Start your company in college: a good idea?

French newspaper Les Echos published today a series of articles on student entrepreneurship. According to the article, 24% of new company founders in France are below 30 years old and 9% of them are below 25. In 2002, only 20% of founders were below 30. While the explanation of this new trend is relatively easy to find (more and more role models a la Mark Zuckerberg, using the auto-entrepreneur status to do freelance jobs, a desire of Generation X to be more in control of their lives), I wanted to take some time to reflect on starting a company while being in college.

When I started the StartUp42 accelerator 2 years ago in partnership with EPITA, it was obvious to many that most of the projects we selected would be founded by EPITA students. In reality, and since we’re open to all, EPITA applications represent more or less 20% of all applications received and just half of them are founded by students (i.e. have not yet graduated at the time of application). Nevertheless, over the past 4 batches, we consistently selected at least 1 student startup per session (EPITA or not). Here is what I found out.

Why College is the perfect time to launch your startup?

  • The trade-offs of starting a company are definitely lower: at 21, you don’t have a family to feed, a loan to pay back or already high living standards. So living of noodles until you startup grows and working nights and weekends will not affect much your lifestyle
  • The fear of failure is also lower: no one will ever blame you if you fail because, hey, who can blame a 20-something to start a company. More experienced people might fear for their reputation in the marketplace and difficulty to find a new job in case the startup fails
  • Everyone wants to help (sometimes not necessary the most helpful though)
  • With hundreds of other students, teachers, researchers, you’re in a perfect micro-climate to test your idea before releasing it to the world

Why College is not the perfect time to launch your startup?

  • As very well said by Paul Graham in his recent guest lecture at Stanford (and subsequent essay), “starting a successful startup is similar to having kids in that it’s like a button you push that changes your life irrevocably […]. You can do things in your early 20s that you can’t do as well before or after, like plunge deeply into projects on a whim and travel super cheaply with no sense of a deadline.”
  • You only come up with ideas to change your life (I mean your student life) and miss out on an enormous amount of other business opportunities
  • Some people want to take advantage of you, since they think you’re young and unexperienced (and they will probably succeed)

So?

Well I believe the answer is inside yourself and, as summarised by David Cohen in his Do More Faster book: “if you can quit, you should”. In other words, if you can’t stop yourself from starting your company, do it!

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