To an outsider, it was incredible to watch. Sitting in front of me was a group of college students—whose pants were not sagging—competing to save a real company. The students rapidly fired ideas, challenged beliefs, cut each other off and energized everyone in the room. Sometimes while texting.
The students were trying to invent a new product for the company, and everyone was learning—especially the people who ran the company.
So why is this a big deal? What made this a big secret? What made this experience something your business must do (but there is a 99 percent chance it does not)?
These students were solving a critical, expensive business problem for free. They were not paid a penny. Zippo. Nada. Not even a souvenir koozie. And the students were loving it. In fact, the students felt THEY were the big winners.
Why? When you bring your business problem to students, you solve one of their biggest problems: getting actual experience. Without experience, students—and their $200,000 education and 412 ribbons—face a catch-22, trying to get experience but unable to do so because they have no experience.
At the same time, your company is looking for breakthroughs, new ideas and fresh perspectives. You want people who are not limited by the status quo, partly because they can’t pronounce “status quo”! When you create a contest or class project in which college students advance their learning and yours, everyone wins—at no financial cost or risk.
I know because I’ve lived it, both as a student and as an entrepreneur. By taking your business challenge to college, you create the missing link between education and the real world.
Put yourself in their shoes. Can you imagine helping a company solve a tough business problem and getting a real letter of recommendation for doing so at age 19? That totally beats your mom’s endorsement on LinkedIn.
This is why right now you should find a problem facing your company and take it to college. You get all the benefits of a $200,000 education without a roommate who snores. Here’s how:
Step 1: Identify a business problem you want to solve. Write it as a challenge, project or class assignment. Define the constraints, resources and how you measure success. Example: Pick one of these three product ideas and convince us which one we should make and why.
Step 2: Find a well-connected on-campus group, such as a student association or a well-liked professor, and propose a partnership. Show your new partner the benefits students receive, including hands-on learning, networking and résumé building. Your partner agrees to promote the event and get students signed up.
Step 3: Hold the event and be prepared to be amazed, because you will be and so will the students. Before you know it, you, like me, will be watching them compete to help a business achieve record-breaking growth—and that business is yours.
Summer is long gone. It’s time to take your business back to school, so you graduate to even more success—without even having to take a final!