The Complete Guide for Entrepreneurs on College Hill (Brown/RISD)

Are you an aspiring entrepreneur currently studying on College Hill?

Morgan Cheatham, Brandon Kim, Daniel Breyer, Cliff Weitzman, and I crafted a guide to the essential resources and opportunities offered between Brown and RISD that any entrepreneurial student should check out.

As graduating seniors, we wished that somebody would have written this for us. Enjoy! And get to work.

THE CENTERS

The Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship— The Nelson Center is a new center for entrepreneurship at Brown. Among the Nelson Center’s offerings, some highlights include skill-based and inspirational speaker events, office hours with accomplished entrepreneurs and industry leaders, and a summer accelerator, called Breakthrough Lab (B-Lab). The center is also currently investing in a full workspace for entrepreneurs on Thayer Street, which is going to be awesome. Make sure you’re signed up for the Nelson Center Newsletter by emailing entrepreneurship@brown.edu.

The Swearer Center— The Swearer Center administers the Social Innovation Initiative (SII). This center for social entrepreneurship at Brown attracts similar students as the Nelson Center. Other than SII, the Swearer Center also plans Innovate Winter Break and the Embark Fellowship.

STUDENT GROUPS

Brown EP — Brown’s student-run entrepreneurship club. Hosts many cool events and is a fantastic destination to begin learning, meet like-minded people, and pursue a leadership opportunity if you’re interested in being an entrepreneur but not working full-time on a company already.

RISD E’Ship — RISD’s student-run entrepreneurship club. Hosts many cool events. If you are interested in product design-focused entrepreneurship or branding for your startup, definitely get on the RISD E’Ship newsletter and stay plugged in.

Design For America — Not explicitly an entrepreneurial club, however, DFA is all about innovation, design process, iterative prototyping, and other entrepreneurially-relevant skills.

Being involved in student groups is a great way to meet people and learn in a hands-on way outside of the school curriculum. That being said, be aware, if your end goal is truly to work on your company, of over-committing your time to campus clubs. You might find that you spend more time leading a campus organization than practicing building a real-world company. Leadership in these clubs is great learning ground, rife with opportunities to understand marketing, event-planning, and leadership, however, it will place large demands on your time. Just know that in advance.

For a complete list of student groups, visit innovateonthehill.com.

FUNDING YOUR VENTURE

Explore Grant — A $500 grant meant for exploring a specified concept and beginning to lift something off the ground. You can find this application on UFunds.

Brown Venture Fellowship — This program may be re-formatted to become a part of the B-Lab accelerator. In past years, the BVF is a $4,000 grant and a community of fellow entrepreneurs who you will grow to be your entrepreneurial sisters and brothers over a year-long fellowship. BVF Fellows meet countless speakers at the cohort’s Wednesday night dinners. They also rigorously practice the process of founding by working on their companies both spring and fall semesters and the entire summer break.

B-Lab — A summer accelerator sponsored by the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship. This immersive experience gives your team funding, robust mentorship, and again, a community of outstanding, motivated peers who remain your friends long after the program ends.

Embark Fellowship (Brown) — A fellowship available to graduating seniors working on a venture. Brown matches the amount of funding your team raises through a crowd-funding campaign. Sponsored by the Swearer Center.

E’Ship E Fellowship (RISD) — A $1,000 grant available annually to two students currently working on a venture. Sponsored by RISD E’Ship.

Think also about external fellowships. There are the obvious incubators like Y Combinator and Tech Stars, but a lot of VC firms also have their own in-house fellowships which are also exceptional opportunities.

THINGS YOU SHOULD DO

  1. Start something. Today. All these programs and resources are here to help you overcome the fear of pitching, showing people your unfinished or not-quite-there-yet work, and making inevitable mistakes in the process of expanding. Dive in, and start asking questions. Admit that you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.
  2. Check EP/ Nelson Center/ Social Innovation Initiative (SII) event postings for events weekly. These events are super-educational for entrepreneurs, plus you’ll probably start to see the same faces over and over and form a community around your ideas.
  3. Join the entrepreneurship Facebook groups at every college. This will help you stay abreast of upcoming pitch competitions, entrepreneurial grants, and events.
  4. Hackathons — Put them on your schedule, and plan your homework accordingly. Success is all about pushing yourself beyond your own boundaries, and it’s great to meet excited, motivated people while learning about new trends in innovation. Check this hackathons schedule.
  5. Meet others with similar interests on College Hill — These friends and peers will inspire you, teach you, share tips, and keep you motivated. Also, practice working with others. Many startups fail because the founders just stop getting along. Practice cultivating strong working chemistry between yourself and a friend who is equally passionate and willing to work towards a shared goal.
  6. Go to Salon — This community of people that meet on Thursdays is not explicitly entrepreneurial, however, salon attracts curious and independent thinkers, who are also often entrepreneurial.

