By Monika Jansen
So, I have to ask: Do you have an entrepreneurial streak?
Yes, kind of. I’m the president of the Entrepreneur Club at GW, and I started my first company, called CauseAware, when I was a junior in high school. It helped Model UN programs. The whole philosophy around Model UN is debating global issues, but I thought we should do something to help the causes we were debating. That helped open a lot of doors.
I worked at Facebook in high school, I worked at Clear Channel, I worked at Hearst Digital two summers ago. Last summer I was at a company called Entrepreneur First in London, it helps recent college grads start their own business. Their offices were on the Google Campus, so I was really exposed to the whole startup scene.
I work for WeWork. I’m their intern, and that’s really opened my eyes to startups as well. I need to understand student needs, and by talking with a lot of students, I came to the idea for StudentStart.it, which is a website that helps students start their own businesses.
Why did you decide to pursue this idea?
I see a need with students. They are passionate about entrepreneurship and startups, and there’s nothing out there, resources are fragmented. There’s Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but a lot of times, students are intimidated by the fact that they need to create a video. Then there’s CoFoundersLab, and a lot of times they are older people and we are more comfortable working with people our own age. Personally, I’ve watched a lot of students struggle. I want to give them the confidence and resources they need to start a company.
In 140 characters or less, what does your startup do?
StudentStart.it is a website that allows students to build a business through crowdfunding, team building, marketing, and mentorships.
How does it work?
Only students can create an account. You choose whether or not you want to do a business boot camp, or you can just choose to use some of the tools. With the business boot camp, you start with an inspiration board. You have a short statement of what your idea is, and at least fifteen people have to validate your idea. Once you get past that benchmark, you have access to crowdfunding. We help you set realistic benchmarks about how much money you should be raising and how to reach people through marketing tools. Students can help other students and support their ideas. You can give as little as $1. Parents, alumni, and professors can give money.
The next part is mentorship. I’m also the student venture capital rep for GW through a company called CollegeFeed Ventures out of Darden [Business School at the University of Virginia.] I recruit student startups at universities and write due diligence reports and feed that back to venture capitalists. I’m tapping into that network to access a lot of mentors.
The next part is team-building. You can find by category what you’re looking for. You can just say I need a software engineer who knows Java, and a list of students will pop up and you can contact them. You can also find people at other schools.
Why is your startup useful?
The startup culture in the last five years has really blown up. Young people in particular. We’re go-doers and self-starters and we’re tired of working for something we don’t really believe in. I don’t want to work for one company and be a slave to their mission. I want to make my own success.
People want their work life to be more of a lifestyle than a responsibility. In that sense, StudentStart.it is really empowering. Young people can do what they’re passionate about and follow an idea they’ve been thinking about. Having someone guide you in the process is really helpful.
What is your business model?
We only take 2% of funding raised. From there, if the site is successful, we’re going to do what LinkedIn does and create a premium version. If you pay a little more, you’ll have more resources and the key part is having access to venture capitalists. There’s a lot of things we want to do down the line: online competitions, doing something with SXSW. My mom used to work at Harvard Business School, and I’d like to do things with universities so students can access those resources too.
Who is your biggest competitor, and why are you better?
VentureBoard, but they focus more on team-building and they provide a list of online resources that you can use, but they don’t actually provide those services. There are pieces and parts of everything, but I haven’t found anything geared toward students.
Tell me something unique or interesting about you or your company that most people don’t know.
To be honest, besides the company I started when I was a junior in high school, I haven’t done this either. In a lot of ways, I’m a customer of my own product.
StudentStart.it has not officially launched yet, so sign up on their website to receive notification when they do.