More tips on using universities and colleges to help your business

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on September 08, 2009 in: Branding, Business - Plain & Simple

Stefan Topfer is the CEO and Chairman of WinWeb and his blog, The Small Business Blog, is a great resource for small business owners. In a recent blog he writes about how entrepreneurs can use their local universities and colleges to help their business.

I’ve summarized the article below, but you can read the full article here: Five Tips on Using Universities…

Topfer’s list encourages business owners to contact the university to find workers, to participate as a business case study, or to look to the staff for expertise and consultants.

Bring your small business to college

These are good ideas but I’d like to add a few more:

  • Start your own think-tank of top-performing students to solve your business problems. Take them out for lunch once a week to get fresh ideas and new perspectives. Pull in students from across several disciplines (marketing, strategy, finance).
  • If you’re looking to start a business, pull together students in specific disciplines and create a consulting organization. The students will appreciate the paid work and the work experience, and you can spend your time generating the business and acting as a filter.
  • Work experience, as mentioned in Topfer’s blog, can come in many forms. It doesn’t have to be strictly employment. It might be an internship or a one-time consulting gig. Consider even something like contacting the local college prof to get them to recommend a few students who can help you to put together a new product that you’re developing.
  • Watch for opportunities to participate in panel discussions or seminars or conferences. Schools host these and bring in businesses all the time and this is a great way to meet others (similar to a trade show experience) but without the competition.
  • Get a membership at the local business university and read their books. Compared to the public library and the local bookstore, they will have far superior books to read related to business.
  • Topfer recommended participating in venture forums but I think that you can invite professors and students to an empty classroom during a lunch hour and you can host a business forum yourself.
  • Find a staff member who will mentor you. This is exactly what they do!
  • If your business is successful, consider approaching the school to be a mentor to a student.

In writing these ideas, I’m reminded of someone I know who considers their local university to be a place where they can get free or low-paid labor to do basic administrative work. However, they can’t ever seem to find or keep an employee! I don’t buy into their thinking. Colleges and universities are bubbles of thinking and that, in my opinion, is the real value that can be tapped. But you need to pay students fairly and give them a little room (because they’re studying other things, too).

Although I love running a business, I enjoyed my college days because it was a period of intense focus and learning on just a core of interesting topics in an environment where people were focused on thinking. Now, that’s not practical in an every day setting, of course, but that thought-provoking environment is necessary for advancement; and it’s very rewarding to see it applied.

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I love working with coaches, freelancers, and entrepreneurs to help them become more successful. If you'd like to improve your business, find out how I can help.

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