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OPINIONS

A Breeding Ground for Entrepreneurship

When I came to Stanford as a young, foolish freshman, I knew next to nothing about what I wanted to do with my career or what options were available. I had heard about consulting and finance, but I did not have a clue about what entrepreneurship meant. Now that I am more than two years into my college career, my understanding of the startup world and entrepreneurship has flourished, and I have Stanford to thank for that.

As a student at a university in the heart of Silicon Valley, it’s hard to ignore the open opportunity to start your own company. Not only are Sand Hill Road’s venture capitalists right at our back door, but Stanford itself also holds a plethora of resources from entrepreneurship organizations like the Business Association for Stanford Entrepreneurial Students (BASES) (full disclosure: I work for BASES) to classes like ENGR 145: Technology Entrepreneurship or the Stanford GSB version of ENGR 145, ENGR 245: Technology Entrepreneurship and Lean Startups.

For me, BASES is where I was first exposed to entrepreneurship. Programs like the BASES Challenge, Stanford’s premier entrepreneurship business plan competition, and E-Bootcamp, a global student entrepreneurship conference, give student entrepreneurs the opportunity to gain both financial backing and guidance from experienced mentors, but more than anything they allow students to be entrepreneurs with low risk without having to go to outside accelerators like Y Combinator or StartX — although both are great programs.

As I see more and more successful companies come out of the BASES Challenge, it has been a growing source of inspiration. BASES is the perfect opportunity for anyone who wants to give a shot at starting his or her own company.

Similarly, Stanford’s academic entrepreneurship scene includes classes like ENGR 145 and ENGR 245, which give students a first-hand experience with building their own startups from scratch. While these classes teach students valuable lessons like the lean startup theory or how to create a business model, they have one main goal: build a company in ten weeks. This environment challenges students to push their limits and to explore the world of entrepreneurship, whether that means going out and talking to customers or staying up all night to build a product.

For some like myself, it’s our first time building a company. For others, it’s another chance to implement another brilliant idea, but for everyone, it’s a space for nurturing ideas and practicing entrepreneurship. A few other classes in this arena are COMM 140: Digital Media Entrepreneurship; MS&E 273: Tech Venture Formations; MS&E 271: Global Entrepreneurial Marketing; and ME 206A/B: Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability. All these classes give students the opportunity to start a company or create a product from the ground up.

In addition, these classes have produced some real, successful startups like Pulse, which was sold to LinkedIn for $90 million last April.

My own experiences in ENGR 145 have shown me what it takes to start my own company. It is by no means easy, but the fact that I can take a class where my one assignment is to create a business is tremendous, because the mere exposure to entrepreneurship is what pushes students to create those billion-dollar companies like Snapchat or Instagram. It’s what makes Stanford the perfect breeding ground for young, budding entrepreneurs and the only university that fuels its students with resources while providing a prime location for entrepreneurs.

As Stanford continues to develop as a university, its entrepreneurship programs will surely develop as well, as I have already witnessed an increased interest in startups and been exposed to increasingly strong infrastructure in organizations like BASES. My prediction is that the entrepreneurship culture will grow so rapidly at Stanford that the rate of successful startups out of student groups and classes will rise significantly, resulting in even more of student-run companies. It’s something to look forward to, and with the growing presence of groups like BASES and entrepreneurship classes, more and more students will surely find that spark of inspiration to create something truly great.

 

Justin Wiguna is the Vice President of Branding at BASES. Contact him at jawiguna@stanford.edu.

  • concerned

    If somebody asked me to distill what’s wrong with Stanford into eight paragraphs, I would send them this article.

    You see, after two short years at Stanford, this young man has it all figured out. He’s considered all of the options, from consulting, to finance, to building a startup to, uh, consulting, and he’s realized what he has to do: he has to make a billion dollars. Okay, okay, maybe not a billion, but 90 million will do just fine. And he has a dream, oh yes, that one day his children will attend a Stanford where every student makes 90 million dollars, where people are judged not by the strength of their heart but by the content of their wallets.

