Building a Startup as a Student

A conversation with student entrepreneur Kevin Mpunga, founder of Elev.


Graphic by Francine

Building a successful startup business is something many students, including me, dream of. However, building a startup from scratch involves a lot of hard work, and sudents might find the idea of starting a business while juggling their studies overwhelming. 

As someone who wishes to own a business somewhere down the line, I have questioned when the right time would be to initiate the process, whether I should trust my ideas, how to secure the right connections, and how to manage my time while I am still a university student with a heavy course load. Wanting to find answers to my questions— and the questions of many aspiring entrepreneurs like me— I reached out to Kevin Mpunga. Kevin is a student entrepreneur, a BScN student, and my colleague from student governance.

Kevin is the CEO, President, and Founder of Elev, an app-based startup that finds off-campus housing options for students based on their budget. Kevin's experience with looking for affordable off-campus housing options when he was only 17 years old was the motivation and the idea behind Elev. He wanted to prevent students from encountering obstacles and challenges while looking for an affordable place to live, and he created Elev along with some amazing individuals.

Images provided by Kevin

 Here's some advice from Kevin about building a startup as a student: 

How to Get Started

Kevin used the analogy that the best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago. If you have an idea for a startup, but haven’t already started working on it, the right time is now! Starting can be as simple as Googling something you don’t know, watching YouTube videos, and reading blogs and biographies. You can start by learning as much as you can and as fast as you can, until you find something you can start to do so. According to Kevin, establishing a startup involves a lot of trial and error, tossing around ideas, and consultation with others. For instance, Kevin came up with the idea of Elev in his second year of university. Doing proper research and going through a process of continuous trial and error throughout 2020 gelped him shape the idea of the Elev app which he launched in 2021. He also suggests that you set aside time and form a concrete plan, with targets and deadlines to help motivate progress and results.

Networking and Potential Investors

Kevin’s first step towards building his network was creating a LinkedIn profile and then virtually connecting with people he knew, people in his faculty, and his acquaintances. After this step, Kevin suggests keeping an eye on the news feed for opportunities and, as soon as you find any, seize them! According to him, networking is like a snowball effect where one opportunity leads to networking with a new person, which in turn leads to networking with another, and so on. He suggests students take advantage of this and whenever you meet a mentor or investor or a startup founder, request to be referred to one additional person that could be of help. This is how you grow your network!

Time Management

Prioritization and time management are Kevin’s best friends. He suggests that you should clearly define and write down your priorities and make appropriate sacrifices based on what is most important to you. He believes that time management involves making objective decisions about where you want to put your effort. It is like a balancing act wherein you should make sure what your goals are to avoid putting time elsewhere.

Building a Team

Elev is currently a team of 11. Kevin used LinkedIn, Startup Edmonton, and referrals to friends of friends to build his team. According to Kevin, team members should complement each other. He suggests that a smart way to expand a team is to make a list of what you are good at and what you are not, followed by a list of what’s being done and has to be done, and recruit people accordingly based on those needs.

Learning Resources

The YCombinator Startup School and Startup Edmonton proved to be extremely useful for Kevin while starting his journey as an entrepreneur. He also participated in pitch competitions like Enactus and the Student Founders Program that led to a boom in his network and introduced him to the startup community and related events. He believes that it is important to prepare your pitch for such competitions, and a good way to do so is by watching YouTube videos of other student pitches. The hard work he put into his pitch practice led him to win the Enactus University of Alberta's Ultimate Pitch Competition 2021. U of A students can also access resources through the eHub Entrepreneurship Centre.