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What’s the Right Time to Start a Venture?

Starting the entrepreneurship journey early, in a safe and almost risk-free space like a university, is an incredibly unique opportunity.

I first had the idea for a plant-based leather start-up over 2 years ago but I didn’t have the confidence to leave my safe corporate job so early in my career to pursue my dream. I always thought that entrepreneurship was something one did in the latter part of your life (post-40s) after having built an established career. However, when I came to grad school at Yale I decided to start executing on my dormant idea, and I realize now the numerous advantages this has afforded me.

If you are grappling with the idea of starting up, either now or in the future, this is my attempt to convince you that university, whether that’s undergrad or grad school, is the right time to do so.

  1. Risk-free time – University is a way to try new things and experiment. Entrepreneurship is about the journey as much as it’s about the success. Not everyone wants or needs to be an entrepreneur but you can carry the lessons you learn into your professional life. When I was contemplating my decision, somebody said to me, “The best case scenario is you leave with a successful start-up and a degree, and the worst case is you leave with just a degree and a great story to tell”, and this truly caused the pivot.
  2. Accessibility to testing ground of early adopters – As an early founder, toying with a couple of ideas, university provides the perfect testing ground of potential customers that are willing to provide honest feedback, free of charge. A founder can truly apply the lean start-up methodology (i.e., a fancy term for launching a simple, clunky version of the product, and iterating based on customer feedback. The alternative would be working for years on a product and launching it just to realize nobody wants it.) Having a large pool of people to survey provides a testing ground for founders to gauge interest in their idea, and pivot as needed to find the right product/market fit. Universities comprise a community of trendsetters that are often early adopters which is a unique environment.
  3. Access to mentors and advisors – Founders wear many hats: product development, sales, marketing, finance and accounting, legal, procurement, supply chain, and the list goes on. Needless to say, it’s unlikely that a founder will have expertise across all of these disciplines and thus leveraging experts, can be the difference between a start-up that takes off and one that doesn’t. However, experts don’t grow on trees (except at universities). It is not only about access to experts, but also the likelihood of getting a response, and the ability to meet them in person. Have a legal question? Email a professor from the law school or find a student at the law school (and get FREE legal advice). Have questions about building a business model? Talk to an MBA student or take a finance or investing class. Need to find a developer to check the code for your app? Find a CS professor or student and the list goes on. There is no better space for interdisciplinary collaboration. Yale specifically has an interesting class called the Founder’s Practicum, a way to formally work on your venture, receive mentorship, and find a community of founders all a part of coursework.
  4. Infrastructure – The access to infrastructure at universities is unparalleled too. Be it a chemistry lab where you can work on a new material, access to free subscriptions to many crucial SAS services, a library of research papers worth, and access to datasets, all worth thousands of dollars. For instance, a Bloomberg terminal costs more than $25K per year, however, Yale SOM offers these. Additionally, the entrepreneurship focussed centers facilitate innovation and provide access to invaluable mentorship. 
  5. Access to capital in the form of grants – Countless opportunities and competitions provide student founders with equity-free and debt-free capital. Some noteworthy opportunities - Grant funding opens so many doors for student founders to work on an idea, without the fear of being beholden to an investor. For Yale students specifically, there are a number of different grant and mentorship opportunities  specific to the stage of the venture. 
Jinali Mody
Jinali Modi (YSE ’23) is disrupting the leather industry by making Banofi, a vegan plant-based leather from crop waste. Check out their product at


For Banofi Leather (my venture that makes plant-based leather from crop waste), I took advantage of several grants and fellowships that are open only to Yale students. The Launchpad, Summer Fellowship, Start-Up Yale, Sustainability Prize were all instrumental in getting us off the ground. Each of these opportunities also offered invaluable mentorship opportunities which helped us refine our pitch and business model. The support large institutions give to their students is unparalleled and they truly set you up for success. The brief list of potential grants and fellowships that you might find useful is in the appendix below.

  1. Large pool of potential co-founders - Universities provide a great way to meet potential co- founders. The large and diverse pool of talents and disciplines, along with the easy access makes the likelihood of finding someone interested in solving the same problem, with a complimentary set of skills much easier. A common pain point for those who are not part of university and looking to start up is finding someone with complementary skills. Imagine you are a software engineer working at a tech company. You have a great idea around education, but need a cofounder with business acumen. On a daily basis, most people you interact with at this tech company have similar computer science skills as you. You could begin a LinkedIn witch hunt, but there is no way to filter out who is interested and passionate about education and still has business acumen. At university, you could go to the business school and ask around for people who have worked in the ed-tech sector before, and either work with them or ask them to put you in touch with relevant people. The likelihood of them helping out is much higher and the process of finding a cofounder gets a lot more streamlined. 
  2. Universities encourage community to promote innovation and start-up growth – Within most universities, there is an Entrepreneurship club or society providing a community for founders. These communities can be great ways to get support, find team members, get feedback on an idea, and even get inspired. A founder’s journey can be extremely lonely and having a community to share and problem-solve with is something non-university founders would envy (based on discussions with VCs). These kinds of forums also help hold founders accountable and motivated which is much harder during a full-time job.
  3. Patent portfolio – Universities have a library of intellectual property (IP) built on the backbone of the wealth of innovations and research that takes place in the institution. This IP can be licensed by interested parties and as a founder looking for an idea to change the world, here is the best place to start. Here you not only find the idea but the product too which is developed by leading experts. Universities want to license their research and are in search of avenues to do so. Being part of the community gives you special insight into this patent portfolio

Having the space to start the entrepreneurial journey early, where you can fail and fail fast is an incredibly unique opportunity.

While this is all great, let’s be honest, we have all heard the statistic that <25% of startups ‘succeed’.[1]  However, the odds change dramatically for the same entrepreneur during their second venture. So even if it is a failed venture, the learnings equip you with a higher chance at success during your next endeavor [2]. Fail fast and fail often, because a failed start-up is just a crucial stepping stone toward a successful one.


[1] Defined as crossing the 10-year mark.