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3 Entrepreneurs Who Started Cool Businesses in College

3 cool businesses started in college

This is Part 13 of our Back to College series, which aims to help college students thrive as small business owners. In Part 12, we covered investing in equipment as a college student. To view all the posts in the series, click here.

 

3 Entrepreneurs Who Started Cool Businesses in College

College isn’t just a time for studying, partying and watching football – it’s also, for many entrepreneurs, a great time to start a business. Many of America’s most famous businesses were started by college students – most famously Microsoft (Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to go build his business instead) and Facebook (which Mark Zuckerberg originally developed as an on-campus “social network” for college students). But even if you’re not going to be the next Gates or Zuckerberg, you can still find lots of inspiration in some of the many other small businesses that get founded by college students. Even if your business never becomes a billion dollar company, it can still become a more modest success that can give you some side income while you’re still a student, or perhaps even a full-time job for yourself (and others) after graduation. Starting a small business in college can be a wonderful learning experience as well as a great way to make some extra cash.

We talked to a few real-life entrepreneurs about their experiences and inspirations for starting a business in college.

 

Max Robinson, Betta Fish Tank Bank

I started Betta Fish Tank Bank, an online store for betta fish tanks, when I was at college. My inspirations included one of my friends who had built a successful online business, and I wanted to try and replicate their success to support my studies rather than getting a boring conventional job. I’ve also been inspired by Elon Musk because he is constantly pushing the boundaries and never settles for anything.

I learned that if you’re serious about a business idea, you can’t run it properly just “on the side.” You have to commit to it fully. Although I started my business during college, it didn’t really take off until I’d graduated. Experiment as much as you can with your business while you’re studying because when you’re still a student, you can better afford to make mistakes and you’ll learn from them.

 

Terence Channon, Managing Director, SaltMines Group

I started a web design business in 1997 at Stetson University. Stetson provided students with free web space, and I took a liking to HTML code right away. I built my own personal webpage and at one point, I received an inquiry from a nearby business wanting a website of their own. I was hesitant until they offered to pay me, and that triggered the mindset that this could be a real business.

Some of my favorite entrepreneurs are not what you would think: Lester Sunderland of Ash Grove Cement and Otto Bresky of Seboard Corp. An entrepreneur’s #1 goal is to create value for its owners, whether that’s just one owner or 100 investors. These founders started 100+ year legacies and the descendants are still at the helm and have produced massive results for their owners over the years. The foundations these men started are still strong today, and it is very inspiring.

When I was running my web design business as a college student, one of the things I really enjoyed most was being able to share my expertise with businesses and getting compensated in return. It is rewarding for people to come to you and ask your advice on anything. The most surprising thing was how difficult it was to get clients. I fell into my first one, but I learned deals do not fall out of the sky. I embraced customer acquisition and marketing and really enjoyed the challenge of building great campaigns, finding creative ways to have dialogues with potential clients and convert to sales.

Probably my biggest learning experience as a college entrepreneur was the importance of finding a mentor. I missed out on many business opportunities and growth, especially early on, by not sharing my story with more experienced business professionals. Today, an opportunity I can spot in 5 minutes took me 5 years when I first started. A little leadership and counsel would have helped me see a whole new level of success early on.

Lastly, my advice to college students thinking about starting a business is: just do it! I credit my entrepreneurial endeavors as the only way I was able to finish college and provide for my family – because by the time I was a senior in college, my daughter was nearly a year old. The flexibility and reward potential of starting my own business kept things moving along.

 

Ross Black, Simple Box

I started a mini-storage company as an 18-year-old high school senior. I was told that in order to graduate I needed to complete a significant senior project that would demonstrate the variety of skills and knowledge I had acquired in high school. My teacher told me, “You can spend as much time out of class as you need to complete your project as long as your project is substantial enough,” so I picked the biggest project I could think of, which was to start a business.

I had always wanted to be a business owner and I had recently read an article about residual income. When I realized that mini-storage was residual income, I knew that I wanted to build one. I was able to get a long-term low cost lease on a vacant building and sold my car to get the money to convert it into self-storage. As that initial project succeeded and the demand continued to grow, I added portable storage containers and shipping container sales and modifications. That business became known as Simple Box and has since grown into a multi-location business with 17 employees.

The thing that surprised me most about starting and running a business at such a young age was the need for strong administrative support. I had the personality and the determination to go out and find customers, but I needed to match it with someone who would help me send invoices, pay the bills and plan for cash flow. I would advise any college student considering entrepreneurship to get a mentor, get disciplined by sticking to a schedule and following through on what you say you will do and keep customer service at the core of your business. You can innovate and create all day long, but if you don’t know how to serve with excellence your business won’t last long.

 

Do you know of any entrepreneurs who started cool businesses while they were in college? Leave a comment and let us know, or tweet us at @KabbageInc.

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Kabbage Team

The Kabbage Team is here to not only fund the small business loans you need, but to help you grow your business through free marketing tips, webinars, tools and more. Is there something you'd like us to cover or want to get your small business featured on our blog? Send us a note at content@kabbage.com.

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