Entrepreneurship isn’t just for grads


Many of us view college as nothing more than a means to get good jobs after we graduate. But why not jumpstart that process? Turns out we don’t have to wait until after graduation — and the crushing pressure of repaying our student loans — to try to make our fortune.

Julia Vann | Daily Trojan

More and more college students are succeeding in creating their own business ventures years ahead of graduation, while still holed up in the hallowed halls of their universities.

The most obvious college start-up example, recently immortalized in film, should be sufficient inspiration. But this article is neither about Facebook nor the Facebook movie; instead, it concerns the plethora of other entrepreneurs who create innovative businesses from their dorm room. The famed social networking site is a great testament to the potential upside of college entrepreneurship, but it’s a statistically improbable home run — more than most of us can expect.

Nevertheless, the possibilities for entrepreneurship are boundless; they don’t need to involve engineering breakthroughs.

Aspiring journalists, for instance, now have all the tools they need to make a mark on the changing world of print media. Mediashift, a PBS-affiliated website that tracks the radical changes in journalism, features examples of journalists riding the wave of transition from traditional media to digital journalism.

The site recently featured undergraduate Zephyr Basine, who created the blog-turned-website CollegeFashion.net. Bored with her biology seminar at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she decided to scout fashion while in class, and feature or improve the fashions she observed.

Mediashift reports that “Basine is part of a select group of students who have constructed worthwhile new media niches — and become stars — while still in school.”

Another Internet startup, HackCollege.com was founded in August 2006 by Kelly Sutton, who at the time was a 19-year-old student at Loyola Marymount University.

Mediashift reports, “Kelly Sutton … began without a plan. [He] enjoyed reading the popular productivity blog Lifehacker and simply thought, ‘Hey, there needs to be a Lifehacker for college students, and I’m going to do that.’” HackCollege brought Sutton publicity, internships and job offers. His isn’t the only success story.

At USC too, students are hard at work with their entrepreneurial activities. Ben Gordon, a sophomore majoring in business administration, began the Bicycle Bread Company, which makes and sells a wide variety of bread on campus. His niche is a delivery service and attentive personal relationships with his customers.

Derek Roth, a senior majoring in public policy, planning, and management, and David Rajewski, a sophomore majoring in business administration, run their own longboard retail companies — Initiative Skate and Stoked Skateboards, respectively.

These three Trojans might not expect their businesses to become the next Facebook, but the startups provide good real-world experience and much-needed financial padding.

One of the nine businesses recently featured in Inc. magazine’s “9 Cool College Start-ups” is College Weekenders, pioneered by David Wachtel of USC. College Weekenders had its start with — you guessed it — the Weekender to Northern California.

Wachtel realized he could get a good price if he organized a trip package with a hotel and bus company, which he marketed to his fellow Trojans. Inc. magazine reports that Wachtel intends to extend College Weekenders to other college campuses in the future.

USC has many resources to encourage, support and develop innovation. The USC Stevens Institute for Innovation was founded in 2004 to promote and incubate innovation at USC among the faculty and students.

The Stevens Institute also sponsors the USC Student Innovator Showcase and Competition each year to encourage and reward innovation in the student body.

USC is a vast and diverse marketplace of experts, innovators and creators, who, through some networking, might be available to help you move your own plan forward.

If you have an idea that you think deserves a leg up, there is no better time to go for it. As Trojans, we are taught to lead and make our mark by transforming the world in which we live.

Unlike the generations that preceded us, who saw graduation as the starting line, our starting gun might have sounded the day we arrived at USC.

Reid Roman is a sophomore majoring in industrial and systems engineering. His column, “Bright Side,” runs every other Friday.

  • Joe

    Nice article but seriously, dont give people over-inflated expectations. 9 OUT OF 10 NEW BUSINESSES FAIL!!!! This statistic is no different for USC students and grads. Yes, i advocate trying, but also being realistic and viewing your business as a learning experience to help you try again in the future and increase your chance for success. I have seen many people put all their hopes on a venture only to have them crushed. We never talk about the failure stories.

    USC is obsessed with unrealistic success stories. But there is just as much to be learned from those who have tried failed, because 90% of the time, that will be you. This article is fodder and ignores reality. Dont post crap like this anymore without being a little more realistic. There is no entrepreneurship fairy .

    • SGALLAGHER

      It appears to me that Joe is quite angry that there is no Entrepreneurship Fairy. Joe, what have you written lately? Where can I read what you have written? Where I see what you have been doing to further mankind in general and the USC students in particular?

      Lastly Joe, Mr Roman’s article is on the Editorial page of the paper. While you could possibly have some valid points were this article not on the Editorial page – IT’S ON THE EDITORIAL PAGE!

      Seriously Joe, it is not a rhetorical question – Where will I find the work that you are doing?

    • Marhsall grad

      You are absolutely right. But the pessimism and bitterness isn’t called for. Hell yeah the economy sucks. I graduated this past May, and a few of my classmates whom I still keep in touch with don’t have jobs related to their majors, nor are they making “average college grad pay.” It blows! But am I bitter? somewhat. But I don’t blame the DT’s “unrealistically optimistic” stories.

      There is an article in the LA times recently, about a USC Marshall grad who ran short on his luck; his folks’ clothing business almost fell into bankruptcy; but he turned it around; and now he’s really successful…He runs a high end jean company. It’s one of those expensive, Diesel, Lucky brandesque jeans that cost like $250+ per set. But I just remember he was quoted, “don’t be afraid to fail.”

  • mp

    This is an inspiring and timely article about college entrepenuership. With unemployment rates in the five digits, many college students might well need to develop those type of survival skills. May I suggest three simple questions that one should ask themselves as they start their own venture: 1) Who are my customers 2) Why will they want to purchase my products and services (instead of the products and services of my competitors)…. this could also be asked as what is unique about my product or service (compared to the products and services of my competitors) 3) How will I fund the operation during the startup process.

    Good Luck to all those daring enough to venture forth.

    Reid, I enjoyed the research and examples that you provided of college students who have decided to launch their own businesses. Thanks again for the inspiration and reflection on this topic.

    • Visionary

      “Many of us view college as nothing more than a means to get good jobs after we graduate,” this is because college conditions you to think a certain way. The academics, for the most part, condition you to approach things mechanically. Both mechanical-heuristics (college academics) and creativity are the keys to success.