How to Build a Successful Business From Scratch as a College Student

How to Build a Successful Business From Scratch as a College Student

October 4th, 2021

Meta Description: Discover the steps you need to take to launch a startup in college and succeed. Here's your chance to learn how the most successful college entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

If there was ever any doubt about the possibility of launching a successful startup while in college, the stories of Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Dell serve as undeniable proof. The founders of Facebook and Dell Computers, respectively, launched their companies as students and turned them into multibillion-dollar corporations. 

As a student entrepreneur, you already have certain privileges that regular startup founders may lack, such as:

  • access to free or subsidized learning resources
  • ability to speak to lecturers who could become your business mentors
  • business ideas from other students
  • access to a talented pool of potential student employees
  • availability of customers in the college environment 
  • less pressure to succeed

Student entrepreneurship also comes with its obstacles. The most prominent problem is the limited time and stress involved. Already, 20% of small businesses don't survive their first year, according to a report by Fundera. You can only imagine the challenges of having to juggle college and launching a startup.

Fortunately, we've created a guide to help you launch a successful startup while in college, despite the challenges. Let's dive in, shall we?

Develop a Unique Business Idea

You don't have to rack your brain for a mind-blowing idea that no one else has thought of. Start with something easy or an activity you enjoy doing but have yet to monetize. Before you launch a startup in college, you should think of the problems people face that you can solve.

Next, determine if you need to acquire additional resources or skills to solve these problems. For example, if you want to start an electronics repair business and already possess the required skills, you still have to get a repair kit with all the tools and spare parts you will need. 


  • Choose electives in school that could be beneficial to your business and give you new skills. Let's reconsider an electronics repair business as an example. Courses aligned with engineering that teach about circuit boards will give you a deeper understanding. 
  • Other students in your university might have interesting concepts for businesses. Hence, collaborating with college entrepreneurs may expose you to interesting ideas. 

Do Market Research

You need to understand the market so that you can identify what works and doesn’t. Online surveys are the best way to get information from diverse groups of people with different cultures and backgrounds. Common survey questions such as "How do you make purchases?” and “Where do you go for information?” can give some amazing business ideas for students. It's also important to find out the cultural, social, and economic trends that could affect your business — some of which are:

  • Buying habits
  • Health consciousness
  • Attitude towards ecological products

Gather relevant data about your competitors, such as their pricing, the areas they excel in, and where they're failing. This research will put you in an advantageous position when you launch.

Tip: When business topics are treated in class, you can always ask hypothetical questions to give you more insights into launching your startup. You could also join programs that can help students prepare for entrepreneurship.

During the process of discovering how to have a startup in college, build relationships and connections that will help you to get your first set of customers. You can follow this guide to build a mailing list and get people to sign up:

  • Select a provider for email marketing and create your account.
  • Set up an opt-in form on your website.
  • Create your first newsletter and welcome message. You can choose to create a unique signature for your email.
  • Offer a form of bonus or freebie and drive traffic to it.
  • Develop a landing page.

Create a Business Plan and Get Adequate Funding

Creating a working business plan is probably the most important piece of the puzzle when you're trying to figure out how to launch a successful startup. A comprehensive business plan with a budget is a crucial aspect of starting any business. Follow this step-by-step guide to create your business plan:

  • Start with the executive summary, which gives fundamental details about your business, such as sector, target audience, services, etc.
  • Come up with a mission statement, and specify the products or services you wish to offer
  • Create a marketing plan that will effectively reach your target audience
  • Lay out your operational plan detailing the day-to-day of your business
  • List out the managerial organization of your company as well as relevant fiscal planning.

Then there's funding. While having good money-saving habits could help you raise some capital, there are several ways students can get funding to launch a startup in college. Conduct extensive research on grants, loans, and scholarships that can help you in starting your own business while in college. 

Tip: One of the major advantages you would enjoy when you run a business in a university is access to school resources. Free Wi-Fi, an extensive library, printing, and other online resources may be available from your tuition payments, so take advantage of them. Additionally, there are student discounts on software that can be highly beneficial. 

Build Your Brand

You need to create a brand that gives you more legitimacy. A good way to start is to get a website, which doesn’t have to cost money. Free website builders such as WordPress, Wix, Webnode, Ucraft, and Mozello offer great results for no cost.

