In which we talk to actual people who made their dreams come true.
by Guest Blogger Keith Kaplan I ALBION COLLEGE: Brains (double-major honors student, Mortar Board, College Fellow) and brawn (swim team captain and an avid outdoorsman who most days can be seen paddling on the river that runs through his campus). Regular blogger. Co-founder of the eponymous DK Cookies (on Facebook!).
College is a time for learning – a time for finding yourself and setting yourself up for the future. It’s a time for taking chances, searching out opportunities. This is the second in a three-part series on collegiate entrepreneurship and how it can help set you up for the future you dream of having.
In my last post, Part 1 of this series, we talked about collegiate entrepreneurship in general and why, for many of us, the experience is so valuable. In Part 2, rather than focus on mega-companies like Facebook and Google, let’s talk about folks – some who are recent grads and others who’re still in school – who are creating success on a more personal scale.
Makin’ Crepes is a student venture started on the Albion College campus this past year. A late night crêperie, it serves up sweet and savory crepes to students from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays. If you’ve never had a crepe, you’re missing out. When asked what the biggest benefit of running a crêperie on campus was, Matt Makin, a co-founder, replied, “The experience of using all business practices, including management, operations, marketing. This is true experiential learning opportunity that will stick with me.” The founders wanted to start something new on campus and knew that their past experience with a student entrepreneurial exchange would help them create this venture.
Flying Squirrel Peanut Butter was started by University of Oregon students Keeley Tillotson and Erika Welsh – self-proclaimed peanut butter connoisseurs who make, package, and sell their homemade all-natural peanut butter to a growing base of devoted customers. The two make their product unique by adding flavorful twists like cinnamon and raisins, agave nectar, and cocoa. Neither student has a business background – Keeley is a journalism major and Erika is an environmental studies and Spanish major. This could say something about starting a business. Perhaps you don’t need to take classes to start your own business. Why they call it “Flying Squirrel,” I still don’t know. But the peanut butter looks great, and I’m dying to try some.
Nathan Latka, founder and CEO of Lujure and Fan Page Factory, comes from an entrepreneurial background and started out by selling candy on a school bus to his friends as a child. He later broke into the social consulting world, creating Fan Page Factory – a community where users can share knowledge about changing fan-page technologies – and Lujure, a tool that allows users to create their own personalized fan pages. Nathan is great example of a student with a small idea who has actually built it into something quite large. Since the launch of Lujure in December 2010, business has taken off. Today the company has nearly 10,000 clients and Nathan has chosen to drop out of school to devote his full attention to Lujure.
CourseHorse, a recent start-up located in New York City, is a search database for classes offered in New York, ranging from cooking to fitness to languages. Co-founders and NYU graduates Nihal Parthasarathi and Katie Kapler tried to start a college search business while they were students, but felt at the time that they didn’t have the background to pursue their original idea. After graduation, they worked in the management consulting field with test prep classes, and then, with some real-world experience under their belts, Nihal and Katie quit their jobs to pursue CourseHorse full time. Nihal told me that one of the greatest things about being an entrepreneur is the power to create. “When you own your own business, it is up to you to grow and develop your ideas,” he said.
Castle Party Rentals is a start-up run by Dan Stanek, a current student at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park. Customers can rent party equipment ranging from a mechanical bull to casino games and inflatable obstacle courses. Dan was possessed by the entrepreneurial spirit at an early age. As a boy, he would set up a stand in his driveway and sell seashells, lemonade, even fruit and vegetables. While Dan’s party rental business is prospering, the challenges of running the company while being a full-time student are overwhelming. Most weeks, Dan finds himself pulling all-nighters, not because he’s writing a paper or cramming for an exam, but because he’s filling orders and loading trucks. The list goes on for the number of things he’s learned from running his own business, including management, accounting, and purchasing. The most important thing he’s learned: “People skills – knowing what people want to hear and how to get them to rent from me,” says Dan.
Shady Peeps, a start up on the University of Oregon’s campus, was launched in June 2010 by Jason Bolt. The company offers quality polarized and UV sunglasses themed to your college’s team. Jason came up with this business idea while he was enrolled in a post-baccalaureate medical program at the University of Oregon. He soon realized that he had a choice to make: There weren’t enough hours in the day to run the business and be a student. So he dropped his studies to concentrate full time on the business. Right now Shady Peeps is on only a few college campuses, but within the next month, the company will add 12 more schools to its network. Jason credits Caleb Iorg, a University of Oregon MBA student, for helping develop a solid business plan that will help Shady Peeps grow. What does Jason like most about running his own business? Being able to have complete control over the product development process. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait till they expand to my school so I can get my hands on a pair of these glasses.
In speaking with a few of these businesses, I found that these young entrepreneurs have one thing in common: they love to be in control. Nathan said he likes having the creative control and not having to answer to anyone. Nihal and Dan echoed this sentiment. “The ball is in your hands when it comes time to make decisions,” they said.
Be sure and watch for next week’s post and more take-aways from these self-driven entrepreneurs.
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