How To Break Into the Startup World As a College Student
A guide for college students interested in diving into the world of startups
As a student who’s been involved with startups for a few years, I receive a lot of questions from my peers about how they can also break into the space. This guide outlines in nutshell the different ways that you can get involved with startups and the community as a whole. Some of this guide is specific to Purdue students only, but most of it is applicable for any college student who wants to learn more about startups!
🏗️ Build Build Build (BBB)
You can join as many organizations you want. You can attend as many conferences as you can afford. You can network with as many people as you can meet. Yet, none of that will bring you any value unless you actually build something. It doesn’t have to be a startup! It could be a project, an event, a club, a blog post, or anything really. Even if you’re busy with school, working on a side project will allow you to leverage the knowledge and network that you are building, showing people that you’re not all talk.
Throughout our schooling, everyone is pushed to be leader. That approach has led us to a student body that is saturated with “leaders” but not builders.
Not everyone can lead, but anyone can build.
The startup community knows that and that’s why there is a huge premium placed on people who can build. This may be the shortest section of this guide, but it is the most important. If you’re building something people want, everything else will follow.
Side note: If you’re looking for a startup idea, check out this post.
🕵️ Track the Space
If you want to break into startups, you need to make sure that you have an understanding of what is going on in the startup world. Try your best to spend at least a couple hours a week learning about the field through newsletters, podcasts, and other sources listed below. That way you can get a gist of the area itself and see if you are actually interested in it.
These are digital newspapers and magazine of the startup world. They provide reports, interviews, insights, and other data that outline the activity and the events occurring the space.
TechCrunch is the most popular news site for tech startups and venture capitalists. Getting an article in TechCrunch is part of a classic Silicon Valley product launch.
VentureBeat is similar to TechCrunch and is another popular source for startup and venture news. It is very similar to TechCrunch in many aspects.
Mashable is a tech news website that covers new products and technologies that have entered the market. It is not purely startup focused unlike TechCrunch and VentureBeat.
Hacker News isn’t actually a news site. Instead, it is actually a reddit style news aggregator where people post content and upvote/downvote things they find interesting/uninteresting. It is a great way to learn about new things happening in the space before they are picked up by most media sources.
American Inno is the parent company for several different local news organizations under the Inno brand. Each child new organization covers local startup news for their city, i.e. DC Inno covers the DC startup scene. They are a great source for learning and breaking into your local startup ecosystem.
Built In * is similar to AmericanInno, as it is a parent company for many local news organizations. Each Built In branch focuses on startups and technology companies located in their city or location. Built In also focuses heavily on local startups jobs, thus it’s a great place to look for internships and full time opportunities.
Recode is another tech news site, similar to Mashable. It doesn’t purely cover startups but it still a great source for startup news.
Forbes is a general business news website and magazine. They also don’t purely cover startups, but startups are one of their main focus areas. They are also known for their Forbes 30 under 30 conference.
Flipboard is a news aggregating tool and would be great way to consume all of these news sources in a streamlined manner.
Podcasts are the perfect form of media for passive learning and engagement with the startup community. There are so many startup related podcasts that podcasts themselves have become somewhat of a meme in the industry. Even so, many of these podcasts are amazing resources for learning about startups and the ecosystem as a whole.
This Week in Startups is a weekly podcast hosted by Jason Calacanis, a famed angel investor who has invested in amazing startups such as Uber, Evernote, and Robinhood. This podcast brings in various startup founders, investors, and operators to give their take on things going in the tech world that week.
Product Hunt Radio is a weekly podcast hosted by Ryan Hoover that covers weekly topics in startups and technology. He brings in founders, investors, and other members of the startup ecosystem to discuss explore the headlines of the week.
a16z Podcast is podcast run by Andreessen Horowitz, one of the most well known venture capital firms in the country. It runs multiple times a week and discusses the latest trends in both technology and culture. They usually bring on guests who are experts in industry to get their take on the subject matter.
Girlboss Radio is a podcast run by Sophia Amurso of Girlboss and serves to highlight female founders who have done amazing things in the world of startups. Through the podcast, she extracts actionable advice from her guests in a fun, thought-provoking way, thus serving as a great resource for female founders.
