Monday, September 3, 2012

How Your Alma Mater Can Help You Succeed In Business

If you attended college, you recall leaning on professors, fellow students, and career counselors for support. These resources are still available following graduation and many will come in handy if you venture into the entrepreneurial world. In fact, many colleges and universities rely as much on the experience and exposure of alumni entrepreneurs as those business professionals do on them. Whether you have an office-based or work at home business, consider the following ways your former school can help.

Colleges and universities are breeding grounds for new ideas proposed by professors, students, and research efforts undertaken by school representatives. While you get ideas from them, they look to you to tell them which ideas have viability within the marketplace. If you are in the idea exploration phase for a new business, contact a professor in a subject area related to your business or get in touch with the outreach liaison for your school.

A business plan is essential for entrepreneurial success. Many schools offer classes designed for new entrepreneurs. These focus on developing a business plan, obtaining financing, marketing the business and its offerings, and much more. Find out whether your alma mater offers these courses to non-students in classroom or online formats. If so, enroll in as many classes as possible because the knowledge will pay off many times over in the long-run.

Many graduate students are looking for problems to research. Provide them with some ideas and use them as helpers for researching products that you are considering developing. Use school laboratories, equipment, and technology classes as needed. Contact professors to learn how to get grants that will fund development in strategic areas, saving you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. If your product is a success, the school will be proud to say it was developed there.

In addition to grants, schools may have information about entrepreneurial incentives and incubators provided by state funds and endowments. Some entrepreneurs may even find angel investors or leads for collaborating with local companies. Though the funding will not rival that provided by a venture-capitalist, it will still make a difference in the early stages of the business. Free or low-cost legal advice may also be available from professors or an entrepreneurial legal clinic run by the school.

If you require part-time assistance, graduate and Ph.D. students are often willing to help design product prototypes. If a more experienced partner or a vendor is needed, contact professors in the area of interest or reach out the staff of the entrepreneurial program within the school. These individuals should have the desired contacts within the local corporate community.

Your alma mater is also a great place to find a mentor. Many schools have relationships with corporate executives who can serve as mentors for new entrepreneurs. Professors may also be willing to lend their guidance and expertise. The school may even have an outreach program to provide mentorship, business plan development, connections, business development strategies, and even interim management for startup businesses.

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