmer or has excellent awareness of backend systems. You may want to think about who you want on your team and try and get the strongest onboard.
Furthermore, utilizing the knowledge of your lecturers and professors may be worthwhile. They may have experience that they're willing to share with you. Similarly, crossing over from your STEM department into the business sphere requires adjustment. Consider meeting with other business students or talking to the faculty specializing in the subject. Don't forget about the tangible tools you have at your disposal. Many online tools, like GitHub, Google Cloud Platforms, and Amazon Web Services, will help you develop and manage your product.
Get to work
Build your business plan surrounding your tech-based MVP using all the information you gleaned from your professors, lecturers, peers, and research. Develop a concise business plan covering key elements, such as your executive summary, which details the main points of your product, customers, competitors, goals, and much more. Craft a company description that offers a more detailed look into your executive summary, business model, operations, location, weaknesses, and strengths. Present a report of your products and services and explain why the customer needs your product. Investors may want to see your research demonstrating that your business is in demand. Explain your marketing plan and sales strategy. As you’ve identified your customers and competitors, you must show how you intend to tap into that pool. You must also procure your financial plan to display how the business will be funded and forecast funds needed for future development.
Funding and investors
Via networking through your university, you can gain some invaluable contacts that could help you meet venture capitalists or VCs. These individuals may be willing to invest in your new tech product. Jhillika mentioned that she had signed up for various investment schemes before she met Sam Altman. Jhillika mentioned that she found an online grant opportunity that was trying to build inclusive pipelines for people with disabilities to enter the workforce. She assessed that her start-up would be well received as it was related to the scheme which she intended to apply. Jhillika expressed that she applied for a Microsoft grant and received a cool $300,000 to put towards her startup dreams. Many universities worldwide will have startup funding programs or startup support that allow you to foster your entrepreneurial side while potentially providing financial support. Take full advantage of your university, as this space incubates innovation and springs life into startups.
Your computational studies and university setting are the perfect places to begin your startup. It will take work and commitment, but you have many resources available while at university. Jhillika explained that she had the opportunity to take classes related to business and entrepreneurship alongside her computer design course. This helped her gain awareness and contextualize her startup. She mentioned that she applied for a start-up program she didn’t get into; however, the process taught her a valuable lesson in entrepreneurship. “I learned so much from the process and trying to pitch your idea.” She learned about what ideas work and what don’t. This knowledge is helpful, “especially when pitching to an investor later in your entrepreneurial career.”
The startup journey is a long yet rewarding experience surrounded by twists and turns, trial and error, triumph, and sometimes failure. Suppose you want to build a startup while at university; remember some crucial factors. Research your market; otherwise, your startup will not reach its full potential. Have a concise plan, know your audience, and create a product no one else has considered. Remember, university is an environment filled with innovative, techy people like yourself willing to be a part of something bigger. Capitalize on this by networking and acquiring knowledge from your peers and professors. All while you're building an incredible enterprise with an outstanding team.