A startup story

Many college students have good ideas to start a company while they are still in school. The dilemma is if they wait until they finish school than they may miss the opportunity but if they start their own company during school than they may have conflict with school works.

A typical college student must spend at least 40 to 60 hours a week to study. When a student decides to start a company, everything changes. Instead of going out with friends they must build their products; instead of rest, they must work on their own startup. It is almost impossible to balance both but some students were able to do that. I had several students in my entrepreneurship program who succeed in doing that. I asked Mike Collins, one of them to share his experience and provide advices to others. Following are what Mike said:

“The first is thing an “entrepreneur student” must learn is to set priority on which important things that you must do first as less important things can wait. Of course, you will not have enough time but you have to make the right decision. There is always conflict so it is important to know where your priorities are, whether it is your company or your school work.”

“The second thing that every “entrepreneur student” must learn is to be flexible. In startup things can change very quickly. One day you are working on homework then you receive a phone call from a potential customer who wants to know more about your product. If you are ready then you may have to switch priorities. This situation happens a lot and there are many things that will cause you a lot of stress.”

“The third thing is to keep yourself healthy by sleep well and exercise a little bit such as walking around school to reduce stress. Sometime programming all nigh is common among computer entrepreneur but it is important to get some sleeps. School works is stressful but it is nothing compared to the stress of starting a company while going to school at the same time. Of course, people always ask why you putting yourself through this stressful experience. To do both at the same time may seems crazy to some people but if you have a vision and a strong motivation, it is well worth it. It is NOT about making money, because no amount of money is worth this kind of stress. There are easier ways to make money than to start a company. You can get a part time job; you can provide tutors to students to earn some money. I want to emphasize that there is other way of make money but for me the goal of taking an idea and a vision and make it a reality is everything.”

“What motivate me is that I want to take the idea and develop it into something that people around the world can benefit from. This is something I think about every day. For me it is about making a difference in the world and improving people’s lives. (This is what I learned from Professor Vu – to make a difference in this world). If my company makes money that is good but to have a successful product that can change people’ lives are precious. Today too many young people only think about making money. They chase after an illusion that they can be another Bill Gates; they do not think about his charity and how he and his wife are making a difference in this world; they only want money and that is why many are not happy with their lives as they often failed.

I am lucky that I could go to the best school, having a best education, and creating something useful in this world. This is something that I enjoy the most. It is actually the ability to change people’s lives keeps me working over 20 hour days. My idea is simple; today there are more than 5 billion mobile phone users in the world. This massive number of wireless phone communication can bring advantage to poor people who live far away from cities where they can get medical help. What I did was a diagnostic imaging application on mobile phone to take picture of a sample drop of blood, be able to magnify the picture to the cellular structure. This image can be send immediately to a hospital or laboratory where doctors can review to detect diseases such as malaria or waterborne parasites that cause diseases earlier and prescribe treatments. I have several prototypes that are working well. Many hospitals and doctors already tested it and proved that it worked. My goal is to go to Africa and South Asia to promote this telemedicine applications to improve the health of people in poor countries where medical facilities and infrastructure are limited or even do not exist. My startup is small, only have five students but we are all motivated to make a difference in this world.”

If you are going to start a company and be a full-time student at the same time, please keep in mind that you need to have a vision, a good motivation, a good intention because it is a long journey and it is your vision that keep you overcome all obstacles regardless what they are.”

Note: Mike and his friend graduated last year and received financial support to start the company. He is currently in Africa to test his mobile imaging to detect Malaria and some diseases early there. His goal is to have hundred thousand people use it as he sells it for less than one dollar.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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