Should we really be encouraging students to start businesses early in their careers?
I must admit that while my instinct has always told me yes, there have been moments when I wondered if I was right. While our success rate is similar to that of the venture capital industry as a whole, not all of the students we have encouraged to found businesses have been successful.
So in the spring of 2006, some colleagues of mine and I decided to collect some data. We wanted to learn about the entrepreneurial careers of Columbia Business School graduates so that we could know how to serve them better during their time as students.
After analyzing the survey results, we found that the answer to the question of when best to start your own business is not straightforward.
For our survey respondents, starting a first business two to five years after completion of business school led to the creation of the most successful businesses in terms of revenue. However, starting earlier than that was strongly correlated with starting multiple ventures — which was an even more important predictor of success.
The thousands of unique stories that lie beneath these results, all reveal that learning by experience is hard but unavoidable. We’ve found that students learn best when they are working on real projects, and that combining academic and practical experience while in business school can minimize the pain and maximize the gain of entrepreneurial endeavors. We seek to combine the best of academic and practical experience.
Becoming an entrepreneur is a very personal decision, and the right time to start a business is when it’s right for you. On average, 90 percent of the entrepreneurs we surveyed felt it was a good professional decision to start their business when they did; only 10 percent regretted their decision.
But regardless of what the timing may be, there is ultimately nothing more satisfying than running your own company and being master of your own destiny.
Next Week: What to Consider When Starting a Business