CLASSES

ENGN1010 — (Professor Danny Warshay). Best class for entrepreneurship on campus. This class will teach you all the language and main concepts that you need to be viable in real-world entrepreneurial conversation. You go through the process, with a team, of forming a venture concept, writing a comprehensive business plan, and pitching to guest VCs at the semester’s end. Danny is a great professor. We recommend this one.

The Independent Study — This is a highly over-looked opportunity at both Brown and RISD. An ISP is a course that you design yourself with a professor who is willing to sponsor you, and if you are currently working on a venture, it may be a good idea to create an ISP about your venture. Google “___insert school name here___ Independent Study” for details on how to begin registering an ISP.

ENGN09 — Similar to ENGN1010, not as large of a time commitment as ENGN1010.

CS1320 — (Professor Steven Reiss). This is a CS class at Brown that is actually do-able for people with minimal coding experience. There is a concentrator’s track and a designer’s track, and the designer’s track has slightly less code-intensive projects. You will know how to build a website after this class.

CS3200 — (Professor John Jannotti, Founder of Foodler). Difficult. But you will learn how to build a fully functional web product from start to finish.

CS1900 — (Professor John Jannotti, Founder of Foodler). This is a new class. The presentations this year were great. Seems like a perfect fit for someone steadily already working on a startup.

CODING…YEAH, IT’S HARD TO LEARN

Many ventures do not require technology, but many do, so it is definitely useful for an entrepreneur to have a basic understanding of computer science and have written some code themselves.

Launching a successful startup without knowing how to code will just make things more difficult for you. In 2017 every founder should know how to code. You don’t have to be great at it, but you should know how it works and at least be able to access and read the code your team writes and deployed. Even if your company has nothing to do with technology, you will want to use technology to scale faster. It is worth the investment of your time over the long haul. Ideal times to learn are via an online video course over the summer or over winter break. The most practical form of programing for a founder is iOS (iPhone app) development and web development.

We feel that the learning curve in this area is *particularly* steep, as code is not quite like math or like writing or like anything you saw in high school, if you didn’t code in high school. A good way to jump in is to attend hackathons or just literally hang out with your friends who know how to code and watch them “debug” their programs (aka try to make their programs work when they’re not working yet). Don’t feel like you’re stupid if you don’t get it right away. You’re not stupid. It’s just a weird thing to learn. It gets easier the more you learn; the concepts begin to repeat themselves, truly.

  1. Online classes

Below are some tutorials if you want to try to teach yourself how to develop websites or mobile applications. You might get stuck trying to move through them if you have no experience. Don’t worry about that; go find a friend.

Complete iOS Developer Course — (Udemy course, taught by Rob Percival). Cliff loves this course, and Ingrid is currently taking it. She is finding it extremely straight-forward, and Rob Percival is actually really compassionate, sweet, and easy to follow.

Complete Web Developer Course — (Udemy course, taught by Rob Percival). Recommended by Cliff.

2. Bootcamps

Our friend Matthew DiMarcantonio says that he learned everything he needed to know to be an entrepreneur technologically from a summer bootcamp. If you can get a scholarship to one over the summer or convince your parents that it’s a solid investment in your education, this is another immersive way to jumpstart your learning.

Once you get good though, code is cool! You can build a bunch of stuff for free right on your comp.

LEARN BY LISTENING IN

  1. Four Hour Work Week — Cliff’s favorite entrepreneurial book. This will help you think critically about how you spend both your time and your money; and about how to be “effective“ instead of just busy.
  2. Ense — Listen to Venmo co-founder record his investor meetings.
  3. TechCrunch Podcast — Very informational.
  4. Andreessen Horowitz Podcast — Very informational.

We hope you all found this useful. If you think of a detail we overlooked, let us know by emailing ingrid_zippe@brown.edu, and she’ll add in your advice.