Tag: college

College is the Best Time to Start a Business

I was talking with a friend who is in the UW Business School about a discussion in one of his classes about the best time to start a business.  Most of the class believed that the best time to start a business was 5-10 years after college.  They argued that it would be best to start a company after working a job for a few years, building up savings and learning about how the business world works.  Its my feeling that this is the conventional wisdom.  I think both the students and conventional wisdom are dead wrong. 

College is the best time start a company.  In college, you have very few, or no, responsibilities.  You most likely are not married and do not have kids.  You probably do not have a mortgage or a car payment each month.  You are not tied down in a job or a specific city and can live on comparatively small amounts of money.  You have freedom and lots of free time and are surrounded by other smart, like minded students.  These smart students are the perfect place to find partners.  Your only responsibilities are to pay your tuition (which can be tough), go to a few classes and get passing grades (and have fun).  If your company fails, you have plenty of time to either start another or get a job.

Universities also provide many resources to student business owners that graduates would have a much harder time accessing.  For example, I entered ExchangeHut into the Burrill Business Plan Competition during my sophomore year.  This competition was a free way to learn how to write a business plan, present to a panel of judges and make connections in the local startup community.  I also met my lawyer during the competition and made connections in the press that I would not other wise have been able to make if I was not a student.  Not only are there student papers that love to write about student startups, but traditional media love a story about student entrepreneurs, whereas it can be much harder to get press if you are older.  Students also are able to use University Health to cut down the costs of health care and have access to library research materials, free wireless internet and much more.

Additonally, lack of market knowledge can actually help startups.  College students may be more likely to try new, innovative ideas that others would dismiss out of hand.  They have no history to protect and may be more willing to take risks that others might not.

After graduation, most grads look for a job and start to earn a salary.  After a few years of making decent money at a job, they have probably upgraded their lifestyle, making it harder to live on a smaller salary.  Many college grads are married or are in serious relationships 5-10 years after graduation.  Some have kids and many own houses.  It is much harder to quit a decent job and take the big risk of starting your own company when you are used to a paycheck every two weeks.  Its even harder if you have a spouse or kids.  The time commitment required to be run a successful startup can take a toll on family life.  Its also harder to find potential partners, as many people in your network will also be settled in their jobs.  You might dismiss ideas because “in your experience, you know companies don’t work like that.”

Some may say that students cannot start companies while they are in college because they have to pay their way thought school.  I would argue that many students can do better starting a company than working 15 hours a week as a bartender.  Even if they fail, they will have something interesting to talk about during job interviews.  Companies are looking for smart people who have skills and starting a businesses teaches you these very skills.

While it may be more comfortable to start a company with a financial cushion under you, I believe that the benefits of starting early outweigh the benefits of waiting.  College is the best time to start a company: it provides you with access to smart people, university resources, discounted health care and easier press coverage, all during a period when you have limited responsibility and hours of free time.  If you are in college and thinking of starting a business, go for it!  What’s the worst that could happen?  At least you’ll be avoiding the Business School Way of Life!

College Students and Essay Mills

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s March edition includes an expose into  how Essay Mills work and their impact on college life.  For those who do not know, essay mills are companies that write original essays on demand for students.  They are different from companies that sell stock essays because essays from essay mills cannot be detected by plagiarism software.

The article traces the business of EssayWriters.net, one of the biggest essay mills in the world.  Essay Writers allows anyone, mostly American and British college students, to upload paper topics, specifications and due dates into an online form.  From there, Essay Writers puts these “writing requests” into a database that its freelance writers can browse and bid on.

Freelance writers can come from anywhere.  According to the article, there are many writers from Asia, Nigeria and some from the United States.  Once a writer bids on the project, the student gets a quote, usually between $19.99 and $42.99 per page, depending on due date, degree of difficulty and other specifications.

The article claims that students from all backgrounds are using essay mills:

Some customers of Essay Writers are college freshmen who, if their typo-laden, grammatically challenged order forms are any indication, struggle with even the most basic writing tasks. But along with the usual suspects, there is no shortage of seniors paying for theses and graduate students buying dissertations.

One customer, for example, identifies himself as a Ph.D. student in aerospace engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He or she (there is no name on the order) is interested in purchasing a 200-page dissertation. The student writes that the dissertation must be “well-researched” and includes format requirements and a general outline. Attached to the order is a one-page description of Ph.D. requirements taken directly from MIT’s Web site. The student also suggests areas of emphasis like “static and dynamic stability of aircraft controls.” 

The explosive growth, as well as acceptance by college students, of these essay mills is a troubling, not to mention scary, phenomenon.  Students from all levels of college are buying papers and not learning how to actually write or do proper research.  They treat a college degree as a credential, a piece of paper that is needed to get to the next step.

 The students come from all disciplines and all parts of the country. They go to community colleges and Ivy League universities. Some want a 10-page paper; others request an entire dissertation.

As these student graduate and enter the workforce with their credentials from American universities, are they going to be able to actually do any work? When they get an assignment at the office that they do not like, think is boring or believe is beneath them, what will they do? Will the mechanical engineer be able to actually design anything and will the freshmen ever learn how to write?

I am worried that many in my generation of workers are lazy and are not prepared to compete in the global economy.  I think that we are heading toward an economy that rewards those with skills, but does not offer as many opportunities to people without.  Students who are too lazy or uninterested in doing any actual learning are going to lose out in the global economy.  The Nigerians, Chinese and Filipinos writing American college students’ papers are going to be the ones who succeed in the global economy.  In essence, they are getting a college degree for free.  Others in developing countries are taking advantage of opportunities like these, whereas many Americans are not.  These workers are willing to work hard and go the extra mile in order to succeed, something that is seemingly lacking in many American college students.

So what is the solution?  I am a realist; plagiarism has been around forever and I would guess that many, if not most, college and high school students have engaged in some form of it during their academic careers.  There is a continuium between writing one’s own work on one end, to buying a paper from an essay mill on the other, with paraphrasing wikipedia somewhere in between.

Just like with drugs, sex and alcohol, simply telling students its wrong will not come close to making a dent in the problem.  I think educators, starting in middle school, should begin to show students why its necessary to get a good education.  Plagiarizing is simply robbing oneself of part of the opportunity to succeed in a future job.  I would start by telling students about globalization.  I would teach them about outsourcing and how the entire world is interconnected.  Let them know that there is probably a kid in China, Korea, India, Brazil or Nigeria working as hard as possible to succeed in life.  I would keep teaching these lessons through their academic careers so that they can see real life examples of the people they are competing against in the job market.  Simply telling students that plagiarism is wrong will not work.  People need concrete examples of why it will hurt them in both the short and long run.  I am not optimistic that any of this will ever happen, but it would be a good experiment to see if cheating could be reduced using some sort of curriculum like this.

HT: Freakonomics