David B. Lerner

Dave Lerner, 3x Entrepreneur, Angel Investor, Host of Venture Studio
Entrepreneur, Angel Investor, Director of Columbia University Venture Lab, Blogger, Community Organizer, Golfer-in-Exile.

What Every Student Entrepreneur Needs to Know to Succeed (7) Grants & Competitions

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This is part of my Series on Student Entrepreneurship

In the previous posts in this Series we established the mindset and awareness required, the immersion you need to inititate in your local startup ecosystemwhat you need to do to acquire subject matter expertisehow to develop a social media presencethe importance of finding a mentor, and how to cultivate lasting ties with investors, all with the objective of greatly increasing your chances of success as an entrepreneur.

In this installment, I'm going to highlight the fact that among the many awesome advantages you have as a student entrepreneur, (your sheer youth, the spare time you have, your .edu address, the willingness of most people to help you, your freedom to operate, etc.) is the fact that you can apply for a staggering array of competitions and grants geared specifically to student entrepreneurs like yourself!

The opportunity is so remarkable I thought it deserved its own special category in this Series as I see it as separate and apart from raising capital & investors. You see- what we're talking about in this post is non-dilutive capital! Another more colloquial term for it is of course, "Free Money"!

Over the years I've seen the student entrepreneurs with the most hustle consistently figure out ways to enter into a plethora of competitions and apply for student grants while they are still in school.  Oftentimes the money and in-kind services they receive for winning such competitions and grants are actually the critical funding they needed to achieve proof-of-concept or product-market fit for their businesses. It would have been very tough for them to raise angel or VC money at the stages they were in, but that $25k or $50k they won made all the difference. In fact, a number of great businesses got their start this way, including mammoth venture-backed companies like ComixologyLearnVestWarby Parker and Pinterest.  You can listen to some of these remarkable founder's tell their stories here: David SteinbergerAlexa von Tobel and here: David Gilboa.

So- as to help you get started down this path, I've started putting together a working list of Grants and Competition Resources for Student Entrepreneurs. It's the third section in my University Entrepreneurship Page. Please help build this list! If you come across more resources do so by leaving helpful comments to this post.

In the meantime, I wish you lots of luck- hope you pull down some wins here!



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Great post David! Several startups have emerged from the venture competitions at NYU (a/k/a the Entrepreneurs Challenge) including Pinterest, The Hotlist, Course Horse, Comixology, etc. As one reader points out it may not be the solution for every startup, but it has proven to be a great source for many...not just to non-dilutive funding, but also to helping gather market feedback, develop skills, building a team along with a strong group of mentors (both from the competitions, but also from the exposure teams receive throughout).

Thanks for weighing-in Frank... those are some heavyweight companies... Pinterest: BOOM... Comixology: BOOM... student entrepreneurs can really take advantage of these cutting edge programs many universities are offering these days that go beyond "old-school business plan writing" and offer lots more...
(and we need to get you on Disqus soon!)

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