Fresh off the heels of a major win at a collegiate pitch competition in LA, our journey to the top hasn’t been free of detours, setbacks, or modifications along the way. But it has been full of something else: Giving back.
Student entrepreneurs have a major advantage in this regard, and it’s part of the reason college entrepreneurship is flourishing.
If I told you that startups grow faster and stronger when they help one another, you’d probably think I’m being impractical and naive. Unfortunately, helping others is seen often a rarity even when we know the distinct benefit.
Startups that choose to work collaboratively actually help everyone grow their ideas. Consider tech juggernauts like Facebook and Twitter.
Today they are massive companies fortunate to have benefited from the IPO craze that took them to great heights. But what goes unnoticed by onlookers is the level of collaboration that goes on behind the scenes — especially for early-stage startups.
The startup community thrives in many places due to an ecosystem built by collaborators and their willingness to help. Here’s a way that every founder can quickly tap into a powerful collaboration engine.
1. Leverage the startup ecosystem and its positive feedback loop.
As Redpoint VC Tomasz Tunguz suggests, “When we measure startups and businesses, we’re trying to detect when a sustainable positive feedback loop has been established and then pour as much gasoline into the growth engine as possible.”
This is widely applied to infrastructure and process, but also proves its merit in collaboration. Startups improve over time and manage to foster even greater advancements because they have the support of other entrepreneurs and collective experiences to draw learnings from.
Entrepreneurship is gradually gaining ground in curriculums across the nation, but it’s still a topic that’s hard to teach. Most “startup education” is gained first-hand through trial and error.
By sharing ideas and discussing strategies that have and have not worked with other startups across industries a great deal is learned on a variety of topics. Simply put, the more knowledge one has at their disposal, the less time is needed to experiment with strategies that don’t work, and as a result more effort can be routed to the next growth hurdle.
2. Apply to pitch competitions and startup contests.
For many startups, the value of university-promoted competitions and national startup contests is taking hold. For us, at Xperii, our experience at a recent RECESS Pitch competition was a major marker along our journey.
The collegiate pitch competition showcased the most disruptive student-ran businesses from across the country. Student-led startups competed locally for the chance to pitch some of the biggest investors, advisors, and mentors at their Finals Competition in Downtown Las Vegas. While many startup competitions are in their infancy, a growing list of national and regional programs are easily found on Google or AngelList.
Trial-by-fire startup competitions are not only a way to gain feedback from notable judges and industry mentors, they offer the perfect chance to connect with the broader entrepreneurial community.
Many of the student entrepreneurs you’ll meet are more than impressive—some have scaled businesses already, others have great ideas to share. And of course, financially speaking, pitch competitions offer startups an opportunity to claim a share of the prize money if things pan out. Not all startup contests offer major sums, but money isn’t the only reason startups should consider events like these.
3. Remember, notable networking is key.
During a recent trip to LA for RECESS, we were fortunate to have met industry executives from companies like Southwest Airlines, the product strategy team at Uber, and even a variety of media and growth experts.
Networking is one of the most powerful tools for startups when used correctly. By developing both warm leads and introductions to firms you hope to partner with, your possibilities and potential for collaboration and learning become that much greater.
And, if you’re fortunate enough to claim victory in a competition, the judges are often seasoned entrepreneurs and well-connected VC’s who can offer many resources to catalyze your growth.
In any case, growing a business is hard. But you don’t have to go it alone.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Daniel S. Williams is a cum laude graduate from the Carroll School of Management of Boston College (’16), holding a B.S. in Finance and enjoys writing about all things startups and business topics. His articles have been featured by award-winning YFS Magazine and other publications such as SiliconValleyGlobe.com, Retail TouchPoints, and Fibre2Fashion. He is HubSpot Inbound certified, as well as both Google AdWords and Analytics certified. Learn more at Danielswilliams.net. Connect with @DanSeanWilliams on Twitter.
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