Plenty of university professors aren’t just focused on helping students learn and get good grades—they’re also dedicated to helping students boost their burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit. As academia bleeds into private industry, it’s worth considering how the job market will be affected.
For many students today, professors offer the gateway to professional industry connections and funding to help them with startups. And in many cases, that model is flipped on its head, with professors using their expertise to create startups of their own and asking students for help. Schools like Stanford, Dartmouth, Penn and the University of Washington have invested academic resources into startup formation.
The takeaway? Flashy office space does not make a successful startup. If there are bright minds and passion to be found, companies can get off the ground from anywhere. Many of today’s biggest companies got their footing in a garage, basement or dorm room—think Apple and Facebook. In fact, these humble beginnings are so common, they’ve been the inspiration for venture capital funds like The Dorm Room Fund, a student-run firm that invests in student-run companies.
My startup, Optimove, has taken a similar approach. Shachar Cohen and I founded the company in 2009 when we were both lecturers at Tel Aviv University. We came to know our students’ strengths and weaknesses, allowing us to handpick the best and brightest to help with our startup. Today, 33% of Optimove’s employees are former students, making our company a great example of the classroom-to-boardroom success story.
The classroom can offer a great job marketplace for potential startup employers to bring on new hires, but not everyone is a professor, of course. If you think your startup could benefit from the expertise of university students, there are a few ways you can get involved on campuses.
One way is to become an adjunct professor or guest lecturer. These are both great options to get in touch with likeminded students who may be interested in your startup projects. While becoming an adjunct may be challenging, college campuses are almost always looking for guest speakers. Get in touch with a student programming association to make it happen.
You could also offer expertise to clubs on campus. Most universities have student clubs dedicated to entrepreneurship, business, or a specific field of study. Get in touch with the closest one and see if they’d be willing to allow you to visit to lecture, network, or share your startup idea.
Or, pay a visit to a campus career center. Many have a pool of alumni contact information they refer to students looking for a networking connection, advice, or their first job. Get your name on that list to take the legwork out of sourcing new hires—just let the bright minds come to you.
Career fairs and networking events also offer a great opportunity to get your name out there and meet with talented students. Be sure to bring business cards and invite students to connect with you on social media to stay in touch.
As a lecturer, it's not too hard to spot bright students. But being bright isn’t all it takes. In addition to sharp thinking, try to find students with a passion to learn, develop themselves, and succeed. Those students will become the exact employees who will not only offer a great mind, but will always be willing to go the extra mile to contribute to your business's success.
Students hired from the classroom have an amazing drive. They’ll feel as though they've been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and they’ll put in a whole lot of effort to justify it. The employees you’re scouting should be extremely motivated and have amazing learning skills, making them easier to train from scratch. Remember, student employees come with no experience, so whatever you teach them is what they will retain. It’s actually much easier to teach entry-level workers, since they’ll be trained to be a better fit for the position.
Approaching students about a potential job isn’t difficult. When I taught, I always tried to have a close, communicative relationship with my students. Try to create an environment where students feel comfortable coming up to you to discuss anything on their minds, from topics covered in your lecture to companies, job interviews, and résumés.
It’s also important to be flexible. When I first approached junior and senior students about a working relationship, they were often too busy with school to work full time. I remedied this by offering them hourly wages—I don’t believe in unpaid internships. Once you’re convinced a person’s capabilities would make them a successful employee, paying them will ensure they’re dedicated to the workplace and not in a hurry to leave.
Once you’ve hired a great former student, assign them a senior employee to guide them through the workplace. This type of close guidance is very important if you’re attentive to the trainee—patience and well-managed incubation are the keys to a well-oiled startup machine. Once you set firm foundations, the sky is the limit.
Remember to be attentive to your new hires, too. You’ve got to invest in your employees if you want to retain them. Understand your employees’ needs and passions, challenge them and actively invest in their development. That’s how you get employees engaged beyond the payroll—they’ll appreciate their workplace and actually care about their projects and tasks.
As more and more professors turn to their students to help with projects in the private sector, classrooms are fast becoming a fruitful job marketplace. Don’t overlook this option for sourcing great candidates.