Among the many college seniors preparing to send out resumes and cover letters to potential employers, there’s a unique batch of students who prefer to be their own bosses.
In the Founders Couch podcast, host Catherine Jiang zeroes in on this group of promising young entrepreneurs at universities across the country.
Jiang created Founders Couch during her junior year at Stanford in 2019. After taking an entrepreneurship class, she wanted to further her knowledge of the subject by interviewing inspirational student founders about their experiences building their companies from scratch.
In her first season, Jiang focused on her peers at Stanford.
“Stanford is the epicenter of a lot of the student entrepreneurs out there,” Jiang says. “There are a ton of great founders just walking around campus and no one really knows what they’re up to.”
Jiang started by interviewing friends and classmates who were creating their own startups. As the podcast began to gather a following, she secured a weekly slot on the campus radio station KZSU. From there, Jiang wanted to expand the podcast’s reach beyond the West Coast. She reached out to friends at MIT, before tapping contacts at Rough Draft Ventures and Dorm Room Fund, two networks that specifically fund college entrepreneurs.
As her list of founders grew, so did Jiang’s audience. Although she primarily interviews college students, Jiang hopes to inspire students at all levels. In fact, one of Jiang’s most memorable interviews was with Amber Yang, a Stanford undergraduate who earned a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Yang’s award-winning space debris tracking program started out as a high school science fair project.
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“I think it’s particularly inspiring for high school students out there to see that oftentimes you’re doing these projects without necessarily the end goal of starting a company,” Jiang says. “But this small project that you do for a science fair could turn into a real venture that’s profitable and can help so many people.”
Now in its fourth season, Founders Couch explores everything from fundraising strategies to the challenges faced by minority founders. Upcoming guests include a University of Southern California student whose startup has been backed by Jay-Z’s venture capital firm Marcy Venture Partners.
Like many of her guests, Jiang was forced to adapt her production process as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. When Stanford transitioned to remote learning for the last quarter of her senior year, Jiang was no longer able to use Stanford’s recording studio or interview her guests in person. But in many ways, this change allowed Founders Couch to expand beyond Stanford and MIT. Jiang began using Zoom to connect with student founders from schools across the country.
“I’ve found that the students I’ve interviewed have been incredibly resilient,” Jiang says. “The founders I speak to, they’ve found ways to get through Covid, whether it be in terms of their business model or how the team works together. I think that has been a big theme throughout all of this: resilience through these times.”
Jiang hopes that this resilience will inspire other students to pursue their passion projects.
“Students tend to be so creative and not limited by the existing ways of the world,” Jiang says. “I don’t want any of them to feel scared of entering entrepreneurship, which is supposedly this really hard thing. So my big goal with this podcast is essentially to inspire more students to pursue entrepreneurship by showing them the success stories of people who have done it before.”
It’s an inspiring message for students struggling to figure out their post-college plans. Sometimes the “right” job is the one you create for yourself.
Founder’s Couch is available anywhere you listen to podcasts. New episodes are released every other Friday.