The story of the student or college dropout entrepreneur has become ubiquitous in our cultural consciousness. Whether it is through movies like The Social Network or through public figures like Kanye West, the trajectory of the college dropout entrepreneur encapsulates one theme ingrained in the moral fabric of our capitalist society: ‘work hard, and you will succeed.’
The magnitude of the stories we are exposed to daily can often make entrepreneurship seem foreign and unattainable. I highly doubt any of The Varsity’s readers would not pause and give serious thought to dropping out and working if they felt strongly compelled by an idea that seems larger than they are or perhaps ridiculously lucrative. Furthermore, the more impossible a story, the more we seem to glorify it — almost to a fault.
Even though the Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerbergs of this world are incredibly moving motivational forces, we sometimes collectively label the ‘dream chasers’ among our own generation as foolish. Zuckerberg’s story, in particular, reads almost like science fiction to me. Born to an unassuming middle-class family, Zuckerberg famously dropped out of Harvard to develop the social media giant Facebook. A decade after Facebook’s meteoric rise, Zuckerberg, born into very similar circumstances to my own, is called to the United States Congress to answer for the accused crimes of his company.
The result is a huge misunderstanding.
The weight of the celebrity of today’s entrepreneurs makes entrepreneurship seem intimidating and impossible when it’s a perfectly ordinary venture that anyone is capable of embarking upon. Entrepreneurship can be performed in degrees, at different levels, with varying levels of profitability. The overarching significance is that entrepreneurship should be viewed by students as an empowering venture. It doesn’t have to be a big idea that starts a company, generating income by expanding on your interests and hobbies is just as useful and may provide helpful lessons on self-sufficiency and the dreaded ‘real world.’
What you should be picturing centres upon taking a talent or interest and viewing it from a different perspective. As a university student in any discipline, look into perhaps tutoring some of your peers or younger students. You can find work online editing or consulting on the works of others. Music students can do the same and look to perform either at venues or busking — there are collaboration platforms like HitRecord that facilitate networking and artist collaboration.
If you think you have a big idea, U of T also has multiple incubators that offer help to prospective start-ups. There is the Creative Destruction Lab, the Department of Computer Science Innovation Lab, the Entrepreneurship Hatchery, the Health Innovation Hub, iCube, and the Impact Centre — just to name a few. These organizations operate with the goal of providing students with the means to see their entrepreneurial ventures succeed. They provide mentorship, occasional funding, workshops, networking opportunities, and other tools for students wishing to undertake an entrepreneurial venture.
Beyond U of T, the federal and provincial governments offer grants and other programs to student entrepreneurs such as the Summer Company grant program that provides funds to students managing operations of any size, whether that be mowing the neighbors’ lawns or launching tech-related start-ups.
The tools you need to explore the possibilities of entrepreneurship are at your fingertips. Don’t be afraid to reach out and use them.