Startup and Entrepreneurship
Perhaps you have an idea that will be the next Facebook. Maybe you want to work in an entrepreneurial, fast paced environment. Whether you create your own startup or work for one, it is a challenging yet exciting experience. Being at the forefront of innovation also has the potential to be very lucrative. While startups are any type of entrepreneurial venture with a limited operating history, most people associate startups with being technology-based and having a high level of outside investment.
Working for a startup can be both a rewarding and daunting decision. While there is a possibility of tremendous pay-off, many startups falter before creating much wealth for its employees. However, startups present an attractive opportunity to build skills, cultivate networks, and possibly become wealthy. Many entrepreneurs will tell you that networking is the key to uncovering opportunities at start up organizations. Working as an intern is the best way to get a foot in the door. Identify startup organizations that you would like to work for and reach out to them for an informational interview to help identify internship or job opportunities.
Benefits of working for a startup
- Career development: Working for a startup is a challenging, ground-floor opportunity that can lead to extraordinary career growth. It provides hands-on experience with a variety of tasks, allows you to work on projects that directly impact the success of the organization, and gives an insider’s view into the inner-workings of a company. It allows you to build up a strong connection with not only the owners of the start up but also with the customers, vendors and friends related to the organization as well - which can benefit your career in the long run.
- Building skills: Working for a startup provides an opportunity to work outside your comfort zone to expand your range of skills. Technical skills will be challenged and improved, and you will also be able to enhance soft skills such as communication and time management. Additional skills include research, interpersonal, social media, presentation and analytical skills.
- Ownership and influence: In a small-company atmosphere, individual contributors are highly prized and high levels of responsibility provide a sense of ownership. Ownership, in turn, encourages you to do your best work. You will also have more influence on key decisions and will have an opportunity to voice your opinion. Working on a small team, often directly with the CEO or founder, allows you to be an integral part of the organization and make strong connections with your co-workers and superiors.
- Meaningful work: Oftentimes, startups are built around a strong purpose and bring like-minded individuals together on a team. Having a meaning or vision behind your work is a strong driving force that will help to bring enthusiasm and passion to the team.
- Atmosphere: Startup teams need to work cohesively together and have a strong bond, which promotes camaraderie and teamwork. The atmosphere of a startup, while hectic, is often more casual and less conservative than traditional companies and can simply be a more fun environment.
- Future success: If the startup company offers incentives such as profit-sharing, partnerships or stock options, you might make a lot of money in just a few years. Working for a startup could be attractive to future employers and will also give you the skills to start your own company.
Drawbacks to working for a startup
- Job security: The major disadvantage of working for a startup is lack of job security. If the company goes under, is short on funds or overestimates its growth, you may lose your job (potentially without severance).
- Hours and workload: While wearing several hats is an advantage in terms of skill-building, it requires long hours, heavy workloads and a fast-paced work style. The lifestyle may not be for everyone as the nature of start ups is “24/7,” meaning you may be on call at all times and will work odd hours. You will also be called upon to deal with urgent matters frequently.
- Pay and benefits: Perks, benefits, salaries and raises may be limited. The company may offer “sweat equity,” which will only pay off if the company is profitable, and may take years at that.
- Organizational changes: If the company grows, merges or makes acquisitions, the atmosphere of the company may change completely. You may then have less influence and become more anonymous, and your responsibilities will shift. The desirable, small-company, everybody-counts atmosphere will probably fade as the company grows, merges and makes acquisitions.
Starting a Business
When you have a great idea or invention, you have the first step in creating your own startup company. But, what do you do from there? While this is not a comprehensive guide and experts, fellow entrepreneurs, and other guides should be consulted, this will hopefully give a brief overview of the steps needed in starting your own startup.
What does it mean to be an entrepreneur? Very simply, an entrepreneur is someone who sees an opportunity to fill a need and takes the initiative to fill it. Entrepreneurs are often associated with business or for-profit examples like that of Pierre Omidyar, founder of e-Bay, who recognized the need for people to buy and sell an infinite number of items in an online marketplace. Entrepreneurship, however, has a broader reach than for-profit ventures as entrepreneurs are also those who recognize and seek to fill a social need. One example is Steve Mariotti, a former business entrepreneur and public school teacher who started a foundation to teach entrepreneurial concepts to low-income
youth. Regardless of the particular venture, the ability to innovate, to handle risk and uncertainty, and to work independently are key characteristics of successful entrepreneurs.
Many entrepreneurs start their first ventures as students, as a sideline to explore an interest or idea. Below are highlighted resources both at and outside Columbia to support entrepreneurial interests.
How do I get started?
In considering pursuing an entrepreneurial idea, you should first ask yourself some questions:
- What is the product or service I am proposing?
- Is there a strong need for this product or service?
- To whom will you market your product or service?
- What is the industry you are entering? Is it a growing industry?
- What changes do you foresee in the industry both short term and long term? How will your venture be poised to take advantage of these changes?
