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 start-up 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 start-ups are any type of entrepreneurial venture with a limited operating history, most people associate start-ups with being technology-based and having a high level of outside investment.
In this section you will find information about start-ups from two different sides, both creating and working for a start-up company, and the tremendous resources at Columbia and New York City to help you navigate the start-up world.
The CCE Startup Career Fair, held in the Spring semester, is focused on connecting start-up firms, primarily from the NYC area, with entrepreneurially minded students at Columbia. Numerous industries are represented including technology, sustainability, media and more.
LionSHARE has a wealth of opportunities at start-up organizations. In the job search tab, try searching for jobs in the start-up employer industry, or typing “entrepreneur” in the keyword field. Some examples of start-up 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 start-ups, such as the “Million Dollar Careers” and “Information Technology” guides.
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 start-ups through internships and jobs. Offers in-person events, a blog and a weekly newsletter.
Columbia Venture Competition- An annual competition put on by the Columbia engineering school giving a total of $25,000 in prize money for start-up business plans.
Columbia Pitchfest- An annual competition for students to present start-up business ideas to students, faculty, and alumni.
Columbia Entrepreneurship Curriculum- Curriculum provided by the Engineering school for students to get a concentration in entrepreneurship.
Columbia Entrepreneur Fellowships- Listing of fellowship opportunities for students interested in pursuing a career in entrepreneurship and innovation.
Columbia Venture Lab Blue Team- Predominately geared as a resource for members of the Columbia community to start up tech companies.
Columbia Entrepreneurs’ Office Hours- Opportunity to speak with members of the Columbia Venture Team about entrepreneurship or start-ups, meetings must be made by appointment.
Columbia Entrepreneur Alumni Network- Program designed to pair students with alumni mentors who have experience in start-ups 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. Their office is in Mudd Hall.
Columbia Business School Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center- Provides a list of websites, publications, and other resources that provide helpful information and assistance to start-ups and small businesses in the New York area.
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.
NYC Next Idea Competition- Competition sponsored by the City of New York and hosted at Columbia University. Students are asked to create sustainable business plans for start-ups in New York City. Total cash prize of $35,000 is awarded.
Working for a start-up can be both a rewarding and daunting decision. While there is a possibility of tremendous pay-off, many start-ups falter before creating much wealth for its employees. However, for young professionals with fewer obligations, start-ups 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, sometimes paid but oftentimes unpaid, is the best way to get a foot in the door. Identify start-up 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 Start-Up
- Career development: Working for a start-up 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 start-up 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, start-up organizations 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: Start-up teams need to work cohesively together and have a strong bond, which promotes camaraderie and teamwork. The atmosphere of a start-up, while hectic, is often more casual and less conservative than traditional companies and can simply be a more fun environment.
- Future success: If the start-up 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 start-up will be attractive to future employers and will also give you the skills to start your own company.
Drawbacks to Working for a Start-Up
- Job security: The major disadvantage of working for a start-up 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.
Resources for Finding a Job at a Start-Up
Inside Startups– A website and email newsletter with job and internship listings as well as events, career fairs and conferences.
Startup Hire- Job postings at start-up organizations nationwide.
Venture for America- A newly created national non-profit modeled off Teach for America giving recent college graduates a two year fellowship to work for early stage start-ups nationwide. Venture For America also will award seed fund for fellows to create start-ups after the two-year fellowship.
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.
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
Start Upers- A nationwide start-up job listing directory.
Startuply- A nationwide start-up job listing directory seeking to match start-up employers with potential employees.
Startup.com- Job listings for start-ups backed up by the National Venture Capital Association.
When you have a great idea or invention, you have the first step in creating your own start-up company. However, 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 start-up.
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 start-ups.
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 start-up 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 start-up companies.
Choosing the Right Legal Structure- A guide by Inc. Magazine for start-ups to choose to the right legal structure.
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 start-ups aren’t profitable until months or years after their launch. With start-ups, 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 start-ups when looking for start-up capital.
Angels investors are wealthy individuals who provide seed money for start-ups 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 start-up 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.
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.).
National Venture Capital Association- Provides resources and support to entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists that fund them
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.
Small Business Association Grants and Loans- A list of federal grants and loans small businesses are eligible for from the U.S. Small Business Association.
Last Updated: 3/2013