Google. Apple. Microsoft. Facebook. Wal-Mart. Wondering what all these companies have in common? Aside from being some of America’s most successful brands, their founders were all between the ages of 20 and 26 when they were launched. College-aged entrepreneurs enjoy unprecedented benefits and support, making it the perfect time to test the waters of business ownership. Whether taking advantage of entrepreneurship programs or seeking advice from alumni entrepreneurs in residence, there will never be a time where more assistance or encouragement is so readily available. Keep reading to learn about ideas for college businesses, tips for success, and what our expert has to say about being a young entrepreneur.
College Business Startup Ideas
Write for a variety of clients related to your major or areas of interest.
Offer graphic design services for students, department, local businesses, or clients further afield.
Illustration and individualized cards, stationary, invites, and notes are gaining in popularity with the rise of Etsy, and students can sell locally or on an online platform.
Retail: Online or Brick-and-Motar
Used clothing store
Vintage and used clothing is all the rage for college students, making it a good time to capitalize on this area of retail.
As vinyl records enjoy a renaissance, students with a passion for music can open a record store.
Locally made products
Students without lots of startup capital can sell local items on consignment rather than purchasing them, taking a cut of all sales without having to own a large inventory.
Party promotion app
Like a campus-wide alert system, this would enable students to advertise different gatherings and meetings.
A guide map for international students, including details about local services, restaurants, and businesses all tailored to college students.
Search engine optimization
Lots of companies are looking for ways to optimize their SEO, and students who are actively engaged in learning about e-marketing can capitalize.
Services may include walking dogs, watching over a beloved cat while owners are out of town, or taking animals to the vet for busy owners.
Makeup and personal styling
If you’re good at personal styling, consider offering styling, makeup consultations and personal shopping services to students and the local community.
Freelance event planning
Students may start off in college planning student organization events before moving into more professional, paid events.
Are You Ready to Start Your Business in College?
Are you able to juggle multiple responsibilities in a timely and organized fashion?
Do you have a clear business idea in mind?
College is a great time to learn time management and multitasking. Focus on building these skills and uses them to launch your business idea after graduation.
Have you done market research to determine if your idea is valuable to your prospective clients?
While owning a business sounds appealing, you must have a winning idea for success. Head back to the drawing board and develop a viable venture before committing.
Are you able to secure or provide funding to support your venture?
You might have the next Facebook or Google, but you still need to confirm that your idea is marketable before bringing on investors. Even the best business ideas need funding. Perfect your pitching skills, start making calls, and secure your financing.
College Entrepreneurship Profiles
The Social entrepreneurship support organization Ashoka defines social entrepreneurship as a sector dedicated to developing solutions to the world’s most pressing issues. Rather than focusing on the bottom dollar, social entrepreneurs are change makers who apply business principles to social causes. Whether addressing food scarcity in Ghana or providing innovative answers to pet sheltering in Ohio, social entrepreneurs are passionate professionals driven to make the world a better place.
TOMS is a great example of an entrepreneurial venture with a social cause. For every pair of footwear purchased by a customer, the company donates another pair to a child in a developing country.
Numerous academic institutions offer undergraduate degrees in Social Entrepreneurship; in 2008, Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee became one of the first.
Minority entrepreneurship includes (but is not limited to) any business owned by African American, Asian, Hispanic or Native American individuals. Minority-owned businesses grew by 46 percent between 2002 and 2007, according to CNBC, while a 2016 Entrepreneur Magazine report found these entrepreneurs own more than 15 percent of all American businesses. As individuals in minority groups are set to become the majority in coming decades, businesses created and owned by these populations are set to continue growing. The opportunity to be an entrepreneur is appealing to minority groups as it often allows them to find more economically secure and viable paths than working for someone else.
As the first African American billionaire, entrepreneur Robert L. Johnson began his rise to mogul status when he started a cable television station in 1979. Johnson sold his company, which he called Black Entertainment Television, to Viacom for more than $1 billion in 2001.
