Elena Lucas, a SoFi borrower, applied to the program in 2014. At the time, she was shouldering about $120,000 in student debt. Lucas says SoFi's strong investor network was key in helping her and co-founder Daniel Roesler successfully launch UtilityAPI, an enterprise software company that delivers simple access to energy-usage data.
"A good chunk of my angel investing came from the SoFi network," she said, adding, "The equivalent of what I refinanced with SoFi is what I got from my angel investors through SoFi connections.
"Providing resources should be the goal of every student loan company," Lucas said. "It just boggles my mind that they just don't have these types of resources for their borrowers. They should want their borrowers to get good-paying jobs."
Read More4 marketing mistakes start-ups can't afford to make
Jennifer Beall, founder of L.A.-based Tot Squad, applied and was accepted to the Entrepreneurship Program in May 2013. Her company, originally named CleanBeeBaby, started out as a service to clean car seats for busy parents and had been in operation for three years, but she wanted to expand.
At SoFi's "pitch day," the Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management graduate pitched her idea to SoFi's investors. "It's really a warm crowd of investors, because if our businesses fail, we can't pay back our loans, so they are almost a little bit already invested in our success," Beall said, adding, "I raised $500K—about half via contacts made through SoFi."
With the backing, Tot Squad redefined its service to not only clean but repair car seats and strollers, at shopping centers and baby boutiques for $20 to $40 a pop in both New York and L.A. Beall has seen revenue double each year to just under $1 million, and in February the company began franchising.
Beall's advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: "Don't be afraid if you're not the next Mark Zuckerberg," she said. "Start little. Even if your product isn't perfect—even if you only have one feature of the 10 features you want to have—go and test it and see if customers are willing to pay for it. Just getting that little bit of traction will help you figure out how to make it work. And if you're afraid, franchising is a great alternative. The business plan is already written and proven. Buy a franchise and you can be an entrepreneur. It's a tried-and-true way to make money."