When I launched HeadbandsOfHope.org to give headbands to kids with cancer; funding cancer research with every sale — in college — a lot of people thought I was crazy. I’d hear that I need to focus on school, I don’t have enough experience, I don’t have enough time between classes.
But once I started, I realized that starting a business while you’re in college is actually one of the best times to start a business. Here are five reasons why:
Crush “20 something” stereotypes.
We all know some of the blaring stereotypes of the millennial generation: lazy, entitled, never satisfied and addicted to technology. Therefore, when a millennial does something awesome, it’s a big deal. So much of the press and attention I got when I founded my company was because I was so young. Use youth to your advantage. Be proud to be a millennial.
Tap into professors as mentors.
When I got the idea for Headbands of Hope, I didn’t have a business degree or know anything about manufacturing a product. Then I had a wonderful realization: I’m surrounded by experts. When you’re on a college campus, professors are filled with knowledge and experience to help you. The mentorship and free small business consulting from professors answered all of the questions I had about starting a business and taking my first steps.
Leverage the sheer numbers.
When you’re a college student, peers surround you. If you’ve ever been to a university football game, or any kind of large school event, you’ll witness a sea of students uniting behind one thing, which is pretty cool. It doesn’t matter if you know each other or not, they rally behind you to succeed and do great things.
My first big market was the student body at my university. Then those students told their friends and family, and then my mission started a ripple effect across the nation. Plus, college students are more likely to use social media for anything they find interesting so it builds a great social media foundation from the start.
Revel in less responsibility.
In college, you have responsibility, however probably not as much as you will when you graduate and you’re in the “real world.” Most likely, you don’t have kids, you don’t have a mortgage or anyone else to support. It’s just you and your life. You have the ability to choose yourself and be selfish. Invest heart, soul and your finances into something that you believe in. When there’s less responsibility for you to worry about, it’s easier to take business risks.
Take advantage of a softer ‘landing’.
It’s okay to fail. I like to think of our college years as life’s greatest do-over period. It’s okay to make mistakes. In fact, failing at anything means you’re trying. If I’m ever too comfortable and I’m not getting rejected, it means I’m not stretching myself far enough.
If you mess up at something while you’re in college, there’s so much room to bounce back. The last thought you want after college is the regret of not going after a dream. When things don’t go as planned (which is frequent) it’s called experience. Experiences are carried with you the rest of your life, giving you more insight into the world around you.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Jessica Ekstrom is the founder and CEO of HeadbandsOfHope.org, a company that gives headbands to kids with cancer and funding to research with every sale. Jess is also a speaker and author of The Freshman Fabulous: The Girl’s Guide to College. She’s been featured on the Today Show, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Seventeen and more. But more importantly, she’s been able to help tens thousands of kids undergoing chemotherapy. Connect with @headbandsofhope on Twitter.