- What factors will make your venture successful? Do you have the resources (financial, human, time) and skills necessary to undertake this new venture? What background experience, skills, and strengths do you personally bring to the venture?
Steps to Consider
Patent Your Idea
If you have a new and innovative idea, or a possibly game-changing invention, then patenting could be a great first step. Many investors are looking to invest in the intellectual capital of the company rather than the current revenue the company is bringing in, and having a patent can bring further credibility to your product and bring in more investors. While patenting a product can be a long and expensive process, if you have an invention that is new, then protecting it with a patent gives you a tremendous edge over potential competitors.
- Preliminary Patent Application- A preliminary patent application from the United States Patent and Trademark Office giving inventors a 12 month period of patent protection.
- PatSnap- A patent search website working to promote and protect intellectual property.
- How To File a Patent- A guide from Inc. Magazine, the nation’s top magazine for entrepreneurs, on how to file a patent for startups.
Write a Business Plan/Set-Up Your Company
Once you have the idea, the next steps are writing the business plan and to consider the makeup and culture of your company. These will be necessary when presenting your plan to potential investors, and also to ensure the stability and future success of your company. Other considerations you will need to make are what type of legal structure you want your business to have, what the startup costs for your business will be, and filing the necessary paperwork to incorporate as a business in your state.
- Thirteen Characteristics of a Great Start-Up Culture- A guide from TechFlash, a Seattle based technology news website, on 13 characteristics of successful startup companies.
- Choosing the Right Legal Structure- A guide from the Small Business Association.
- How to Write a Business Plan- A comprehensive guide by Entrepreneur magazine on how to write a business plan.
- CCE’s Writing a Business Plan Tipsheet
Funding Your Company
Any business will need a certain level of seed money to offset expenditures before revenues come in. Even many successful startups aren’t profitable until months or years after their launch. With startups, there are many different ways to fund your company with different benefits and drawbacks.
- The 6 Biggest Mistakes in Raising Startup Capital- A guide created by Entrepreneur Magazine about six common mistakes made by startups when looking for capital.
- Angel Investors: Angels investors are wealthy individuals who provide seed money for startups in exchange for equity in a new business. Angel investors recently have grouped themselves into angel networks to pool their investments to provide mentorship and funds for potential entrepreneurs. When looking for potential angel investors, find angel investors or angel networks active in your city. Then see if your startup matches their existing portfolio, and if you can get the amount of start up capital you are looking for. Finally, make sure when you are offered to present to an angel investor or network to present both you and your company well. They are investing as much into you, as the entrepreneur, as they are your company or your idea. Check out this Do and Don’t Guide When Presenting to Angel Investors.
- Venture Capital: Venture capital funds work much in the same way angel investors do; however, instead of individuals trading seed money in exchange for equity, venture capital funds are businesses. Many of the same considerations from seeking angel investors need to considered when searching for venture capital (such as location, investment amount, existing portfolio etc.). The National Venture Capital Association provides resources and support to entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists that fund them.
- Bootstrapping: While venture capital or angel investors can provide a large sum of capital and advice, they could limit your decisions to protect their investments. Bootstrapping offers an alternative to be self-financed or be supported only through the donations or small investments from friends or family. Indie GoGo and KickStarter are online fundraising tools to promote ideas and raise money. Small Business Association Grants and Loans (federal grants and loans for which small businesses are eligible) are listed here from the U.S. Small Business Association.
Startups hire on an as-needed basis, meaning they are looking for interns and full time hires to fill positions that begin immediately. This means you'll be actively applying to positions that are posted 6-8 weeks prior to your projected start date. Keep in mind, however, that many startups do not post open positions. This is because they are often short staffed and like to hire by word of mouth or referral. Networking within the startup community is absolutely essential, as this is often the best route to find "hidden" positions. There are many resources at Columbia, and outside of Columbia (see below) that can help introduce you to people in the field, but do not be afraid of reaching out to introduce yourself and inquire about opportunities or request a networking meeting with a company you admire. Generally, employers are looking for people who are committed to the company's mission, able to work in small teams, able to take on many different roles, and a have a willingness to work hard toward helping the company achieve its goals. Often, early stage startups require individuals with technical expertise to build a product or service, as well as finance/business development/sales professionals to help secure funding and clients/users. Other business positions, like those in human resources, for instance, will be added as the company grows.
- The CCE Startup Career Fair, held in the Spring semester, is focused on connecting startup firms, primarily from the NYC area, with entrepreneurially minded students at Columbia. Numerous industries are represented including technology, sustainability, media and more.
- The Startup Internship Program offers Spring semester internships at New York City startups in a range of fields and job functions.
- LionSHARE has a wealth of opportunities at start up organizations. In the job search tab, try searching for jobs in the startup employer industry, or typing “entrepreneur” in the keyword field. Some examples of startup organizations that have recruited through LionSHARE in the past include Zynga, Meet Up and Ecological Group.
- Wetfeet offers advice and articles for entrepreneurs, as well as insider guides on a variety of positions at startups, such as the Million Dollar Careers and Information Technology guides.
