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TheStreet Open House

For Ambitious Students, Entrepreneurship Can Be a Big Win

CHICAGO ( MainStreet) -- Amid the commencement speeches and worries about impending student-loan payments, one topic has been a constant source of discussion during college-graduation season: the dismal job market.

This summer, like last summer and the one before, will be a tough time to head out with resume in hand. Many large corporations simply aren't hiring entry-level staff, and in other cases new grads find themselves competing against laid-off workers with more experience.

Graduating from a competitive university or business school is a great accomplishment. But leaving school with funding for the next step of your life is the ultimate graduation present.

Ambitious young grads who'd prefer to work for themselves also are finding it hard to start businesses, given banks' tight lending standards. The difference between starting up and giving up often comes down to funding: Can a promising idea attract enough capital to turn an idea into reality?

Now would-be entrepreneurs can turn to their own universities and business schools for a leg up; business plan competitions have become increasingly popular at campuses across the country. Many of this year's winning ideas, announced over the past few weeks, got funding and expert mentoring, increasing their chance of success.

After all, if a school wants to brag about its graduates' achievements, what better way than to help get their businesses off the ground?

The concept of pitting business ideas against each other started at the University of Texas at Austin, when two MBA students envisioned a business-school equivalent to the law school's "moot court" competition. UT's so-called "Moot Corp" was first held in 1984 and has grown into one of the most prestigious and competitive student contests. (It has also gotten a less quirky name: The Venture Labs Investment Competition).

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