This weekend marks 25 years since I left Cornell to start my professional career.
While I was excited to start earning money in my first job, I would much rather have been starting a company. Unfortunately, Cornell was expensive and my student loans made me risk-averse. In fact, each of my summers were spent working in order to help my dad cover the remaining tuition obligation. In the years since, I’ve always been jealous of the stories Bill Gates & Mark Zuckerberg, who could start companies as college sophomores.
Fast forward to 2020. I’ve now started three companies and those experiences are among the greatest thrills of my career. But I’m still grateful for those college internships as they made it all possible. So, as I see students losing their internships, it breaks my heart. Student debt is far worse today than 1995. I can imagine the pressure of a student who was counting on their summer earnings to help cover tuition. I want to do something to help.
And then it came to me.
What if I could find some of these students with rescinded offers and provide enough cash to cover costs so that they can start their own business over the summer? Forget about working for DoorDash or some minimum wage job to make ends meet. Spend your summer working for yourself and still defray tuition costs!
I bounced the idea off the prolific Sean Branagan at Syracuse’s Newhouse School and he’s agreed to help me navigate this. But I need to confirm my hypothesis that there are still students that wish to start a business, but are hamstrung by college costs. If so, the lemons of the pandemic can turn into the lemonade of an entrepreneurial summer. In addition to covering some costs, I’m hoping these students can lean on me and some of my network to fact-find, learn, grow, and focus on being an entrepreneur.
So, here’s what I’m looking for: college students with an existing serious business idea that they’re truly passionate about and a willingness to spend the summer focused on it. Extra points if you have student loans and/or an internship offer that was rescinded due to the pandemic. I can’t fund every great idea, but if I can’t help you, maybe I can find someone who can.
I still need to figure things out, like how many students we fund, how we select recipients, how much each student gets, whether this a grant or an uncapped convertible note, does all the money go to the founder or is part diverted to the business, and what the requirements are during the summer. I want to make sure everything is done properly and optimized for the students. I’ve been working to set up a scholarship to honor my father and learned that the process is anything but trivial, so I want to make sure I do things by the book here.
To the students, I’ll say that you won’t be as much money as you would’ve made at your Uber developer internship, but it’ll be better than some desperation job in the middle of a bad economy, you’ll have more fun, and you’ll learn a ton. My main goal isn’t to turn a buck. It’s to deliver what would’ve been water in a desert for me 25+ years ago. My way of giving back by helping the next generation of entrepreneurs. We need you now more than ever.
Given many students are ending their classwork and making plans for the summer, I need to get the ball rolling sooner rather than later. So while I navigate the feasibility of the idea, I’d like to start assessing interest. If you think you know someone who’d be interested, share my post or tag their name. They can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know of their interest (and share their business and situation).