Your branding process should have a wide range and include social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Social media marketing tools should help make the process smoother. Also, getting a student influencer to further strengthen your brand would be beneficial because statistics show that 49% of consumers rely on recommendations from influencers.

Tip: Many entrepreneurs today forget that word-of-mouth is also an efficient way to build a brand. Don't overlook this goldmine, because statistics show that 92% of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family over other sources. Tell as many people as you can: friends, classmates, study groups, and even strangers at parties. Feel free to organize get-togethers and parties of your own where you can market your product by giving out free samples and requesting your guests to share their experience on social media. 

Follow Rules and Regulations Strictly

To avoid trouble when you launch a startup in college, you must obey all of the laid-down rules by your institution and government. A common mistake startups make is failing to register the company, which could hurt you later. Also, stay up to date with insurance, licenses, certificates, and taxes relating to your business and personal life. 

Tip: Understandably, during the first few months of your business operation, you might not have enough funds to hire a consultant or lawyer to help you avoid breaking rules and regulations. This is where a mentor comes in. You can leverage the college’s network to get a mentor experienced in the field you're pursuing. Also, online spaces such as FledgeWing and Mogul can connect you to mentors. It's advisable to have a mentor on and off-campus because they will:

  • guide you to avoid mistakes
  • connect you to other experts in the same field
  • expose you to new opportunities

Get Staff and Tools Ready

Before and after you launch a startup in college, find some students willing to collaborate with you and recruit them. However, don't just accept anybody willing to work for your startup. Only choose smart, experienced, and talented students or possibly college entrepreneurs like you.

Get all of the materials you need to work ready such as offices, software, storage space, CRM tools, and gadgets. 

Tip: A good way to choose who to hire is selecting students who are studying courses relevant to your needs. For example, if you need someone to handle your startup's finances, you could hire an accounting student. While hiring for your business, note that flexibility is a major concern for students and most will consider having flexible hours as more important than any amount you’re willing to pay them. 

Launch and Market Your Startup

Next, it's time to get your startup running. In the early stages, communicate frequently with your employees, partners, and customers to ensure the smooth running of your operations. Concentrate on rendering quality service to your first few customers and have them leave reviews on your website if possible.

A huge part of launching your business is making the first set of sales. Reach out to the prospects in your mailing list and let them know about your latest deals. Besides family and friends, they're most likely to be your first customers. You could also offer discounts as incentives.

When you launch a startup in college, it should capture the attention of people within and outside your institution. Trending on social media is a way to do that and using hashtags effectively can boost your chances. Follow these points to get your hashtag to trend:

  • Choose a hashtag that captures attention immediately
  • Use a maximum of 20 characters in your hashtag
  • Study and understand the algorithm of the app
  • Promote and share your hashtag any chance you get
  • Work with influencers to market the hashtag

Since a large percentage of your customers will be students, you should leverage SMS marketing because students are likely to check their text messages. You can also use content marketing by creating an on-site blog and posting helpful content regularly. Other cost-effective marketing methods you should leverage are:

  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Pay-per-click ads
  • Posting on relevant forums
  • Guest-speaking on podcasts and webinars

Tip: Knowing how to start a business in college successfully involves leveraging available marketing resources to save money and stay within your budget. You can advertise your business with the media center at your university. It's a cost-effective resource that gives you access to a lot of students. The various student organizations on campus is another body you can partner with to market your brand.

Maintain Your Priorities

As a business owner, you should have better control of your time. You should also schedule most of your activities. Whether you're starting a tech company, consulting firm, ecommerce store, or service-providing business, entrepreneurship can be challenging to combine with school work. Create a daily to-do list to keep up with deadlines and not fall behind in your studies and work.

Before your first day of entrepreneurship, you need to learn restraint and how to say "no" to distractions when you need to focus. You may have to cut back on surfing the web, texting, and socializing.

Tip: Use a form of reward system to motivate yourself to accomplish tasks. For example, you may decide to go to a party with friends after you have completed all your tasks for the week. Most importantly, assignments and exams should always be on top of your priority list. Your academic performance is key, no matter how your business takes off. 

While the potential of making a fortune from your startup is a major incentive, there are other benefits to gain. Launching your business allows you to implement your innovative ideas while you're young. It's also an excellent catalyst for self-growth and discovery.

By following the guide above and adding the essential ingredient that is hard work and dedication, your dreams of running a successful startup could become a reality. Stay focused, and you may have your own success story to tell in the future.

Written by

Alexa Lemzy

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