- CCE offers tipsheets on topics such as Entrepreneurship Resources and Writing a Business Plan.
- CORE- Columbia Organization for Rising Entrepreneurs (CORE) provides support and resources for students looking to become entrepreneurs or to get involved in the world of startups through internships and jobs. Offers in-person events, a blog and a weekly newsletter.
- Columbia Entrepreneurship- Mission is to help Columbia’s students, faculty and alumni launch Columbia-born ventures. Its website is a central location for entrepreneurship-centric resources at Columbia.
- Columbia Venture Competition- An annual competition put on by the Columbia engineering school giving a total of $25,000 in prize money for startup business plans.
- Columbia Entrepreneurship Curriculum- Curriculum provided by the Engineering school for students to get a concentration in entrepreneurship.
- Columbia Technology Ventures- Facilitates the transfer of inventions from academic research to outside organizations for the benefit of society on a local, national and global basis.
- Columbia Entrepreneur Alumni Network- Program designed to pair students with alumni mentors who have experience in startups and entrepreneurship.
- Columbia-Harlem Small Business Development Center- A free service provided by the New York Small Business Development Center to help new businesses create business plans, marketing strategies, and comply with licensing and regulations.
- Columbia Business School Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center- Provides a list of websites, publications, and other resources that provide helpful information and assistance to startups and small businesses in the New York area.
- Columbia Student Enterprises: For over 70 years, undergraduate and graduate students have learned about and developed entrepreneurship, enterprise leadership, and business skills through Columbia Student Enterprises. You can earn a salary through starting, managing, or working for student-run for-profit and social enterprises that provide valuable products and services to the campus and broader community.
- hackNY- Co-organized by faculty from NYU and Columbia, hackNY organizes the summer Fellows program and student ‘hackathons’ during the year to create a community of student-technologists.
- Res Inc- Short for Residential Incubator, it is a living and learning opportunity open to students who are interested in living alongside like-minded entrepreneurs in a hands-on, ideas-rich environment.
- All Business- Information, products, and services for entrepreneurs, small businesses and professionals to start, manage, finance and build a business
- Angel List- AngelList is a platform for startups, and includes a job board.
- Entrepreneur.com- Information to help start, grow or manage a small business
- Inc.com: Advice, tools, and services, to help business owners and CEOs start, run, and grow their businesses
- Inside Startups- A website and email newsletter with job and internship listings as well as events, career fairs and conferences.
- InSITE- Brings together a select group of graduate students with New York area start-ups and leading NYC venture capitalists to enable them to contribute to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in NYC through a mentoring and development program.
- My Own Business: A Free Course on How to Start a Business
- National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance- Association of colleges and universities that support technology innovation and entrepreneurship in higher education to create experiential learning opportunities for students, and successful, socially beneficial businesses. Offers grants, competitions, courses, and networking opportunities
- NYCEDC- An ecosystem to develop entrepreneurs across industries and stages of business with access to information, training, and innovative competitions.
- NYC Start-Up Job Fair- The NYC Startup Job Fair aims to connect qualified students and recent graduates with exciting and innovative New York-based startups. The event is largely run by volunteers looking to foster a thriving startup community and to raise awareness about startup jobs in NYC.
- Online Business Advisor: Free business advice on various topics in the form of training segments, articles, manuals/workbooks.
- Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE): SCORE is made up of prominent and retired business executives who volunteer their time to advise people on how to start for-profit and not-for-profit enterprises
- StartupJournal: The Wall Street Journal Center for Entrepreneurs
- Startup Hire- Job postings at startup organizations nationwide.
- Start Upers- A nationwide startup job listing directory.
- Ultra Light Startups- Great opportunity to network with the best founders, investors, designers and engineers in the start-up community.
- Venture for America- A national non-profit modeled off Teach for America giving recent college graduates a two year fellowship to work for early stage startups nationwide. Venture For America also will award seed fund for fellows to create start ups after the two-year fellowship.
- We Are Made in NY- An economic development initiative that supports the city’s vibrant tech community by highlighting job opportunities in the sector, celebrating the growing number of NYC-based digital companies, and providing access to resources and programs.
- Business.gov: The Official Business Link to the U.S. Government
- Internal Revenue Service: Starting a Business: Information on federal tax responsibilities of small business owners
- Small Business Administration: Independent agency of the federal government to aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small business concerns
Resources for Social Entrepreneurs
- Ashoka: A global organization that identifies and invests in leading social entrepreneurs
- Social Edge: Global online community where social entrepreneurs and other practitioners of the social benefit sector connect to network, learn, inspire and share resources
Resources for Women
- Office of Women’s Business Ownership: Resources for women listed by OWBO, a program of the Small Business Administration
- Ladies Who Launch: Provides online resources and connections for women entrepreneurs
Resources for Minorities
- Minority Business Development Agency: Federal agency dedicated to advancing the establishment and growth of minority-owned firms in the United States
- National Minority Business Council: Organization of business leaders dedicating to supporting and expanding opportunities for minority and women business owners
Last updated June 2015