Advice to Graduating Entrepreneurs

By Thanh Pham C’14, founder of fashion startup Jean & Isola

For many of us student entrepreneurs, graduation marks an exciting time—the finish line of academia and the beginning of a full-time career in entrepreneurship. Without the time limitations of academic commitments and physical limitations of university, postgraduate life offers the freedom to fully and freely invest our time.

Wharton graduating student2That said, the months leading up to graduation were a great source of anxiety for me, as I imagine they are for many other graduating student entrepreneurs. My fear was that graduation marked the end of access to invaluable on-campus resources—losing the support system of faculty members and peers, networking opportunities, and university funding.

I’m happy to say the reality is quite different, and with some careful planning, students can maintain access to the majority of these campus resources. Below I summarize three of the most common challenges I foresee for the post-graduate student entrepreneur and explain how I hope to maneuver around them—and how you can, too:

Challenge 1: Staying Connected to Your Feedback Loop

Problem: During my time at Penn, I conducted focus groups with friends and faculty members to gain feedback on all stages of my product development, as well as my long-term strategy. As a student, it’s very easy to establish and maintain contact with fellow entrepreneurs and faculty members when you live on campus and can conveniently schedule in face-to-face meetings. After graduation, however, the loss of face-to-face interactions can threaten the feedback loop you once had for your business.

Solution: I approached this obstacle by discussing my plans to continue with Jean & Isola after graduation with my friends and Penn faculty members. My friends and I created “Feedback Circles,” where we agreed to check-in with each other on a monthly basis for feedback on short- and long-term strategy of our entrepreneurial ventures. Also, I’m going to continue to use my Penn email for as long as I can to remain on club listservs and Facebook groups, so that I can send out relevant blurbs when I launch an addition to my website or a new product.

Challenge 2: Accessing Resources and Student Talent

Problem: Resources such as the Wharton Venture Initiation Program, the Wharton Business Plan Competition, the Entrepreneurship Club, and unlimited speaker events on campus are all invaluable resources to student entrepreneurs, but by default they’re limited to actively enrolled students.

Solution: While there’s really no way around set rules requiring enrollment, student entrepreneurs can seek similar types of resources and funding through business competitions, incubator programs and shared working spaces, which have become progressively more popular among tech start-ups.

One of the most invaluable resources Penn has to offer are the student talent and the diversity of skill sets found across the four undergraduate schools at Penn. If you foresee your team expanding in the near future, developing a relationship with Penn Career Services and club leaders will allow you to continue accessing student talent through their resources. Clubs also frequently invite alumni to speak on campus, which would give you the chance to recruit future interns.

Challenge 3: Absorbing Creative Energy

Problem: Penn offers a strong community of entrepreneurs and thought leaders in entrepreneurship, opportunities to network and learn at speaker events, and friendly competition through the Wharton Business Plan Competition, which all combined creates an environment that encourages innovation and knowledge sharing. Finding the same environment outside of Penn can be difficult initially, especially if you plan to work at home in the first few months after graduation.

Solution: Apply to incubator programs in your related industry or paying to use a creative sharing space can prevent work stagnation and burnout that often occurs when working at home. Organizing weekly group meetings with local entrepreneurs by tapping into your local Penn alumni network can also provide you with a support system outside of campus.

I am confident any student entrepreneur graduating from Penn can overcome these three common challenges of post-grad entrepreneurship. Congratulations to the Class of 2014 and I wish you all the best in your entrepreneurial pursuits.

Thanh headshotBio: Thanh Pham (C’14) is the Founder and Creative Director of Jean & Isola LLC, a women’s luggage and travel accessories brand set to launch in Fall 2014. As a Penn undergraduate and member of the Wharton Entrepreneurship Club, she blogged on her personal website (pthanh.com) about her experience establishing a fashion company. Now a full-time entrepreneur, she continues to research and write about her business in an effort to encourage students to pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations while in college.