The campus entrepreneur: How to start a student organization
By Amrutha Sivakumar, Online Editor

It all just sort of happened.

I didn’t know I was starting a student organization at the beginning of sophomore year until it all came together. But it became the best decision I ever made.

Coming from a high school in Mumbai that provided few opportunities in what I was interested in, I came to Michigan prepared to pounce on whatever organization threw itself in my path. Before I could even pick up my first textbook, I had stumbled up the steps of The Michigan Daily and became a student government reporter, applied for a Marketing Director position with the Economic and Global Affairs Alliance (now called MEconomics), signed up to be a student ambassador with Undergraduate Admissions and accepted a research position in the field of education policy via the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. I was running on adrenaline and the 4 hours of sleep I could capture between finishing work at the South Quad ResComp. Frequent trips to U-Go’s for Doubleshot Espressos helped, but barely.

By the end of the year, I had a stronger understanding on how to use campus resources to push positive change at Michigan, and how to gain the support of University administrators. Working with CSG executives put me in the front line to see student activism in action, and it opened my eyes to a phenomenal source of networking with some of the most accomplished student leaders on campus. As far as I saw it, I was living it all.

Still, there was something missing. During my senior year of high school, I had gone back and forth between applying to music programs and liberal arts schools. At Michigan, I had declared a short-lived minor in music, hoping that despite being an economics major, it would push me toward a career in the music industry. After class, when all I wanted to do was find a group to make music with, the closest alternative I could find was Campus Band. But that was more about structure and form than enjoying a jam session.

There it was: I had found a need. After breaking my head over MaizePages’ primitive search functions, there didn’t seem to be any active organization that had what I wanted. Campus needed a bigger music scene, and I wanted to make that happen.

Step 1: Find a partner

University alum Omar Hashwi, former CSG vice president, had just announced that he wouldn’t run for presidency in the upcoming student government elections so he could focus his efforts on developing his up-and-coming small business, Stamp.fm — an online music tournament aimed at finding the best artists across every genre in cities where music fans were consistently anticipating new talent.

I spent the following summer working with Hashwi to grow the Stamp.fm business. How cool would it be if we created some way for Michigan students to meet other students to make music together?, I pressed him. He was more than eager to kick start another that could not only help grow the talent-base for Stamp.fm, but also grow Michigan’s music scene. With that, Stamp Nation: United by Music — a professional development avenue for student musicians — was born.

Though I knew nothing about starting a student organization, partnering with someone who had several years of experience in the arena helped me confidently put one foot forward toward achieving that vision. Like any small business, organizations are rarely successful — and are even less enjoyable — without collaboration. Whether it be a friend, a professor, or someone you briefly met a Hackathon, finding someone with a different skill set from you who shares your vision helps drive your student organization’s success.

Step 2: Do your research

MaizePages, which debuted a new look this summer, is an excellent place to start. While the daunting list of organization can be difficult to navigate, use categories and search functions to determine whether what you’re looking for in a new organization already exists on campus.

The Center for Campus Involvement’s website has plenty of comprehensive information on how to complete the formalities for starting a student organization. Throughout the year, they host conferences and talks on topics such as effective leadership, fundraising, recruiting, and retaining members and event planning. Moreover, for any questions, I’ve always found CCI to be receptive when I call their office or walk in to their location at the second floor of the Michigan Union with a laundry-list of inquiries.

Step 3: Student Orgs are a business, so make a plan

An unwavering mission has been, what I think, a driver for Stamp Nation’s success. Before even registering our organization, Haswi and I spent hours developing a gameplan for the year. We wrote and rewrote mission and vision statements, and we went back and forth trying to decide what actions we would take to make our goals succeed. We spoke to professors and administrators to figure out what financial resources would be at our disposal and carefully budgeted out our time and money to see if our projects would work.

Stamp Nation has changed tremendously over the years, and our plan has changed with it. But building a plan has helped us stay on focus at times when we’ve felt demotivated by the challenges we’ve faced.

Step 4: Make impactful decisions

As Stamp Nation has changed, I feel as if I have too. Nowadays, rather than walking into Stamp Nation meeting with a long-term goal of what I want to accomplish at the end of three months, I walk in wanting to achieve something specific from every meeting. Sometimes, it’s about hashing out the details of an upcoming event. Sometimes, it’s about building team camaraderie and celebrating our achievements.

I’ve learned (the hard way) that, as a student organization founder and leader, everything that I do should have a clear purpose to keep my members engaged and my mission alive. Why does your meeting or event matter? Why should your members care?

Decisions are hardly black-and-white, but being able to justify the decisions you’ve made for your organization will go a long way toward building credibility and longevity.

Step 5: Pay it forward

It has been two years, and at this point, two intelligent, inspiring underclassman are gearing up to lead Stamp Nation to its next phase.

College may only be for a few short years, but stick around. Don’t create an organization for the sake of just creating one; create an organization because you want to leave a legacy that grows with the number of leaders who follow in your footsteps. Remember: Something was missing from campus which inspired you to start that organization.

When you have the means, donate to your organization, and encourage alumni to do the same. Share what you’ve learned with those within and outside your organization to help campus become a better place for entrepreneurs who follow. Let institutional memory thrive, because, after creating a new campus organization from scratch, you will have learned too much to have it be worth letting it all go.

Amrutha is always here to lend an ear to a budding campus entrepreneur. Feel free to e-mail her at amrutha@umich.edu to bounce ideas, get her two cents, or just grab coffee and chat. Also, feel free to visit her at #7J.