The University Startup: 3 Tips to Success

As many of you know, an education-based startup called U Could Finish was recently shut down by the University of Central Florida. Their IP address was blacklisted on the school servers, and the founder (a student at UCF) received 3 semesters of academic probation. Since this startup was one of our competitors, we’re quite familiar with much of what they’ve been through. The whole incident, as unfortunate as it may be, has taught us a few lessons that may be of use to other startups in the education sector:

1. Be ‘Disruptive’, not Disruptive

     Everybody wants to call their new technology disruptive (unless you’re on the cutting edge and already calling it ‘techcentric’), but if your technology interferes with an established organization’s framework, be prepared to justify or fight for your existence. If your site is constantly slamming servers with requests just so you can offer a slightly better service, you can expect a reprisal of some sort. Which leads me to the next point…

2. Don’t Shit Where You Eat

     If you have any sort of technology improvement, or even just an innovation in general, you can expect some pushback. It’s been my experience that people in a startup will receive a cease and desist letter at least once – I’ll even say, “If you aren’t pissing someone off, it’s not worth doing.” But in the case of the student at UCF, he didn’t just get a cease and desist letter – he got 3 semesters of academic probation. This applies to anyone trying to start a new app – if you do something that your school, your work, or your city doesn’t want you doing, you could be looking at more negative results in your life than positive ones.

3. Don’t Ignore Potential Allies – They Might Turn in to Formidable Enemies

     The final nail in the coffin for the UCF student who made the utility was that he didn’t ask permission from his university. I’d think this would be common sense by now, but I’ll say it again anyway: If you’re going to use something someone else wrote, ask permission. Luckily for Classlerts, we were involved with our home university, University of California, Merced, from the get-go via the Mobile App Competition. Because our success will also be attributed at least in part to our university, they are gung-ho for us to be everywhere in the nation. If we had taken the tack that the UCF student had, we might be in the same position he was.
Peter Howell is a Cognitive Science/Management double major entering his senior year at University of California, Merced. A self-described "no" man, he plays devil's advocate and won't settle for passing on a problem until he can find a solution.

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