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SDSU students learn what it takes to be an entrepreneur

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Students and alumni from San Diego State University showcased products and learned about life as an entrepreneur at Entrepreneur Day on Tuesday.

Alex DeNoble, executive director of the Entrepreneurial Management Center, said learning has to go beyond the classroom, and students were encouraged to take out a booth to get a taste of business. He said students learn about test marketing and some students find their products do really well in the market, while others “are left with some inventory.” (video)

About 50 student- and alumni-run businesses took out booths at the “entrepreneurial village.” Products ranged from The Stache Supply, a watch with a photo of a mustache on the face, to sunglasses, T-shirts, jewelry and hair extension parties.

Victor Avina, a senior at SDSU, partnered with Anicase, a company based in New York City, to sell cellphone cases that bring awareness to endangered species.

“I’m trying to get my feet wet and help start selling,” Avina said.

Avina is participating in the school’s first Zahn Incubator, where the engineering and business schools form teams to compete for seed money and access to the Zahn Center to start a business.

“The allure of being an entrepreneur: There are so many ups and downs, and positives and negatives,” Avina said. “One of the things I laugh about is, the worst part about it is it all relies on you, and you have to tackle different problems every day. And then, on the flipside, the best thing is that it all relies on you and you have to tackle different problems every day.”

Craig Stevens, principal and CEO of Mar West Real Estate, spoke to a group of students on Tuesday during a “Meet the Entrepreneur” event. He graduated from SDSU in 1982 with a degree in finance.

“You’re going to be one in 20,000 graduates hitting the streets of San Diego. You have a lot of competition — what makes you different from your competitors?” Stevens asked the group.

Stevens gave his listeners basic principles for this transitional part of their lives: education, experience, networking, planning and giving back. He said companies presume everyone has a degree, so applicants should have relevant experience. Stevens suggested students work as much as they go to school, or more.

“When you come out the back end, the most important thing is to get your foot in the door,” Stevens said. “People hire people — you have to know people. Network like crazy. Connections are critical.”

For graduating seniors, Stevens said the economy is “still bad and bumping along the bottom,” but corporate America is "financially healthy."

“We’ve been hiring but we haven’t been able to find qualified people, and I hear that from a lot of businesses,” Stevens said.

Stevens worked in the corporate world for 20 years before starting his own company.

“Somewhere in the back of my head, I always saw myself self-employed,” Stevens said. “Life is long; it’s better to like what you’re doing.”

The appeal of being an entrepreneur for some students is not working a 9 to 5 schedule, but Stevens said it could mean working 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. or even longer days. Because experience and connections are so important, Stevens said, “Very few companies are started in college and right out of college.”

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