Should You Drop Out of School to Start a Company?

During SXSW Interactive 2014, 3 Day Startup hosted a panel to discuss a much debated topic among student entrepreneurs: “Should you drop out of school to start a company?” Some of the points discussed included, entrepreneurial timing, the university as a startup platform, and the culture of risk taking.

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The diverse panel of individuals included, Mike Gibson, VP for Grants at the Thiel Foundation, Connie Bourassa-Shaw, Director of the University of Washington’s Arthur W. Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, and Andy O’Hara, Founder and CEO of Chiron Health. Cam Houser, CEO of 3 Day Startup, moderated the discussion.

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Why the University is the Ideal Startup Platform

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The entrepreneurial spirit at the university level is willing and eager: nearly 90 percent of young people believe that entrepreneurship education is important according to the Young Entrepreneur Council. And with the advent of the internet, free access to resources, and lowered barriers to entry, students can now start companies with minimal capital. At 3 Day Startup, we help students start companies through our experiential education entrepreneurship programs. Through our work with 5,000 students at 45 schools across the world, we’ve realized that the university is an ideal startup platform.

Ambitious and smart people

College is by no means a prerequisite for starting a successful company, but there are a number of factors that allow it to give rise to startups. The first reason is that on average, institutions of higher education tend to attract both ambitious and smart people. When Forbes profiled young disruptors, innovators, and entrepreneurs in their annual list of 30 under 30, the 14 of the top 15 individuals highlighted in each category attended or graduated from college. In fact, many of the men and women profiled on this list attended an Ivy League institution. (The list touched on 15 industries that ranged from Education to Tech and profiled in depth one individual in each category.)

This raises an inevitable question: Why was the university experience a part of their entrepreneurial journey?

One simple explanation may be that ambitious and smart people strive to attend the very best educational institutions should circumstances allow, displaying the discipline and work ethic that’s critical to achieving such levels of future success when launching an early stage startup.

What Exactly Does an University EIR Do?

Last semester, we asked students, alumni, and faculty to recognize entrepreneurship professors at their universities. We received an overwhelming number of nominations that we vetted and compiled into a list of Top 25 Entrepreneurship Professors of 2013. In an effort to recognize other individuals instrumental in entrepreneurship education at the university level, we opened a ballot to recognize Entrepreneurs in Residence. Surprisingly, we did not receive as many nominations as we hoped for.

To understand why this was the case, we asked various students if they were familiar with the role of entrepreneur in residence at their respective universities. Some students had a firm grasp of what their EIR did and had direct relationships with them through related classes and programs. Many students were somewhat familiar with the concept of an EIR and others had no clue.

This begs the question: What exactly does an entrepreneur in residence at a university do?

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