Q: I am a first-year university student in Canada. I've got a wonderful plan for an online business, but my parents, who are entrepreneurs in the Philippines, are worried that I'll neglect my studies if I pursue it. They sent me to Canada to study, which is a heavy burden for them. I'm very passionate about my business plans.
How do I persuade them to support me?
My mum was–and still is–an entrepreneur, so I have always had someone to turn to when I need advice. My parents were always the first people I consulted when I had a new idea for a business. Luisa, you are very lucky, since your mum and dad have already started businesses themselves!
My mother's career was a huge influence on mine, and you seem to be inspired by your parents as well, but I understand that school is also a big draw. I have always wanted to go to university. When I was in my 40s, I even considered taking a couple of years off to go back to school. My wife talked me out of it - earning a degree takes a lot of time, and I simply wouldn't be able to study and continue my work at Virgin.
Many people assume that young entrepreneurs must choose between continuing their education and starting a business.
In reality, these two choices can coexist. Universities should be encouraging students to start businesses linked to their studies. Especially in business programmes, professors should be encouraged to foster an entrepreneurial spirit in the classroom.
Universities should offer guidance to students who have launched businesses, helping them toward success - budding entrepreneurs shouldn't be forced to go it alone.
One way to help student entrepreneurs is to make degree programs shorter. They are far too long at present - for young students, the first year is often wasted, and a three-year programme could easily be completed within two years. This would decrease students' debt loads and put them in a better position to start their own businesses.
I'm thrilled to hear that you're considering launching your business despite the obstacles. When you're talking with your parents about it, keep in mind –and convey to them–that starting a business while attending university can be a great decision.
College is an environment in which you're always learning, and while many subjects you're exposed to won't be directly relevant to your business, you will learn to think critically.
The learning environment also provides students with many opportunities to meet new people and share ideas. This is a huge benefit: the number of companies and lifetime friendships that are formed in college is endless.
But, as you've asked, how can you do this without neglecting your studies?
While both your business and your studies will require a lot of hard work, your study hours will likely be quite flexible. And if you're studying subjects that you're passionate about and love, you won't mind putting in long hours - you may really enjoy it.
Keep in mind that most new entrepreneurs have some juggling to do, whether it is with school, day jobs or child care. But the successful ones create a plan of action that helps them avoid getting sucked into working nonstop. In your case, it might be easy to let time slip away when you're knee-deep in an exciting idea, so establish boundaries; allocate specific days and times for your studies and others for working on your startup. Be honest with yourself about whether the launch will impact your studies, and plan for that.
Have you considered looking for a local mentor who can give you advice and keep you on track? How about checking on whether there is a club for entrepreneurs at your school? A group like that could plug you into a helpful peer network, and introduce you to other students who are balancing study and work. (You might also make friends with whom you can bounce ideas around.)
You might also want to consider finding a co-founder who can share the workload with you. If you can show your parents that you're not going to be doing everything on your own, they might be reassured that your plan is a workable one.
After you've sketched out your plan, show it to your parents, and stress how much their support means to you. Be honest with them about how much time your business will require, then discuss the steps you will take to minimise the impact.
There's no better way to learn about time management, problem-solving and good, old-fashioned hard work than running a startup. And if you pull this off, by the time you graduate from college, you may own a small (and, hopefully, thriving!) business. Good luck!
(Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.)
(Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to RichardBranson@nytimes.com. Please include your name, country, email address and the name of the website or publication where you read the column.)