There was one weekend in college that changed my life. It wasn’t Homecoming or a crazy party weekend; instead, it was the weekend I attended the CEO Conference in Chicago. The CEO Conference is a conference for college entrepreneurs around the country, enabling hundreds of students to come together to share ideas and learn about entrepreneurship. During this conference, my entrepreneurial spirit was sparked, and I met some people I continue to work with today.
The group that initially brought me to the CEO Conference was the University of Missouri’s Entrepreneurship Alliance. The head of this program, Dr. Greg Bier, explained to me why it’s important to bring students to the conference. “The CEO Conference is a great opportunity for students to see what ventures other students are developing. The pitch competition is a good place to see which pitch styles work – and which don’t. After all, you’ve only got 90 seconds to lay out your value proposition to investors and judges.”
He also emphasized that I would have invaluable networking opportunities with other students and successful entrepreneurial speakers. He said, “The conference is for students. Because of that, it’s fun and relatively fast-paced.”
This year’s program for the event encourages students to not only have fun, but to actively participate to get the most out of the experience. I take this as a challenge – and you should, too. Here are my tips for how to do just that:
Prepare for this conference by researching the speakers. I’ve already done my research and let me tell you, from Ray Land of Fabulous Coach Lines to Jeff Hoffman of Priceline.com, there are some amazing people to learn from. Get background information so you know which breakout sessions to attend and which people you want to make the effort to wait in line to talk to. Print out the conference booklet and study it during your travel time. I promise you it’s worth it.
Take it from someone with experience: Meghan Orbe placed 4th in the pitch competition in 2009, and she suggests, “Enter into the pitch contest. Whether you make it to the contest or not, tell as many people about your idea as you can. Take note of their initial reaction and ask for feedback.”
Even if you don’t already run a business, print business cards and bring them! This is your opportunity to network with like-minded individuals from every part of the country. You will not only make some amazing friends, you’ll possibly meet your next business partner or first employee.
4. Follow Up
Once you leave the conference, your work isn’t over. Follow up with everyone you came in contact with. Thank the organizers and speakers for putting on an amazing event, and connect with the other students you met. You might not know exactly how you’ll work together now, but grow those relationships for the future. You never know when you’ll need them – and that’s true of all business relationships.
Follow up with the speakers. They truly care about making an impact on the students attending, as well as the future of entrepreneurship. Paul Spiegelman, CEO of The Beryl Companies and founder of Small Giants, explained why he’s interested in speaking with students when he said, “The kinds of things that are important to me, building a culture and people management, are generally not taught in school.” Students can get some real-life knowledge from speakers like this.
For many college entrepreneurs, this may be your first experience at a real conference. It’s okay to be a little nervous (especially if you’re pitching), but just remember that everyone else is a little anxious, too. Break out of your comfort zone, give a few high-fives (shout out to you, Arel), and get moving. If you can’t make the most of this amazing experience, you need to work on your entrepreneurial drive!
Kelsey Meyer is the Senior Vice President of Digital Talent Agents an agency that specializes in building individuals professional brands by getting them published in niche publications that reach their target market.