We know you have big ideas – ones that might disrupt industries, make lives easier, and launch your career. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of tips for you to get started as an entrepreneur while still in high school. These tips come from our top-ranked community of student entrepreneurs at the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, a top-ranked and interdisciplinary division of the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business. We work with thousands of student entrepreneurs every year, and we talked to some of them to provide you the insights you need to make your dream a reality.
1. Know that youth is an asset
While you might be made to feel that being young leaves you disadvantaged, it might actually be your ticket to the top.
“People love the ‘capable kid,’ said Kathy Hajeb, a director at the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute. “When young people can think with that entrepreneurial mindset, when they can ask and answer those difficult questions, they stand out. They catch your attention.”
With Acti-Vest, a vest with ultrasonic sensors that alert visually impaired people to upcoming obstacles, Erin Chen and her team won the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute’s 2021 High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge.
At 14, Chen was the oldest member of her team. She said that information sparked similar reactions from everyone they worked with.
“It’s a lot of ‘wow’s’,” she said. “I think it just shows how committed younger people can be, and the kind of differences we can make. We can be just as innovative and creative.”
2. Start thinking like an entrepreneur
The ability to turn failure into an opportunity is one that every entrepreneur needs, but not many high schoolers have.
“One of the roadblocks teenagers face is that in high school, they’re not challenged in the right ways,” Hajeb said.
Hajeb says being a good listener and better observer is the key to getting into the entrepreneurial mindset.
“I think many young people lack that exposure to a variety of different things in the world, the chance to make mistakes and learn from them,” she said. “If you can get into the mindset of questioning things, taking things apart and putting them back together when you’re 17 and 18, standing up when you get pushed down … all of those softer skills put you in an incredibly unique place compared to your peers.”
3. Redefine “free time”
College and full-time entrepreneurs alike have shared one core message about entrepreneurship: it takes time. And, if your idea takes off, it’ll take even more.
Balancing a full-time class schedule and your idea will be difficult, but it doesn’t get easier after graduation. In college and after, you’ll have to find new hours of the day to get startup work done — Colton Gardner, co-founder of Neighbor, a peer-to-peer storage company, says he spent 60 hours a week at his day job, and the rest of his waking hours handling the budding peer-to-peer storage company.
“Learning time management early is important,” he said. “You have to decide what matters the most to you, and then commit to it.”
4. Make like-minded friends
It was the kids in her robotics club that helped Chen get her idea off the ground.
“We were all friends who were interested in robotics,” Chen said. “We came up with the idea for the Acti-Vest after school one day, while just talking.”
Working with a supportive group of people made the stressful process more enjoyable for Chen.
“It was awesome to watch the idea take shape together,” she said. “It was a fun experience because we all have that same creative drive, but we all take a logical approach to it. It’s really cool to work with people who care about the same things you do and take on problems like you.”
5. Develop research skills
Googling questions and watching how-to videos on YouTube helped carry Chen’s team through the development process.
“We learned how to price our product, how to find our market and more in our background research,” she said. “This informed a lot of our calculations and got us on the right path.”
Chen was also brave enough to take her research offline.
“We asked a lot of adults that we knew for their opinions,” she said. “One of our friends’ dad is an engineer, and we got his insight too. That advice was really helpful in building our pitch deck.”
6. Get used to failing … and trying again
The best ideas – even those supported by strong teams and smart time-management, don’t always work out.
“Neighbor didn’t come out of nowhere,” Gardner said. “We had a lot of trial and error, mistake after mistake, to get to where we were. We got really used to being turned down, and that taught us a big lesson: we couldn’t define our experiences by how successful our company got or how much money we made. The journey of starting a company in the first place is a life-changing adventure, and that alone is worth celebrating.”
7. Enter Business Competitions for High School Students
Young people’s innovation and creativity is more than welcome at age-restricted business idea competitions like the High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge, the counterpart of the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge, a collegiate business-model competition. That’s where Chen and her team took home the $10,000 grand prize to get their idea off the ground.
“When we heard about the competition, we knew our idea would benefit from it,” Chen said. “Even if we didn’t win, it would offer a lot of exposure for us.”
The High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge is designed specifically for high school-aged students and requires competitors to submit a business proposal.
“We discussed the problem we were trying to solve, our solution, what market would buy in, and showcased the prototype,” Chen said. “And we got to meet other kids who cared about a lot of the same things we care about.”
8. Plan for an entrepreneur-friendly college
The chance to work alongside people who care about the same things you do should be available in college, too. For Amelia Wood, a senior at the University of Utah, a school that offered team-building experiences was non-negotiable.
“I’ve met the most incredible people here,” Wood said. “Every student I’ve talked to is just as passionate, just as driven, and has super cool ideas. It’s a hot spot for innovation.”
Wood also wanted to create her own study programs, and have more control over her courses. At the University of Utah, she was able to entrepreneur her degree. The school offers many courses and academic programs in entrepreneurship through the Department of Entrepreneurship & Strategy at the Eccles School. They include electives, the Lassonde+X program, a minor, certificate, major, master’s, and more.
“I’m able to pick and choose classes to mold an entrepreneurship program that fit me and my eyes were impossible to pass up,” Wood said. “I’m a transfer student, and I passed on a few other opportunities for this school in particular. No one else was letting me build exactly what I wanted for my educational career.”
That’s in the sights of Chen, too.
“I want to be an engineer when I get older,” she said. “But I want to be at a school that lets me be creative too, where I can test my potential and think bigger. Everything we’ve done is just the beginning.”
Ultimately, being an entrepreneur in high school is a unique (and scary) experience. You’ve got a lot on your plate and big life events to plan for, but the steps you take to shift your mindset, build teams and bring ideas to life can pay dividends for your future. By taking things one step at a time, becoming a high school entrepreneur doesn’t have to be a pipe dream — you can make it real.