Take a risk. Facebook will help. (Forum)

Maxwell Hayman

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would like to shout out to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Thank you, Mark. I’m not sure that Facebook has improved my life, because I can’t imagine college without your online universe.

Yes, you help us to remember each other’s names and birthdays and your Web site makes sharing amusing photos a single-click pastime. But also you empowered the curious with the most powerful stalker tool imaginable – short of 24-hour video surveillance – and enabled endless procrastination.

If Facebook was banned, my life would not drastically change, but your creation has given me and my peers an unexpected opportunity for which I am endlessly thankful.

Last month, Microsoft paid you $240 million for 1.6 percent of your company, meaning the Web site you created fewer than four years ago in your college dorm room is valued, however unreasonably, at $15 billion. You have shown the world that a college student with zero business experience can challenge the big boys.

You aren’t the first person to found a billion dollar company on campus – Mr. Gates and Mr. Dell beat you by a few decades – but your success has changed the game and the grown ups are finally paying attention to us college kids. For the first time, investors are willing to take a risk on creative students who lack experience.

You have opened the door for us, but still many more students dream of working for top financial and consulting firms rather than starting a business. An unacknowledged drawback of graduating from a school like Northwestern is that our highly respected degrees give us too much opportunity. Sounds crazy – isn’t that what we work and pay for? But it’s often impossible to refuse the six-figure salaries that companies use to entice the best and brightest. Starting your own business, instead of accepting a lucrative position, can seem irresponsibly risky.

NU is playing catch up to other top colleges in inspiring and fostering undergraduate entrepreneurship. This year NU inaugurated the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and they are hiring excellent faculty to empower undergrad entrepreneurs. An additional entrepreneurship course focused on underclassmen is in development for next year. Student groups, such as InNUvation and ISBE, are also creating interest in student-led businesses through workshops and idea competitions.

If you believe the experts, the economy is stalling, and your dream job and high salary may not be there when you graduate. Also, your early twenties may be the only time in your life when you have the freedom to take a risk and start something on your own. You don’t yet have a family to support, a mortgage to pay, or other pressures that depend on your income. So, resist the temptation to follow the conventional path, at least for a few years, and you too could find freedom – with or without a $15 billion validation.

Weinberg junior Maxwell Hayman can be reached at [email protected]