Written by: Timi Dayo-Kayode
As a student founder, one of my biggest challenges so far has been balancing school work with my startup, Worksense, where we are building software to help tech companies provide more inclusive workplace experiences for their employees. While I haven’t quite discovered the perfect solution yet, -and thankfully won’t have to as I will be graduating from Tufts University in a few months- one of the strategies that I have used in order to be able to commit the kind of time that building my startup requires has been spending a large portion of most of my summer breaks building Worksense.
The first time I spent a summer building Worksense was the summer of 2018 right after my sophomore year of college. As a computer science major at a competitive school, there was a lot of pressure to secure a high-profile, high-paying software engineering internship to start to build an attractive resume in preparation for potentially landing a six-figure salary from a tech company after graduation. That is the typical career path for computer science students who don’t have strong interests in academia; Participate in a couple of solid internships in college and then land a six-figure salary after college. As I thought about where Worksense was at the time and where I wanted it to go, I came to the conclusion that I would have to spend more time building, researching, and executing if we were going to have a chance at creating something meaningful. Consequently, I decided that I would get a part-time job while building Worksense over the summer. I began to explore ways that I could professionally develop and financially sustain myself while giving Worksense the time that it needed. This exploration led me to receive a grant from the 1517 Fund, a stipend, workspace, and mentorship through the Tufts Summer Venture Accelerator, mentorship and workspace through MassChallenge RI, and a part-time role as a Summer Associate at One Way Ventures.
The summer of 2018 was an important one for me as a student founder. MassChallenge and the Tufts Summer Venture Accelerator helped to super-charge my network in a manner that I am still reaping the benefits of, while the role at One Way Ventures helped to strengthen my understanding of the thought process and social behaviors of venture investors; An understanding that has continued to serve my team and me since then and even more now as we prepare to raise our pre-seed round of financing. The progress that we were able to make on our startup as a result of devoting that kind of time to it was largely unprecedented for us, and this is evidenced in the fact that soon after that summer, we got featured in Bostinno, one of Boston’s premier tech publications won the Student Startup Madness competition at SXSW, and were inducted into the Kairos Society, a global community of top students and global leaders who aim to solve the world’s greatest challenges.
After seeing all the progress and achievement that we made after spending the summer of 2018 building Worksense part-time, there was no question about how I was going to spend the summer of 2019; I was going to devote my summer to Worksense full-time. The question, however, was how to financially support me while doing this. After doing some research, I discovered the AVG 10K Entrepreneurs program, successfully applied, and was awarded a grant to go towards financial expenses such as rent, transportation, feeding, and so on for the summer while working on Worksense. Office space and mentorship came in the form of participation in the Smarter in The City and EForAll accelerators.
We spent the summer of 2019 doing customer development at a level that we had never done before. We interviewed around 50 professionals in roles such as Software Engineering, Engineering Management, Diversity & Inclusion consulting, and Head of People. The learnings from this summer of customer development and discovery led us to pivot to our current product which we have now spent the past few months building. We were rewarded for the progress we made over that summer in the form of the Tufts Montle Prize award, currently being in the semi-finals of the Tufts 100K competition, and an invitation to participate in Unpitch, an annual invite-only networking event hosted by the New England VC Association, designed to facilitate connections between promising entrepreneurs and experienced investors in the Boston area.
My team and I are still reaping the benefits of our summer 2019 efforts and as we get closer to our college graduation, the decision that looms over our heads is whether or not to continue to build Worksense after graduation. Looking back at the progress that we have been able to make over the past few years through strategically devoting our summers to our company, there really is no question about it; We are going to continue to give Worksense the time it deserves by transitioning to full-time founders after graduation.
For any student founders looking to build their companies during the summer, check out the 1517 Fund’s grant program, MassChallenge, and the AVG 10KE program which we have greatly benefited from and are grateful for. Some other resources to check out are the Contrary Summer Accelerator or your school’s summer startup accelerator which can provide the capital and resources required to devote the time your startup requires. These are just a small sample of the myriad of equity-free funding and support channels that exist for student founders. The resources exist and you just have to make the decision to give building your startup the time and commitment you know it deserves.