Editor’s Note: College ‘Treps is a weekly column in which college and graduate school-based entrepreneurs tackle the topic of entrepreneurship on their campus. Topics will include everything from starting a business while juggling classes to new startups on campus to marketing to college kids. Follow this column on Twitter using the hashtag #CollegeTreps.
Many of my friends say they want to work for a few years after they graduate to get some real-world experience under their belt, before starting their own business. But young entrepreneurs need to be careful — a good opportunity might pass you by if you don’t jump on it right away.
This is the situation my co-founders and I were in when we first conceived the idea for our company, OneKey Ventures, a Santiago, Chile-based strategic-investment brokerage. We spotted a huge opportunity in an industry we knew nothing about, and our competitors would be massive players, like JP Morgan, that have virtually limitless resources. This is not exactly the pitch you would want to use to convince an investor — or even your mother.
Related: How to Start Up from Your Dorm Room
So how can a young entrepreneur compete and make decisions like an industry expert with 20-plus years of experience? The answer is simple: outsource the necessary industry experience by assembling an outstanding board of advisers who understand your vision and are willing to help you for free.
But, convincing these busy people to share their valuable time, knowledge and networks with you isn’t easy. In our case, we needed advisers that were major investors from China and mining experts from Latin America. On the one hand, we were lucky because we had connections to the mining industry through my uncles, but on the other hand, we didn’t know a single Chinese investor.
This meant that we had to start from scratch finding Chinese investors willing to advise us on how to convince our clients to invest in countries on the other side of the world.
Here are four tips on how to outsource industry experience as a student entrepreneur:
1. Know your market. We knew if we wanted to convince experts to come aboard, we had to be able to speak intelligently and prove that we had done our research before reaching out to them. Those hours of study really paid off. We were able to ask relevant questions that were not available on the internet, and they took us seriously which allowed us to reach out to them several times after the first meeting.
2. Consult with professors. Often overlooked by students, this resource proved to be one of our most valuable assets. Think about it, business professors are seasoned professionals who devote part of their life to sharing their knowledge. You are paying big bucks to be in school, so you may as well take advantage of it.
Read professors’ resumes online to spot which ones are best to talk to. Be sure to mention something about their previous experience that led you to seek their advice. Giving them that recognition will make a big difference in how much time they’ll devote to helping you.
3. Share your idea with your classmates. Many young entrepreneurs keep their business plans close to their chest in fear that someone may steal their idea. But in reality, you’ll get a lot of quality feedback if you talk to your classmates about what you’re working on. It will give you access to their networks, which in our case, were offered up without us even asking.
4. Solicit help from government agencies. Entrepreneurship is actively supported by many governments, so take advantage of it. Just pick up the phone and ask for a meeting, you may be surprised by the results. We contacted the trade commissioner of Chile in Shanghai who facilitated a $900 million deal between China and Latin America. Now he is advising us on how to replicate that success story.