(Editor’s note: Lewis Drummond is CEO of FledgeWing.com, an online community for entrepreneurial students. He contributed this column to VentureBeat.)
In the mid-1960s, the Kauffman Foundation had the foresight to see the need for an organization promoting entrepreneurship. More than 40 years later, it boasts an asset base of $2 billion, has a global reach that includes ties with the US Department of Commerce and has become one of the world’s most important training facilities for entrepreneurs.
Where the Kauffman Foundation falls short, though, is in its online offerings. Specifically, there really aren’t any that are useful to people looking for targeted answers. This has opened the doors for a plethora of online education sites targeted towards entrepreneurs.
Some, such as iValueRich.com and YCombinator.com, focus on raising capital. Some, like PartnerUp.com, help start-up founders find partners. Others focus on general coaching (HorsesMouth.co.uk is a good example). And some, like EFactor.com and my company, FledgeWing.com, try to cater to everyone.
More and more, though, these online schools are recognizing the importance of the university market and trying to appeal to students. They’re doing this by offering tools to create projects online, share files, comment on discussions and enter business plan competitions. Many also offer detailed search engines for finding like-minded students and Facebook-style news feeds to facilitate interactions and content generation.
One of the most important services these sites provide is in-depth mentoring (picture LinkedIn’s Answers section taken to the next level). This is an immense benefit for users who lack connections or need quick answers from real-world professionals.
The benefits to the mentors vary. Some have the opportunity to invest in promising ideas at the early stage. Others bring the students on as interns or employees. And some simply enjoy being socially responsible.
Of course, there’s nothing unique in a mentoring program. Most well-known business schools have similar platforms in place. However, matching students to mentors can be an arduous affair. The sites are also closed-wall – restricting access to those that attended the institution, severely limiting participation. The social networking model of the open platform is able to transcend these virtual borders, reaching a broader demographic.
In a traditional academic setting, business schools are the only parts of a university that have entrepreneurship institutes or clubs – making it difficult for other students, particularly engineers, to become involved. This social network model makes it quick and easy to find people with a variety of specialties.
Despite the influx of new online spheres of entrepreneurship, it’s important to remember that real-world networking and pitching is just as – if not more – critical. Be sure to browse through the ‘Events’ pages of the sites mentioned above (and GarysGuide.org) for regularly scheduled meetups in your area.
If nothing else, public speaking helps you to refine your elevator pitch for investors.
Image by James Sarmiento via Flickr.