According to the National Minority Supplier Development Council, minority businesses produce more than $400 billion in annual revenue. There are many resources for the minority entrepreneur, including government set-asides to facilitate business.
Minority Entrepreneurship Resources
Black Enterprise: BE provides a wealth of resources to Black entrepreneurs working to get their enterprises off the ground.
Minority Business Development Agency: Operating through the U.S. Department of Commerce, MBDA worked with minority entrepreneurs to secure more than $3.6 billion in funding during 2012.
Minority Chamber of Commerce: Similar to traditional chambers of commerce, the MCC works with minority entrepreneurs to provide training opportunities, events, and support for their businesses.
U.S. Small Business Administration; This governmental department offers numerous helpful resources to minority entrepreneurs, including the 8(a) Business Development Program.
Women-owned businesses grew by six percent between 2007 and 2012, according to the U.S. Census, and now account for 36 percent – or 9.9 million – of all American companies. In a sector historically dominated by men, the substantial and steady rise of the woman entrepreneur signals a changing tide in business. Given that in 2015, female workers still earned only 79 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts, women entrepreneurship opens avenues for enterprising females seeking a level professional playing field.
In 2005, Arianna Huffington co-founded The Huffington Post after launching numerous other successful websites. Although the exact value is unknown, outlets have speculated its worth is around $1 billion.
Women-owned businesses grew by 74 percent between 1997 and 2012, or at 1.5 times the national average for all new businesses, according to Fortune. This percentage skyrocketed to 322 percent for African American women.
U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce: This professional organization provides female businesswomen with a raft of services, including training, advocacy, certifications, and frequent events.
Planning Your Path to Entrepreneurship
1. Find Your Moneymaker
Before ever putting finger to keyboard and creating a business plan, aspiring entrepreneurs must find the intersection between interests and opportunity. Rather than seeking the next big thing, Forbes Magazine writer Ken Sundheim suggests thinking about how you want to spend your professional time and then finding a way to monetize that skill or knowledge.
2. Understand Demand
Entrepreneurs are known for unbridled passion and devotion when it comes to their businesses, but even the most hard-working and devoted entrepreneurs can’t succeed if they misjudge demand. After developing your initial idea, take time to shop it around and make sure you’ve not only got a feasible plan, but that its price is also on point. Even if you have a service or product the public wants, they won’t bite if it’s too expensive.
3. Write a Business Plan
Business plans force entrepreneurs answer concrete questions about their ventures, thereby helping to lower risks of failure and provide plans if some part of the business doesn’t go as planned. These documents aren’t written quickly, meaning students may want to reserve a portion of their
winter or summer holidays to ensure it is well thought out. The U.S. Small Business Administration provides a guide on how business plans should be structured
4. Learn How to Pitch
Whether selling your product/service to a potential customer or investor, being able to succinctly and knowledgeably talk about your business and what you are able to offer consumers can often mean the difference between success and failure. Customers have multiple choices when it comes to where they spend money, and new companies don’t enjoy the brand allegiances built by corporations such as Apple. Investors, too, have many entrepreneurs clamoring for funding and won’t be persuaded to part with their hard-earned funds if they don’t feel strongly about the competencies of the entrepreneur or the likely success of the business.
5. Find Funding
Ways of funding – and ways of finding funding – vary dramatically for different types of businesses, and students may take numerous courses of action based on their financial needs. By using findings from the business plan, students are able to present a logical and well-researched report on the amount of funding needed and how the money will be allocated. Student entrepreneurs must also be prepared for negotiating interest rates, repayment plans, and percentage of ownership for some investors. Before accepting any money, students should thoroughly research their options and understand the differences amongst each of them.
6. Launch Campaigns
Whether it’s a campus-wide branding campaign or a local social media campaign, developing a plan for how you’ll let potential customers know about your business is crucial. The best awareness and marketing campaigns aren’t the costliest, but rather take into account how stakeholders are most likely to engage with media and develop strategies based on that knowledge. For instance, if your business is mainly focused on individuals nearing retirement, you probably aren’t going to find your clients via Instagram or Snapchat.