How I Built This is a weekly podcast that his hosted on NPR by Guy Raz, one of the most popular podcasters ever (according to the New York Times). In the podcast he describes how some of the world’s biggest companies were built and the lessons that were learned along the way. It’s a great podcast for casual listeners who want to learn more about the story of building a business.
TwentyMinute VC is a biweekly podcast hosted by Harry Stebbings (Founding Partner at Stride.VC) that dives into the venture capital side of the startup ecosystem. It’s a great resource for founders who are focused on building a strategy to raise venture funding.
Newsletters are great for receiving bite-sized summaries of important things going on in the startup world. They are a great way for consuming content at a fraction of the time of other forms of media and sent conveniently to your email inbox. Do your best to be consistent with newsletters as they provide. Below is a list of some of the best daily/weekly/monthly startup newsletters.
AngelList Weekly: A weekly email newsletter run by AngelList that focuses on a new topic each week while also showcasing interesting startups and jobs that are available on their platform.
Morning Brew: A daily email briefing written for millenials by millenials that covers both startups and wall street. It’s a great way to start your day!
Accelerated: A weekly newsletter run by two recent Stanford grads that features jobs, internship opportunities, interviews with founders, and new products/companies that are launching.
Negotiating the Terms: A newsletter that highlights young women in startups and venture capital a couple times a week. It’s a great read for young people, especially women, who want to be inspired!
Product Hunt Daily: A daily digest of the best products posted on Product Hunt everyday. It’s a short and fun way to keep track of new products/companies that are going into market.
Crunchbase Daily: A daily summary of up and coming startups that have launched, raised money, and/or have been acquired. To subscribe to this newsletter, you must create a free Crunchbase account.
Axios Pro Rata: A daily newsletter run by Dan Primack of Axios that covers startup news and venture deals that happened in the past day. It’s a bit on the longer side but its super informative.
These websites are some of the best places to discover startups before they become the next big thing. They are also great resources for finding internships and jobs at startups.
Product Hunt is a product curation website where users post products that they love using and other users can upvote and downvote these posts, thus creating a curated dashboard of interesting products that have recently launched. It is hands down one of the best ways to be ahead of the curve with product launches. Many VCs and founders use Product Hunt as a daily driver.
Crunchbase can be summed up as a giant dataset of everyone and everything that is a part of the startup ecosystem. They keep track of companies, employees, funding rounds, funds raised, acquisitions, and much more. It is the de facto data source for information about startups. The free version is solid for high level research on companies, but the paid version is much more powerful (and expensive) for sifting through data. Crunchbase is a great source for finding interesting startups to work at or reach out to.
Breakout List is a curated list of high growth startups that are on a “breakout” trajectory. The website is a great resource for finding interesting startups to intern and work at! It is compiled by data provided by some of the best angel investors and venture capitalists in the country. It also includes awesome career advice and interviews from successful founders and venture capitalists.
AngelList is one of the most popular startup websites out there. It serves as a unified platform for companies to hire talent and raise investment. If you’re looking for a job at a startup, AngelList is one of the best ways to find one. One thing to be careful of with AngelList startups is that many of them are un-legit or unpaid. However, they do also have many amazing startups doing impactful things so it would be a great resource for a job search.
👥 Join the Community
A big part of breaking into the startup world involves joining the community at both the local and national level. At the local level, you should focus on meeting as many like minded individuals at your school as possible. These people will become your core network of friends, coworkers, peers, and even future cofounders. Don’t try to network, just talk to people. If you’re working on interesting things or you have interesting things to say, people will want to talk to you and get to know you better. The best way to get involved with entrepreneurship at the local level is through joining entrepreneurial clubs/meetups and attending community events.
While being involved with entrepreneurship at the local level is extremely important when breaking into the startup world, it is also paramount that you try to expand your network outside your corner of the world. This allows you to be introduced to ideas and people that you wouldn’t be exposed to on a regular basis. The best way to do this is by attending conferences, working at startups, and being a part of online communities that are outside your region. Some of the most influential people in my life came from these sources.
