How to Find and Build a Network without Selling Your Soul

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’re shuffling across a gym floor with a name badge around your neck and 2 dozen copies of your resume in a manila folder, hoping to make some good connections at a job fair…but secretly dreaming of getting home to watch Netflix as soon as possible.

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Or, if you’ve been out of school for a while, maybe this scene looks more like a conference center and you’re thinking of a way to hand out your pocket full of business cards so you can head back to the hotel.

To me, these kinds of formal networking settings have always felt artificial, and often pretty uncomfortable. It’s hard to connect in an honest way when you’re worried about making a good impression and talking to the “right” people.

And at the end of the day, you want to see the time and energy you put into networking pay off. Often after talking to dozens of people and attending hour after hour of panels, you aren’t sure if you’ll see any real career benefits for attending!

All this is frustrating when you consider just how important it is to your career to build relationships. (For reference: I haven’t applied for a job since graduate school, because they have ALL come about through personal and professional connections.)

Now, a formal networking event doesn’t have to be a gauntlet of social anxiety or feel like a waste of time. In fact, shifting the way you think about and prepare for these events can make them productive…and even fun! Here are a few strategies from the guide I put together that have worked for me:

3 Tips for Making the Most of Networking Events

1. Make a personal goal before every networking event so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Fact: Networking events are intimidating for virtually everyone. There’s nothing more awkward than entering a room full of people you don’t know and being forced to talk to them (while trying to make genuine connections). When you put pressure on yourself to meet every single person in the room and get to know all of them, that only makes you less likely to actually go to the event and have a good time.

To keep from psyching yourself out, create a personal goal for each networking event. Whether that’s simply talking to at least three people or meeting at least one person at your dream company, start small and manageable, then work your way up.

2. Give yourself a deadline.

You don’t need to stay for the entire event! Start by making an appearance for 20–30 minutes, and set a goal for how many people you’d like to meet. Once you start getting to know people in the same circles and run into them when you head to events, it gets easier to stay for longer periods of time.

The bottom line: No, you don’t have to stay for an entire two-hour event!

3. Check out niche networking events.

Going to gigantic tech meetups is one of the most intimidating and overwhelming experiences for people who are new to the industry. Instead, start small with a local tech meetup, or one that is specific to a particular part of the tech industry (for example, women in tech, or product managers or programmers).

A couple of networking series to check out that are available in several cities:

Be sure to check with friends or colleagues to see if other niche networking events are offered in your city.

This approach has really taken down the stress factor for me and helped me actually get something tangible out of networking events. That said, networking is a lot more than attending formal events and trying to make a good impression.

In fact, every professional encounter (and some personal ones too!) are opportunities to build the relationships that can make a real difference in your career.

Networking is More Than Conferences and Cocktail Hours

These days, in the tech industry in particular, networking happens online too. One of my coworkers at Skillcrush was hired because she left such a good impression on Twitter, and I’ve started long-term marketing partnerships with brands and influencers based on blog comments.

So that’s great! If you don’t want to brush elbows at cocktail hour to get your tech career or business started…you don’t have to! 

I created The Ultimate Guide to Networking in Tech to walk you through exactly what it looks like to network in the tech industry.

In the guide, you’ll get:

  • Tried and true tips for overcoming paralyzing networking jitters
  • 4 foolproof networking dos and don’ts
  • A complete plan of action for conquering networking events
  • 3 done-for-you email templates for following up with new connections
  • EXACTLY how to leverage social and other online networks in your favor
  • A roadmap to one-on-one networking that makes everyone happy, plus tips for keeping communication open for the long haul
  • The definitive list of how to (and NOT to) cash in on your connections

[DOWNLOAD THE PDF GUIDE]

 

3 Ways Building my First Prototype Turned me into a Real Entrepreneur

3 reason to build a prototype

This previous March I finished out my very first crowdfunding campaign! It was a daunting task, having had no experience with building and managing one whatsoever, but I exceeded my goal thanks to SPURstartup’s team. I knew the newly acquired funds would be perfect for building a prototype. After a break over the summer I cranked out a couple prototypes and my eyes were opened. Running a crowdfunding campaign was a huge learning experience in and of itself, but building a prototype brought light onto so much more for me, as well and I’m here to share it with you!

    1. Just finish SOMETHING
      As I had mentioned, I took a break from my idea over the summer so I could continue school and begin internships. In all honesty, I also put it off because I had all these funds, I didn’t know HOW to use it on building a prototype. I didn’t want to disappoint all the people who supported my idea. I got advice from Jeremy Vickers, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship director at my University, to just go to Home Depot, get some materials and slap it together. I still put it off for a while, but this September we finally got around to it and I was amazed! Not by our roughly made prototype but by how many ideas and approaches came to mind for our next one.