7. Envision the Future
Just because a business has a successful launch and stabilizes quickly doesn’t mean all the hard work is done. Successful entrepreneurs are always thinking five steps ahead and have a comprehensive maintenance plan to ensure all the components that first made it a success are managed well. Whether that means ensuring your inventory is kept high, regularly engaging on social media, or offering frequent training for employees, keeping up with these tasks ensures your business runs like a well-oiled machine.
Small Business Development Center: The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business provides an entrepreneurial incubation for students, as do many other programs across the country.
The Company Corporation: Individuals looking to incorporate or become an LLC can find much information and support via this organization.
Tools & Apps for Building a Business
Starting a business requires dedication, focus, and long hours: a 2015 survey by Inc. found entrepreneurs work more than 60 hours a week on average. While there are a lot of tasks and responsibilities that require your undivided attention, the good news is that apps and tools are available to lessen the burden. Some of the top options are highlighted below.
Want access to your documents from anywhere and allow your employees or customers the same? Check out these document management tools.
Dropbox: This platform allows users to store and share files that can be accessed by approved users anywhere in the world.
Google Drive: Accessible by anyone with a Google or Gmail account, GD provides easy file sharing and multi-user documents.
Box: Towing the line between security and ease of use, Box allows users to store, share, manage, and collaborate on a variety of different types of documents.
OneDrive: For users of Microsoft devices and platforms, OneDrive provides access to files from any location, on any supported device.
Managing projects effectively and efficiently is the hallmark of a great team, especially when members are dispersed around the country. These tools help keep all of you on the same page.
Wrike: Team managers seeking a digital project and task management platform are often drawn to the many different features offered by Wrike.
Asana: Teams, especially those with remote workers, need a platform to manage work and ensure all tasks are completed efficiently – Asana can help with these needs and more.
Trello: The collaborative online project management tool helps ensure teams, no matter their size, are all on the same page.
Clarizen: Clarizen not only provides project management, it also automates workflow to increase productivity and synergy among teams.
SmartSheet: With a focus on collaboration, SmartSheet helps businesses coordinate workflow no matter their size.
ActiveCollab: ActiveCollab provides tools across the lifespan of work, ranging from task management and team collaboration to tracking and invoicing.
For many small or startup businesses, the entrepreneur may be working overtime to ensure accounts are managed, invoices are paid, and hours are tracked. These accounting programs manage these areas and more.
Wave: This free application provides basic accounting and invoicing services for small businesses.
Xero: As an online accounting platform, Xero users can access their accounts from any location or device.
Freshbooks: Freshbooks offers services including invoicing, expensive, time management, payment tracking, and reporting.
Sales & Marketing
A company may have the best product and greatest customer service, but it won’t matter if sale leads aren’t followed up on and marketing strategies aren’t properly deployed. These platforms and tools ensure sales and marketing won’t be your downfall.
Authoritas: Businesses looking to take advantage of search engine optimization can use this platform to gain insight on current rankings and find ways to improve them.
Unomy: This database style platform provides lists of targeted prospects and leads to help companies track their sales and marketing efforts.
InsideView: Looking to increase your lead-to-revenue figures? InsideView can help.
MatterMark: Rather than wasting your time sifting through unusable leads, why not use MatterMark to connect with relevant, high quality prospects?
Datafox: Datafox helps entrepreneurs and sales teams manage the lifecycle of a sale to ensure prospective customers are being contacted at the right moments.
Want to get a better sense of the parts of your website that appeal to customers the most? Use one of these website analytics platforms.
Clicky: This web analytic provider gives business owners access to real time data and numbers.
Google Analytics: Entrepreneurs looking to get a better sense of who is visiting their website and the most popular pages can easily install Google Analytics for their page.
If your business offers a help desk or live chat function, these platforms are easily imbedded and provide a range of features.
LiveAgent: Whether your business has 5 or 5,000 employees, LiveAgent’s multi-channel helpdesk chat features can be customized to fit your needs.
Olark: For entrepreneurs with customer service platforms, Olark provides an online chat feature that can be imbedded directly in their website.
