With the start of spring semester comes the push to secure a post-graduation job or internship. The on-campus interviews and career fairs will roll into action as the weeks wear on, placing students in established companies promising paid vacations, a stable income and maybe even a corner office.
But what if you want more?
The recent economic recession led to a boom in entrepreneurial activity, according to a 2012 study released by the University of Missouri, with many young professionals choosing to buck traditional career paths in favor of creating their own.
The hours are long and the pay may vary, but for those willing to stick it out, the professional rewards of working with a start-up company can be exponential.
“I think start-ups should be on everyone’s job radar,” said Glenn McGraw, co-founder and CEO of Gamedayr. “The education I’m getting now is 10 times more beneficial than the one I got in school because the work environment gives you the opportunity to have your hands in a little bit of everything.”
After graduating from the University of Florida (UF), McGraw started his career in a corporate position. As time went on, he grew frustrated with the molded role the company had thrown him in.
Then, in 2009, an idea struck. He quit his job, lived on a couch for months while raising capital and co-founded Gamedayr, a 24/7 college sports outlet fueled by passionate fans, with a college buddy and a lean team of employees and interns.
“You have to be persistent. We knew what we had and we knew we’d have to break through barriers to get there,” McGraw said. “If somebody has an idea worth doing, they might as well go after it while they are young and able to take the risk.”
Now with an average of 320,000 unique visitors per month, Gamedayr and its team have expanded to include dozens of contributors across the country.
When considering new hires to add to the company, McGraw values applicants who are honest about what they want out of a career and show a commitment to do whatever it takes to make the company successful.
“You might be making more money up front with a corporate position, but that’s not the point,” McGraw said. “If you stick with something, the money will come in the end.”
Former UF students Aidan Augustin, Neal Ormsbee and Andrew Kennedy also tried the traditional internship route before dropping out of college and focusing entirely on their mobile networking company, Feathr.
After developing the idea at a Silicon Valley networking event in fall 2011, Augustin teamed up with Ormsbee to put together an app that allows professionals to easily manage and share their digital footprint. Now housed in UF’s Innovation Hub incubator, the team has grown to seven full-time employees and raised more than $40,000 in its first round of funding.
“Even if a student isn’t sure if this lifestyle is something they want to do for life, or even for a year, it’s worth taking a semester to work with a mentor on a good business idea or develop valuable skills through an independent study course,” Ormsbee said.
The group agrees that even without a degree, corporate companies seek out entrepreneurs to help push development in a mounting “innovate or die” business environment.
Kennedy, the company’s system administrator, recommends learning as many technology skills as possible, especially the basics of programming, to have a better understanding of the technology used in most start-ups and to stand out from other job applicants.
“No one is stuck in a box here,” Augustin said. “Everyone involved is responsible for the company’s success, so if any part of the company starts failing, it’s a collective failure. That’s the kind of attitude required for this to work.”
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