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      When you have been apart of the process of putting it together, you are forced to think about things you couldn’t have predicted when you were just speculating. When you have something real in front of you, the idea fireworks WILL go off. No matter how scared you are of how something will turn out, remember it’s better to have something bad to work with than nothing at all.

 

    1. Resources are all around
      By having a physical prototype, we were able to show people! A fellow classmate took a look and kindly informed us that a vacuum form would be the perfect tool for making our product faster and look cleaner. He told us about a tools lab on campus with power tools, a 3D printer, and, what we needed, a vacuum form. We were thrilled and tried it out the next week!Stencil FR (2)Definitely ask around your school or area for any tools and spaces that are open for you to use. If you pay for tuition you might as well get what you can out of it! That same week were building prototype two, we went to 1 Million Cups, a coworking space in Dallas. The collaborative entrepreneurship hub offers free-coworking-Wednesdays! I discovered a great space to take advantage of all the startups working there, get advice, and potentially gain resources. Dallas has proven to be a very nurturing place for entrepreneurs. It only makes me more excited to plug-in and utilize all the lovely things Dallas has to help us succeed.

 

  1. It opens doors
    Building a prototype has allowed my team to progress so much more than when it was just a concept. I used Prototype Two to take nicer pictures, which became the center of our official website IcingAid.com. Having a real site that depicted our concept well gave us leverage to share it with potential customers and companies we wanted to connect with. We are now able to collect emails and begin analyzing feedback. We also feel more comfortable to enter business idea competitions–three to be exact– which may also bring us closer to success!
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I hope this inspires you to go out and starting finishing those baby steps! Start with what you know, and before long the right things will come into your life to bring you closer to a running business.

 

5 Ways to Work Smarter This Semester

With school getting back into gear, we realize just how valuable every minute of the day can be, especially when you have to sit in on classes that can be a total time-suck.

Good time management is the difference between smooth sailing and total chaos. Below are five ways to help you save time and accomplish more in the day. I want you to try at least one of these today!

1. The Morning Workout

This is a no brainer in my mind, but sometimes very hard to do. Wake up early and go for a run or a nice workout. By the time you get to your desk you are ready to go. I am well aware that sleep is much needed in the world of being an entrepreneur (and student!), but even if it comes to waking up 30 minutes earlier you will see a direct impact on the quality and quantity of the work you’ll produce from it.

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2. Time Boxing

I learned this one from something I read in school. It is a simple but powerful way to get a lot done in a compressed amount of time. Essentially once you start your day, plan out what you need to accomplish and then prioritize it. Associate a time period in which you want to accomplish each task (try to limit yourself to a one hour maximum or you’ll lose focus) and jump to the next. This allows you to accomplish more in your day, faster. If you do not finish a task then you can go back to it after you finish your list.

3. Ergo Breaks

This has saved me from losing my mind at my desk many times. Take a break after working for a few hours. You need to relax and focus on something that requires very little brain power from time to time. Maybe it’s taking a walk around the office (or your dog) or reading up on the news of the day. Those few minutes you spend on something other than work will pay off later in your day.

4. The 80/20 Rule

We have all heard of this, but how many of us actually put it into action? Things will never be perfect, but if you are able to get 80% there in half the time it’ll take you to get to that full 100% perfection, then you need to move on. It is ok if something is “good enough”. Many times if you are 100% on something it is too late and the opportunity is no longer there. Always do good work and know when its time to shift your focus.

5. Daily, Weekly, and Monthly Task List

This is something you will have to continuously update but can help keep track of your accomplishments. Simply knowing what you have done and what you have left to do will force you to be efficient with your time. It can be as simple as a sticky note on your desk to be a constant reminder.

There’s tons of tricks you can use to make time management this semester a breeze. What are your favorite time saving hacks? Share yours and find tricks from other SPUR students in our community HERE

Meet Nicholas Ryan, our new Student Ambassador from Australia!

Nic lives in Canberra, Australia and is SPURstartup’s first official ambassador. Nic has a passion for entrepreneurship. After taking FirstGear, our intro startup course, he asked how he could be involved to spread the word about SPURstartup to other high school students in Australia. Our answer? Welcome to the team, mate. 

Get to know Nic and his passions! Check out the Q&A below.

 


Why are you interested in Entrepreneurship?

