Go to College And Earn Your C.E.O.

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, July 29, 2007

You spend tens of thousands of dollars attending college with the hope of one day landing a well-paying job, maybe even one with a six-figure income.

But Randal Pinkett, the winner of a job with Donald Trump on the fourth season of NBC's "The Apprentice," says you don't have to settle for being an employee of someone else. It's possible to become your own chief executive even while pursuing your college degree. And Pinkett has proof -- think Google, Yahoo and Facebook -- all successful businesses founded by entrepreneurs while they were attending college.

"Believe it or not, you can have an enviable career immediately -- not at some distant point in the future -- just by starting your own business while you're still a student," Pinkett says.

If you've got dreams of running your own business, you might start by reading Pinkett's new book, "Campus CEO: The Student Entrepreneur's Guide to Launching a Multimillion-Dollar Business" (Kaplan Publishing, $16.95). The book is the August selection for the Color of Money Book Club.

Pinkett started his own business while attending Rutgers University in New Jersey. He sold compact discs, records and tapes out of his dorm room. He also offered student workshops and seminars on leadership and developing professional skills.

That endeavor eventually morphed into BCT Partners, a multimillion-dollar management, technology and policy consulting firm based in Newark.

Pinkett outwitted and outlasted 17 contestants on "The Apprentice" to win a year-long employment contract job with Trump. He worked as an executive with Trump Entertainment Resorts in Atlantic City overseeing renovation of three casinos.

"Campus CEO" contains an impressive range of advice that's detailed but not boring. The 260-page book is broken down into four sections. Pinkett first describes how to pick a college that encourages entrepreneurship.

"All campuses are not created equal when it comes to helping you become a first-rate campus CEO," Pinkett says.

To evaluate a school, check out its national entrepreneurship ranking, Pinkett says. I had no idea there was such a thing. Several business magazines rank the top schools for would-be entrepreneurs. You should also determine how many classes the school offers in entrepreneurship. Find out if the school has an entrepreneurship center. For example, Pinkett points to the Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a leading teaching and research center for entrepreneurs.

Now if you're already enrolled in a school that doesn't seem to support your entrepreneurial endeavors, don't sweat it. Pinkett provides tips on finding free or low-cost tools and resources to bolster your business acumen.

In other sections of the book, Pinkett explains how to develop a business plan, find funding for your business and maintain a balance between work and the classroom.

One thing Pinkett doesn't do is advocate abandoning school for the executive suite. In fact, Pinkett says he holds five degrees, including a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from Rutgers, a master's in computer science from Oxford and a PhD from MIT.

"Many question the need for a higher education," Pinkett writes. "They say dropping out of college is actually a good thing because it will get you started and focused on your business ventures that much sooner. Nevertheless for the budding entrepreneur, college often offers a supportive training ground as well as an ideal launchpad for a new enterprise."

Throughout the book, you'll find profiles of campus-based business owners and nuggets of advice from successful student entrepreneurs.

I'm not typically a fan of books on how to build a business and get filthy rich. Usually it's the author who walks away wealthy by pushing platitudes. But in this book I believe Pinkett wants to help people find their niche in life. He doesn't view entrepreneurship as the only way to succeed but as a path for a person with the right passion.

As he says: "Entrepreneurship is not exclusively about owning a business: It's about using your talents to make a positive impact in your areas of influence, and leveraging all the resources at your disposal to create value for the greatest number of people."

To become a member of the Color of Money Book Club, all you have to do is read the recommended book. I also invite you to join me online to chat with the author. If you are interested in discussing this month's book selection, join me at http://www.washingtonpost.com at noon on Aug. 30. Pinkett will be my guest and will be available to take questions about becoming an early entrepreneur.

In addition, every month I randomly select readers to receive copies of the book, donated by the publisher. If you're a college student pining to become an entrepreneur, write for a chance to win a copy of "Campus CEO." Send an e-mail to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and address so we can send you a book if you win.

· On the air: Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online athttp://www.npr.org.

· By mail: Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

· By e-mail:singletarym@washpost.com.

Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses are not always possible. Please note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company