Want to know how your customers feel about a new or existing service/product? Wondering what they think about your sales team? Create a survey on one of these digital platforms to find out.
GetFeedback: These highly customizable surveys allow business owners to create sleek questionnaires that can be taken on both computers and mobile devices.
Qualaroo: Unlike other analytics programs that only tell entrepreneurs what site visitors are doing, Qualaroo tells them why.
SurveyMonkey: For years, SurveyMonkey has been the go-to service for creating individualized customer surveys.
Competitions and Scholarships for Entrepreneurs
Young entrepreneurs are typically already strapped for cash while trying to pay for school and living expenses, and the idea of investing thousands of dollars into a start-up can seem impossible. Fortunately, there are many different scholarships and competitions available to college entrepreneurs. Some of the most popular options are highlighted below.
The university’s Gordon Institute provides $100,000 each year in venture funding via their business competitions.
Financial Backing for College Entrepreneurs
Once a young entrepreneur has an idea and does their due diligence to ensure their venture has legs to stand on, the next step is to secure funding. Whether planning to self-fund or seek out angel investors, this section helps entrepreneurs learn about different options available to them.
Venture Capitalists, Investors & Syndicates
Venture capitalists and investors are often on the minds of entrepreneurs, yet receiving funding from individuals and firms in this arena is a highly competitive process. Because the sector is so small, venture capitalists are often inundated with funding requests, and only truly unique, grounded, and innovative ideas receive a second glance.
Entrepreneurship.org provides a comprehensive overview of what venture capitalists are looking for and how to get their attention – and their money.
No longer relegated to Silicon Valley, business accelerator programs are perennially popular due to their ability to mature and solidify a business idea – while also providing funding – in a short amount of time. Entrepreneurs are exposed to investors after building their pitch skills and receive seed money in exchange for equity stake in the company.
While accelerators are typically found outside academic, PSU provides this innovative program for students to be mentored and receive funding while still in college.
Whereas business accelerators are typically geared more toward giving startups the final push to maturation, incubators are focused on emerging ideas and new ventures. Their structures vary significantly, and entrepreneurs may find them offered as a physical space or a virtual program. Because startups that go through incubators have a 90 percent success rate, entrepreneurs are drawn to them for good reasons. In addition to coaching, mentorship, and sharing of common resources between other incubating ventures, these programs often include the opportunity to work with investors and gain seed money in exchange for equity stake.
UBI Global provides this global benchmark report on the universities with the best incubation programs for young entrepreneurs.
Thanks to the internet, today’s entrepreneurs have many different ways of finding funding for their ideas, and crowdfunding is one of the latest to emerge. This innovative platform allows entrepreneurs to sell their ideas to potential clients in exchange for funding. A common technique is to build different levels of support in exchange for the company’s product or service once the business is established. Other businesses may elect to offer equity stake in exchange for money, depending on the funding level.
One of the oldest and most frequently used crowdfunding platforms available today.
Small Business Loans
Whether seeking a microloan or a large sum, small business loans are another option for entrepreneurs who need money to get their idea of the ground. Be warned, however, that this process can be incredibly tedious and time-consuming as banks are not in the business of high-risk investing. They’ll want to know exactly how the money will be spent and see well-researched and presented information about the likely survival of the business.
The SBA provides a range of loans to up-and-coming small businesses depending on their needs.
Also commonly referred to as bootstrapping, college entrepreneurs who are focused and disciplined often choose to self-fund their first ventures. Rather than answering to an investor or being required to expand the business in specific ways, boot-strappers can focus on organic, sustainable growth. Because every penny being spent on the business comes from their own pockets, self-funded entrepreneurs also quickly learn the value of money and are motivated to move from red to black more quickly.
The Guardian’s small business section highlights the benefits of funding a venture yourself rather than relying on others.
