Marketing & Growth

Finding Help From Your Local College

By Rieva Lesonsky

Growing your business takes a village and that village might be closer than you think. Local colleges and universities are home to thousands of smart, enthusiastic learners with their fingers on the pulse of what’s trending in the business world. In fact, hundreds of colleges offer degrees in entrepreneurship and small business, and those students are always looking for real-world experiences.

You may have a very narrowly focused B2B business, but don’t discount all you have to offer a student when it comes to hands-on learning. Here are a few ways colleges and universities can help your business:

Hire an intern. You might need graphic design students to redesign your logo and marketing materials, or an intern to do market research on your business clients’ needs for the coming year. The obvious place to start is by hiring student interns, but that may not be as easy as you think. Colleges are very careful to grant internships only if the job provides valuable industry experience, not just to businesses looking for free labor. Start by seeing if a college nearby has an established internship program. Ask what disciplines have internships available and what the criteria are for a small business to be accepted. Also know that finding a nonpaid intern is not a slam-dunk. The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has a six-factor test to determine whether interns at private sector employers must be paid minimum wage. An unpaid internship must meet the following criteria:

  1. The internship is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.
  2. The internship is for the benefit of the intern.
  3. The intern doesn’t displace any paid employees.
  4. The employer doesn’t benefit from work the intern is doing, “and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.”
  5. The intern isn’t promised a job at the end (that is, unpaid “tryouts” aren’t allowed).
  6. Both the intern and their boss understand it’s an unpaid position.

Hire an apprentice. The apprentice relationship is different from an intern relationship in that you’re not just getting help for a specific project or specific amount of time, but you are entering into a long-term relationship of apprentice/mentor. Usually apprenticeships are for highly technical positions, but they could be for any position in which months (or years) of learning is involved. Apprentices are hired at a higher salary than an intern with the understanding that the apprenticeship will mostly likely lead to a full-time job. Check with your local colleges, trade schools and even high schools for graduates looking to get in on an opportunity on the ground floor. Attend local job fairs so you can meet local talent.

Become part of a class project. Sometimes you may find a professor willing to make your business challenge a class project for credit. For instance, you could offer your business plan as an example for an entrepreneurship class, and see what suggestions the class has. Or what about having a marketing class critique your social media strategy? You’ll need to invest your time to guide the students, but the relationship is beneficial for both you and them.

Look for business incubators and SBDCs on campus. Many business incubators and Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) are located on college campuses. Incubators allow you to share space, services and network with other small businesses. SBDCs also offer free counseling and mentoring in all aspects of starting and running a business. Visit the National Business Incubation Association website or the SBA’s online SBDC locator to find locations near you.

Ready to move your business forward?

Subscribe to Fundbox Forward for expert insights and tips every week so you can grow.