    This is, obviously, complete and utter bullshit. I know that this deluded, entrepreneurial culture isn’t representative of all Stanford students. I know that with my head, and yet this young businessman is right about one thing: it is extremely hard to ignore. It is everywhere, from the fliers that line our bathroom stalls to the buildings that surround our campus. There is nothing wrong with this proto-Spiegel’s kind of entrepreneurship, but there’s also nothing right about it. Creating another 90 million app like Pulse, or a billion dollar app like Instagram, or a three billion dollar and growing app like Snapchat will add nothing to the world. Nothing real, anyway. Nothing that improves lives or fills stomachs or helps people get to a place like Stanford. I know that there are many, many exceptions to this, but that’s not what Mr. BASES is talking about. He’s talking about that growing sense among Stanford students that the only way to get a meaningful return on these four years is to learn to code, make an app, and cash out.

    And really, Stanford doesn’t disagree with that. Stanford has happily watched as the center of campus has drifted to the Engineering Quad, away from what I fear may soon be called the Old Quad. Career fairs for startups and big technology scream for your attention weekly, while career fairs for the liberal arts just kinda make you sad. I’m not trying to say that Stanford doesn’t provide opportunities to succeed for students in the hard sciences or social sciences or humanities, but rather that those opportunities feel comparatively too small. If that’s simply an economic reality, then Stanford, with its enormous human and financial capital, seemingly does little to challenge it. I love Stanford and I love so many of the people here, but it makes me sad and angry that it is a place where one “young, foolish freshman” can enter knowing “next to nothing” and leave knowing one thing: money.

  • Stanford ’12

    Your writing is an embarrassment to yourself. Please re-take PWR 1 and try again.

  • bobdog

    this school sucks now

  • Entrepreneur

    Ctrl-F

  • eship of state

    I like @concerned’s comment: “There is nothing wrong with this … kind of entrepreneurship, but there’s also nothing right about it.” That’s a good starting point.

    “Entrepreneur” etymologically is derived from a word that means “to undertake”. In that broad sense, eship (shorthand from now on) is great. We are all here in this world to undertake worthwhile challenges. But I think that idea of undertaking a challenge has been coopted by business starters.

    I want to distinguish between essential and administrative activities. An essential activity is one whose motivation is inseparable from the doing of it. Examples: scientific research, medical surgery, raising a child. In each case, the motivation — respectively, curiosity about the natural world; the desire to save a life; the desire to make new life — are directly tied to the activity — experiment, observation, and calculation; the detailed and learned care of the body; parenting. In contrast, an administrative activity is one that supports the activity and yet can be separated from it; it is interchangeable with other administrative activities. According to this distinction, eship is administrative. An essential activity, the creation and implementation of an idea, gives way to the administrative task of making a business to yield revenue based on the idea. But other things could be done with the idea: it could be given away, for example.

    Administrative activities can and are challenging. But I want to assert here that we should reserve the romanticization of challenge for essential activities. This is where I think business starters have coopted the sense of challenge: getting VC funding and consumers is seen as a challenge. No doubt. And yet: so what?

    An opinion: the activities at a university should be as essential as possible. The etymology of the word “university” supports this opinion: from wikipedia, I see that it is derived from the phrase “universitas magistrorum et scholarium”, which according to wikipedia means: “community of teachers and scholars.” Another source gives “master” rather than “teacher”. One might dive into the etymology of each of these words, in particular “scholarium”, but I’ll not here.

    Another opinion: It may be that the university as a place in which the essential is sought, done, and celebrated can no longer exist. It may be that universities from now on will depend on corporate funding. If that is so, and if we think we can retain some of the essential while also sacrificing some, then we should encourage eship and hope for future donations.

    Corporate eship in the university is complicated. The best thing we can do is think a lot about its implications and how we each want to relate to it. I offer the distinction between essential and administrative activities as one possibly useful framework.

  • lolwut

    lol this article is basic. Daily, please raise your standards

  • The Third Amigo

    Great article =)

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