“Ever since I was young I have loved exploring news ideas and new ways to learn. I enjoy taking risks, working hard and being someone who wants to bring something new and improved into the world. I was fortunate to grow up around business as my dad is a consultant/entrepreneur, he played a huge part in me wanting to be an entrepreneur and gave me the love for business. In school, the topics I enjoyed most were centered around themes that consisted with business and entrepreneurship.”

 


What are you most passionate about?

“My passion lies with three things that really shape my life. The first thing is family and friends, I love spending time with family and friends and building relationships and sharing experiences. Giving back to the community is something I place an immense value on. My third passion is sports, growing up my family would always be playing sports in the backyard and enjoying what nature had to offer.”

 


What do you see as the biggest obstacle young entrepreneurs face?

“First the facts. over 90% of startups fail. I believe there are two big obstacles entrepreneurs face. The first obstacle is entrepreneurs are stuck in the mindset that they have to do everything in the business from finance to sales. Learning how to ask for help and take on board other people’s opinions is vital. Asking for help doesn’t show your weakness, it shows you want to learn. SPUR gives entrepreneurs a chance to ask questions and get the support every young entrepreneur needs. The second obstacle entrepreneurs face is work ethic.

‘The only time success comes before work is in the dictionary’

This is one great quote. Working long hours to perfect your business or product is all about being an entrepreneur, knowing how to work hard is something entrepreneurs must know.”

 


Why do you want to take SPUR to the Outback?

“Australia is developing a growing startup culture. While the demographics are different to the United States, the opportunities and innovations are abundant. I think there are so many unique ideas in Australia that are not being acted on because people do not have the knowledge of how to go about being an entrepreneur. SPUR is a great resource to teach young entrepreneurs like myself the steps to take to set up a business, and information you have to think about in order to maximize your business! I hope to educate people in Australia of SPUR and launch more Aussie startups!”

Mentor of the Week: Jeremy Vickers

Dean of the College of Professional Studies | Dallas Baptist University

Executive Director | The Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UTDallas (previously)

His students are now raising money on SPURstartup to bring their dreams to life, here.

Prior to UTD, Jeremy was at the Dallas Regional Chamber from 2011 to 2015 as the Vice President of Innovation where he led strategy and program implementation to support building the North Texas innovation ecosystem.His efforts were to support university research growth, technology commercialization, startup resource support, and startup capital access. Specifically, he was involved in the launch of the Dallas Entrepreneur Center as a Co-Founder, the Texas Research Alliance, and InnovateDFW, which is now a part of LaunchDFW.com.

 


Advice for 1st time entrepreneurs:

“Execute! Don’t get caught up in the minutia and don’t day dream about what kind of CEO you’ll be once you’ve hit the $100M  mark in revenue. Build something, get it in front of customers, and then make it better. Entrepreneurship is 90% figuring it out and 10% knowledge/experience.”

 


Advice for bring a great mentee:

“Be prepared when you meet with a mentor. Remember that your objective is to leverage the mentors knowledge, skills, and network. A good mentor should be able save you 40 hours of work with 1 hour of robust dialogue. Research the mentor, understand their skills, and ask for specific advice or introductions. Don’t forget to follow up with mentors afterwards and let them know that you’ve done what they’ve asked. It will motivate them to stay engaged.”

 


Why do you like being involved with student entrepreneurship:

“I am passionate about the stage of entrepreneurship between idea and launch. There are so many opportunities to screw up. Students often don’t know what they don’t know and I love coming to support them in this phase. I believe there is no better time than to try to start a company than when you are a student. It is the perfect environment to try and fail. I firmly believe that failing as a student is far better than failing when you are in your forties and are risking a mortgage and a marriage.”

 


How has working with SPUR helped your teams:

“It is been exciting for our entrepreneurship program to pilot campaigns with SPUR. We have seven teams that are all trying to launch businesses this semester. The SPUR program enables them to engage prospective customers, users, and partners while generating small sums of capital that they can use to build prototypes and begin marketing.”

 


You can learn more about some of the initiatives that Jeremy is behind below.

Don’t for get to check out SPURstartup and the awesome campaigns coming out of his program at UTD here.

Project of the Week: PaperLight

paperlight-software

I see entrepreneurship as a game. If you perform well and others support you, then you will succeed. As we have been moving into this new digital age where it seems like everyone is coming up with their own businesses, small businesses can get lost in the crowd of other larger ones. This is what SPURstartup is looking to change. Continue reading “Project of the Week: PaperLight”