Friends & Family
Sometimes saving money while in college is simply unrealistic, but your business doesn’t require the type of capital typically attracting the attention of investors or acceleration programs. In these instances, many young entrepreneurs turn to their friends and family for financial assistance. In 2014 alone, this funding source contributed more than $60 billion in startup funds, according to Entrepreneur. However, there’s a reason the old adage says you should never do business with friends: dealing with finances – especially when there’s a risk of money being lost if the business fails – is a difficult topic. Young entrepreneurs need to make sure they pick someone with a solid understanding of business and associated risks, while also ensuring they’ve done their due diligence and aren’t asking their friend or relative to invest in an idea that’s doomed to fail.
Entrepreneur Magazine has a comprehensive list of questions to consider before reaching out to pals or relatives for seed money.
Expert Advice on College Entrepreneurship
founder of women-focused business consulting company UnleaSHEd, offers her expertise on business ownership in college.
Why is college a good time to start a business?
College is a terrific time to start a business because everyone wants to help you! I remember when my psychology professor taught me statistics, empowering me to analyze my store inventory and sales. There’s never another time when you’re surrounded by people so interested in your success, and so many different professionals are at your disposal. They are all experts in their field, and having access to them is amazing when you need guidance.
How can students leverage the resources available to them at college to start their business?
Don’t be afraid to use the fact that you’re a student to your advantage. Because someone may think of you as “just a kid,” you’re less threatening as a competitor. People will tell you about their industry, or even their own business, because you aren’t threatening. People also want to help you succeed! Alumni are typically very excited to work with students, and they can open doors that students could never even imagine.
Is there a key to success when starting a business from a dorm room?
One of the biggest keys to success when starting a business in college is time management. Running your company isn’t just another class; it’s often the equivalent of two to three classes in terms of workload, attention, and focus. Students already involved in numerous activities may find it unrealistic to also start a business alongside their academics. Additional keys to success include finding and working with mentors that have real-world experience.
How can students go about finding financial backing?
I started my business with $3000 in unspent student loans. I also received a grant from St. Olaf through their Entrepreneurship Center to expand my business. Many schools have endowments for entrepreneurship, and many have contests students can enter. National incubator and accelerator programs such as YCombinator are available for students to participate.
How Colleges Foster Entrepreneurship
Startup Incubators Many college entrepreneurs have ideas for businesses but still need mentorship and guidance to get those ideas off the ground. Numerous colleges – including the University of Pennsylvania –have business incubators to help students bring ideas to fruition. The incubation program at the Wharton School of Business is competitive, requiring student entrepreneurs to apply and interview before being accepted.
Business Accelerators Programs such as the University of California Berkeley’s SkyDeck allow students to be mentored and receive support for their businesses without giving away equity shares or paying fees.
Entrepreneurship Fraternities Created in 2008, Epsilon Nu Tau is the country’s first PanHellenic organization focused on creating a brotherhood of entrepreneurs. The organization is active on a number of college campuses and is creating new chapters regularly.
Free Office/ Retail Space Depending on the type of business a student hopes to create, lots of entrepreneurship departments are able to offer students free space to get their ideas of the ground. The University of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute is but one example of this type of resource.
Support for Non-Business Majors The Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation at Michigan State University is an excellent example of university administration thinking outside the box in terms of entrepreneurial ventures. Since 2009, the foundation has provided seed money to students in STEM disciplines who are focused on building those skills yet also have solid concepts for a startup venture.
Stanford’s entrepreneurship program consistently ranks as one of the top options for venture-minded students, and for great reasons: in addition to the innovative curriculum, the school also boasts countless successful alumni and a number of unique programs. eCorner is a whole website of free entrepreneurial resources, while the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies produces leading research in the field. The Stanford Entrepreneurship Network is comprised of programs, student groups, and faculty members working to explore the field through various learning tools.
Student entrepreneurs enrolled at NYU are immersed in a campus-wide environment fostering innovation and creativity, allowing them to take advantage of professional resources to help them grow a business. The Entrepreneur’s Challenge provides $200,000 in startup funds, while the school’s incubator program prepares a business for success outside campus. Other resources include the 6,800 square food Leslie Entrepreneur Lab and the annual Entrepreneurs Festival.
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