Taking a Leap of Faith: Do founders need a degree to be successful?

By Dan Marino ’23 Associate

Starting a business is a large time commitment and often leaves a founder with little to no free time. The same can be said about going to college. Both founding a business and going to school full-time can be overwhelming even on their own. This may be why some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs including Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, dropped out to pursue their businesses. Each are ultra-successful which begs the question, are they outliers or should you follow in their footsteps and drop out of college to pursue your business?

Times are rapidly changing and the startup industry is steadily growing. There are more resources available, and there’s increasing debate over whether college is still the best path. Much of this stems from the increase in digital technology and the opportunity it creates. Social media provides new businesses with powerful marketing opportunities that were not possible 20 years ago. College-age founders are especially comfortable and knowledgeable in social media. This makes it possible to market effectively to your target audience while on a tight budget. Technologies such as Zoom, Slack, Google Drive, Asana, and Notion make team collaboration possible even at long distances. Communicating effectively with your team remotely is often essential for a founder in college. Although it is possible to be a founder while in college, is it really the best choice?

The idea of dropping out of college to turn your passions into a business is becoming more attractive to many motivated students. Most founders have faith in their business and are sure that it will succeed. This can give false confidence since according to Forbes, about 90% of startups fail. Entrepreneurship is risky even if there is a great founder behind the company. The issue with dropping out of college is that a vision has been created online of “getting rich quick” by starting a business. Many less-educated college students are tempted by this vision. There are also programs such as the Thiel Fellowship that provide $100,000 in funding for your business if you drop out of college. These programs are extremely controversial because having a college degree can be seen as a safety net and dropping out completely dissolves that. Although time management can be an issue, it is completely possible to start a business while getting a college degree.

Personally, I believe it is more beneficial to stay in college while working on your business for multiple reasons. Today’s technologies and software have made it easier than ever to found a business as a college student. There is software designed to automate tasks, increase productivity, and allow global communication with team members. Although it is still difficult, I believe that if you utilize your resources properly you can make the time commitment more manageable. Your college may also provide exceptional resources that are hard to find elsewhere. Many campuses have entrepreneurship clubs and a network of people that are happy to give advice and help you get your startup off the ground. For example, UNH has an entrepreneurship club and ECenter that help aspiring student entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurship club runs interactive workshops and invites successful entrepreneurs into the classroom on a weekly basis.

Arguably, I believe the largest reasons you should stay in college while starting a business are time management, planning, and communication development. Founding a business as a college student is one of the hardest things you can do as a young 20-year-old, and it will create incredible habits. Learning to manage your time effectively will have benefits for the rest of your career. This leads to building skills such as time deep work and develops discipline. If you are truly passionate about your business and care about your education, it is possible to do both simultaneously.

Daniel is a senior from Nashua, New Hampshire pursuing a degree in Business Administration with an option in Marketing. He recently finished an internship for Bosch Thermotechnology and now holds the position of Branch Manager at Collegiate Entrepreneurs. Daniel is an active member of the Entrepreneurship Club at UNH and has a strong interest in starting his own company. He’s very interested in venture capital and gaining real world experience. Daniel is extremely passionate about business, investing, and entrepreneurship.

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