N.B. the local organizations, meetups, and events listed here are specific to Purdue students.
School Clubs and Organizations
Delta Mu Kappa is a co-ed entrepreneurship focused professional fraternity fostering students to develop an entrepreneurial mindset in their endeavors.
The Anvil is a student run co-working space who’s goal is to empower Purdue entrepreneurs by providing them a shared space as well as mentorship, programming and resources.
Ms.Tech Purdue Collective is the Purdue Chapter of the company Ms.Tech Headquartered in Chicago, we provide college women the resources to build their own startups.
3 Day Startup is a weekend long campus event that teaches entrepreneurial skills to university students in an extreme hands-on environment.
Lafayettech is a community of entrepreneurs, developers, designers, and hustlers in the Greater Lafayette Area. The meet a few times a month to discuss topics in startups, technology, and entrepreneurship. It is currently undergoing a reorg and is planning on launching in the next few months.
The Boiler Demo Day is the culmination of the 12 week long student run startup accelerator that is run by The Anvil. During demo day, each of the teams pitches their startup to investors and general members of the Purdue Startup Community.
DMK Spark is a weekend-long startup hackathon where teams can work on iterating business ideas with the guidance of successful local entrepreneurs. They have three tracks — social innovation, business innovation, and patent commercialization.
Purdue Startup Career Fair is Purdue’s first career fair that focuses solely on introducing students to some of the fastest growing startups in the region. Over 30 companies will be attending the first event this February!
ChangeMakers is an event to promote social entrepreneurship within our community of young entrepreneurs. They invite social entrepreneurs and business leaders to come to Purdue and share their stories and insights.
EcoMake is a weekend-long engineering design competition centered on sustainability. In just 54 hours, you will learn how to turn an idea into a tangible product through technical workshops, intensive mentorships, and a community of innovative and passionate individuals!
Foundry Grounds is a weekly networking event hosted by Purdue Foundry. It is a great way for students to meet and learn from interesting entrepreneurs in the Greater Lafayette/Purdue startup ecosystem.
3 Day Startup is a weekend long campus program that teaches entrepreneurial skills to university students in an extreme hands-on environment.
T-6.6 is a monthly pitchin’ night hosted at Matchbox, Lafayette’s most popular startup workspace. Entrepreneurs from all around the region come to pitch their companies and get feedback from the community.
N.B. Conferences are great ways to build relationships with people, but most people don’t maintain these relationships. Try your best to maintain the relationships that you build, otherwise any networking you do is pointless.
TechCrunch Disrupt is an annual tech conference hosted in San Francisco and New York City by TechCrunch. The conference consists of a variety of events including a pitch competition, a hackathon, and more. They bring out a multitude of industry titans to speak about various trends and occurrences in the world of technology startups.
Startup Grind is a year global tech conference hosted by the Startup Grind community. Over 8000 entrepreneurs from all over the world attend to network, pitch, and learn from some of the greatest innovators of our generation.
NextGen Summit is a yearly conference hosted by NextGen, a community of young entrepreneurs from all over the country. It’s a great way to meet and build relationships with entrepreneurial students in other colleges.
Twitter is hands down the one of the best ways to interact with the global startup community. You can use it to makes friends, get advice, market your product, and so much more. If you follow the right people, Twitter also serves as a great news aggregator, sourcing insightful advice directly into your feed. What makes Twitter truly great is that it is extremely simple to reach out to others, both in a public setting (with replies) and a private setting (with DMs).
One drawback with Twitter is that having an account comes with a lot of additional noise, especially when you don’t follow the right people. If you can successfully filter the noise out, you have access to the strongest entrepreneurship community in the world.
Overall, breaking into startups during college isn’t hard. It just takes time, effort, and a genuine interest in creating. The beauty of the startup ecosystem is that it is never too early or too late to make an impact. As cliche as it sounds, it is a place that you can do anything you set your mind to. If you have any questions about the guide, find any typos, or just want to talk, hit me up on Twitter!
Startup Purdue is the unified brand that represents all things student entrepreneurship at Purdue University. We are a group of student leaders who work to invigorate Purdue’s student entrepreneurship system through organizations, events, and experiences.