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Advice to Launching a Startup While in Graduate School

Entrepreneurship Series - Kennith Burks

Starting something new isn't always as easy as it may seem. It takes a lot of courage, determination, and motivation. It also takes resilience when we fail the first few times, but it's always important to pick yourself up and bounce back again. 

So why do it? It may seem like a difficult path to start something new rather than engage with something already in motion. However, taking the step to create something is how we get the latest innovations out there and to progress forward as a community, country, and civilization. 

Yet that doesn't mean that this path needs to be taken alone. In fact, it can best be done with the help of like-minded individuals who also understand the importance of entrepreneurship. 

Sometimes, it can be overwhelming to work to pay the bills, attend school, and launch our innovation. That's why it's critical to take time to step back and look at some strategies to find that perfect balance and ultimately set forth a path to success in your personal and professional endeavors. 

Reach Out to Experience

You may already find yourself in academia learning – use that to your advantage. Find those professors and university staff that can provide resources. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how informative professors can be and how prepared universities are to provide support and funding for entrepreneurship. 

Your professors will help you formulate and shape your basic idea into something more tangible and achievable. They'll let you know what can and cannot work, then direct you on where to look next with any outstanding questions. 

Professors can help build out target markets and app economies to identify how your business may have to scale. They’ll also point you to research the competition and look at possible existing alternatives to ensure your unique selling point.

In addition to comprehensive faculty support, pursuing an education at a university can be your guide on where to look for financing. Whether it's through competitions, venture capital, or local investors interested in exploring new opportunities, you'll gain the correct type of exposure – regardless of funding – and start to build out a personal network that pertains to the industry.

Build Your Entrepreneurial Village

Kennith Burks and TeamRemember the comment about like-minded people? Look at your classmates!

You already share similar interests by simply being at the same school. See which ones have the trait of bravery and entrepreneurship then team up with them! 

Make sure to avoid groupthink, where you all collectively agree or disagree on items, and keep a healthy discourse to grow your idea into a product or service. You can best accomplish this by building a diverse network of individuals with a wide range of skills. 

If you're working on a technical product, such as car telematics, grab the right technical students to support the development of the prototype and products. Then, include someone who can build out statistical models that can analyze all the data such an innovation would provide. Again, it's essential to look for the correct type of classmates to help round out what you need versus what you want. 

Learn to Master Time Management

You're working on an advanced type of product that has a vast reach, large data sets, and several moving components to achieve that working model. You don't want to burn out right before the finish line because of poor time management. 

That means it's time to talk about scheduling. First, you need to make sure that your fixed commitments (classes and work) are mapped out and add that variable commitment (your project) into a fixed commitment. 

So remember, if you have a spare hour every day at 6 am or 6 pm, that's your project time. Don't cancel it, don't reschedule it, but make time for it. 

Don't pile up too much all at once, and make sure to have enough breaks between all the various commitments. Otherwise, you'll start to blend responsibilities, and your entrepreneurial project will suffer – remember that it’s at the start when the project will require the most time and effort. 

Don't be afraid to dedicate some off days where you take time away from everything – work, school, or even your project. Consider keeping your energy levels high with a proper fitness routine in your schedule. 

Educate Yourself

If you're going to do a startup related to an app, learn how apps are made. If you consider running a company, learn the different components and departments (i.e., operations, sales, finance, and marketing). 

Make sure your courses are aligned with what your entrepreneurial goals are all about. In the beginning, it's always the same, you will wear many hats and handle numerous responsibilities while developing your idea and looking for resources and support to pass on the help. 

Start Working on Your Public Presence

When you take the plunge and enter the entrepreneurial field, you're going to have to do two things: talk a lot and make many mistakes. Ensure that everyone around you knows that you're building an innovation and what it is about. 

Don't be shy, be proud, and let others know how this is not only something revolutionary, but also something you're passionate about. This builds a necessary layer of confidence that cannot always be taught, but is important to be learned. 

While you're in an educational environment, use it to your advantage. Showcase your startup as a case study where possible. Use every class project to handle a piece of your startup to have the class and professor pick it apart so that you can refine it further. 

This way, you have multiple focus groups critiquing and providing feedback. For example, you can use your marketing courses to see if your marketing strategy makes sense or your IT courses to see if your technology is viable. There's no limit to how any class can provide helpful insight to continue your journey toward a successful product launch. 

In the end, make sure that you're open and honest with yourself. Yes, getting feedback can be constructive criticism, but all of this is to truly build up the right balance and confidence to believe in your own entrepreneurial spirit.

Personal Experience at Pepperdine Graziadio

While attending the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, I executed all of the mentioned points above. I’ve received consistent support throughout my MBA journey from my peers and professors, giving me the motivation and encouragement needed to push through. 

Explicitly speaking, I found my co-founders at Pepperdine Graziadio, received a referral to start up legal counsel from a professor, used my entrepreneurship as case studies in my classes, and received consistent feedback from professors throughout my education. 

So, if you too have an idea for a business and you’re attending a graduate business school, I challenge you to pursue your entrepreneurial dreams and be open about your ideas to peers, faculty, and mentors. 


Kennith Burks

About the Author

Name: Kennith Burks

Program: MBA '22 Candidate