Student entrepreneurial organizations at universities have been on the rise for the last decade. At most, if not all, of the top universities in the U.S., variations of the same type of organization have popped up over the last decade: University of Southern California’s Spark SC, UCLA’s Bruin Entrepreneurs at UCLA, Harvard Ventures, John Hopkins’ TCO Labs, MPowered at University of Michigan.
Despite having evolved in relatively separate silos, they all operate in an almost eerily similar way. Most are run by students, undergraduate or graduate, though a few are more closely watched by faculty. Many are tied to the technology organizations at their schools — often they host the school’s hackathons. A good number run accelerator-like programs, host speakers featuring impressive industry professionals and founders, and hold entrepreneurship conferences. They come in many different flavors and styles, but the core ingredients remain the same.
Yet, despite it all, a critical question presents itself: Does it work?
First, there’s the difficult task of measuring the success of all these initiatives. Students may win pitch competitions, but do they proceed to actually build what they just pitched? Surely accelerators must produce measurable results, yet more often than not, the students going through the program end up disbanding their startup efforts once full-time jobs or other pursuits call.
Then, of course, there’s the flip side of the coin: do these organizations actually help the real student entrepreneurs?
At Startup Exchange, the largest student entrepreneurial community at Georgia Tech, we’ve gone through many evolutions in the several years since our founding. We’ve held pitch competitions, entrepreneurship hackathons, regular hackathons, speaker series, accelerator programs. The new, aspiring students that attended our events and participated in our programs definitely seemed to enjoy the fruits of our labor. They came, they learned, they connected, and they grew. Eventually, some of them would start their own companies.
And then… they’d leave. We had stopped providing value for them.
So, we kept experimenting and gathering feedback from our community. Abandoning some popular initiatives was difficult. But we were dedicated to fulfilling our mission: to help the student entrepreneurs of Georgia Tech.
That’s how we created CORE.
CORE is our private community of student founders at Georgia Tech. It was an absurdly simple idea. Bring student founders together… and have them learn from each other.
Our thesis: building a startup is hard. As a student, it’s even harder. At CORE, we help our members by connecting them to our network — startup founders to potential customers, co-founders, and venture capitalists. Beyond that, we provide a space for like-minded people to share their challenges, learnings, solutions, jokes, and more.
At first, we struggled to define exactly what we would do and how we would do it. We thought about membership requirements, different activities and meetings we would hold, how we would encourage people to participate without forcing them, how we would measure success, etc. We tried asking other organizations at other universities for advice, but none had done something quite like this.
It took a while, but we eventually realized that all we really needed to do was to gather the right people and get them to meet each other (and smooth it over with free dinners). No major time commitments, no forced meetings, no club points systems.
And then, it took off.
After about a year of beta testing, we’re finally debuting CORE to the world. We’ve started off 2018 with 11 amazing companies founded by students and recent grads. Our group includes Forbes 30 Under 30 members, Kairos 50 startups, companies who have been accepted into Y Combinator, and students who have placed in the finals for Georgia Tech’s Inventure Prize. Now, we’re continuing to grow as we bring more student founders into our community.
Our goal is to have CORE become the hub of student entrepreneurs at Georgia Tech who are dedicated to building something great and supporting each other.
The entrepreneurial journey is tough. Pretty much everyone says “why are you doing that startup when you could just go work at a successful company and make a lot of money”, so it’s kind of demoralizing sometimes when it’s all you hear. So, when you hang out with other student founders, it’s actually incredibly validating — you know they’ve all been there and you can talk to them about the problems you’re facing and the decisions you have to make. When you think you’re crazy to start a company, it’s nice to be with people as crazy or even crazier. I’ve been searching for a community like this for the past 4 years, and I’m glad I’ve finally found it.
We’re glad we found it, too.
So, look out world.
Photos via Georgia Tech Startup Exchange