Student Entrepreneurs | Top Universities

Student Entrepreneurs

By Staff Writer

Updated November 11, 2016 Updated November 11, 2016

Meet some of the world’s most enterprising students, managing their own businesses while still at university. Starting your own business while at university can be a great way of earning some extra money, as well as gaining invaluable experience – guaranteed to give you a head start after graduation.

If you fancy giving entrepreneurship a go, read on for inspiration and advice from some of the students who’ve already taken the leap.

Elizabeth Greenberg, entrepreneurship and marketing major at Elon University, US

Since she’s majoring in entrepreneurship and marketing, it may not seem surprising that Elizabeth Greenberg decided to start her own business. But she says she never expected it would happen so soon.

The idea for Non-Scents Flowers, which Elizabeth runs in partnership with her mother, Mimi, came from a visit to a friend who was in hospital for cancer surgery. Live plants and flowers were banned on the ward, so instead Elizabeth created an arrangement of origami paper flowers, each containing a special message. The idea immediately attracted interest, and before long Elizabeth and Mimi had set up Non-Scents Flowers to cater for the growing demand.

The gifts are popular, Elizabeth believes, because each is unique: “they can be customized to fit every different kind of individual, and that’s what people love.”

On a daily basis, Elizabeth handles the social media aspects of the business and makes final decisions on designs. She says the time management skills she gained at high school, when she competed regularly in horse shows, have been useful – but also that she couldn’t have done it without her mother.

“She’s helped a lot to ensure that my schoolwork hasn’t suffered,” Elizabeth says, adding: “As a mother-daughter team, we are more comfortable with one another and tend to speak our minds more freely than we would if we weren’t so close.”

Both are dedicated to continuing to grow Non-Scents Flowers. “At the moment it’s just guesswork as to where we’ll end up, but we’d like to take it as far as we can,” Elizabeth says. Would she consider starting another business in the future? “Absolutely.”

Elizabeth’s advice: Don’t be afraid to ask for help – whether from someone you know professionally, a teacher, or even a relative. You really never know what will happen until you try, and if you never try then you’ll never know. You just have to go for it and make it happen!

Joe Sarsfield, computer science student at Nottingham Trent University, UK

Nottingham Trent University offers ‘sandwich’ courses with a difference; students can choose to spend their ‘year in industry’ developing their own businesses, rather than working in someone else’s.

Those who take this option are supported by programs offered at the university’s dedicated entrepreneurship centre, The Hive – which is where Joe Sarsfield launched Angry Pirate Productions, along with course mates Joe Hastings, John Bradshaw and Dan Footitt.

Angry Pirate Productions specializes in creating games for smart phones, and the team (now just Joe, Joe and John) has so far released three different games – the first of which, iWrangle, features a pirate who is at least mildly irritated.

The ‘sandwich’ year has meant they’ve had plenty of time to get the business up and running, and iron out any difficulties. Next year, when they return to studies, Joe says they’ll try to set aside time in the evenings and weekends.

Working as a team is a definite plus, he adds. “It means we can discuss ideas with each other and balance the work load. We each have a specific focus area, which allows us to hone our skills.”

As well as the games development, Joe says they’ve also enjoyed the process of creating and running a company. “Turning that into a career is a goal.”

Next up, they plan to move into the multiplayer market – watch this space!

Joe’s advice: Go for it! University is the best place to meet up with other game developers, and there is usually a lot of support from the university itself. You have to be prepared to sacrifice all of your free time, because starting a business is more than a full-time job. But the benefits of having your own company are great – you have control over what products you want to create.

Jonathan Wrait, psychology student at the University of Auckland, New Zealand

Jonathan Wrait certainly hasn’t wasted any time in achieving his ambition of becoming an entrepreneur. When he completes his bachelor’s degree later this year, he’ll leave university with a well-established business, Virtuoso Tutoring.

Virtuoso offers one-on-one tutoring for high-school students. Tutors are all recent graduates from the schools their tutees attend, so they’re fully up to date on the courses and exams being taken by their students.

The concept has been popular, even attracting interest from other countries. “For this year we’ll focus on continued expansion in New Zealand, but looking longer term we definitely want to expand internationally,” Jonathan says.

How does he manage to combine business and studies? “Sometimes with difficulty!” He admits that he has missed the occasional class, but “only ones that are easy to catch up on.”

It’s helped that both his business and degree course are relatively flexible, allowing him to organize his own schedule. “I generally have a pretty good idea of how long something will take, but just in case I always allow extra time for tasks to run over.” He also says he wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of his mentors, Bill Smale and Gael Bevan.

But even if Virtuoso Tutoring hadn’t ended up being a success, Jonathan says he wouldn’t have had any regrets. “You really don't have anything to lose; any losses in start-up capital are more than made up for in the knowledge, skills, and experience you gain.”

Jonathan’s advice: Find a great mentor – or two, or three! People who have started companies successfully are invaluable when you start out; they have the knowledge and experience to help you get started on the right track and not make the same mistakes they did!

The more people you can surround yourself with in different fields and with different expertise, the greater the collective knowledge you have to draw on to make your business a success.

Mike Behan, majoring in social entrepreneurship and finance at Northeastern University, US

Mike Behan’s non-profit business, Njabani Apparel, was the result of a promise he made to the disadvantaged and disabled women he met while volunteering in Njabani, Kenya – that together they would create a brighter future for them and their children.

Njabani Apparel provides employment for these women, who make a selection of beautiful hand-crafted hats, scarves and slippers. Of the profits, 50% goes to the women, 30% to cover the company’s costs and growth, and 20% to Flying Kites Global, a non-profit organization running a children’s home and school in Njabani.

A year after launching the business, Mike says the women are now earning four times the Kenyan national average. They’re able to send their children to school for the first time, and to save for the future.

This is a level of success Mike says he’d never dared to imagine – but he’s got even bigger plans for the future. “Our short term goal is to build a program which will allow the mothers we employ to build their own businesses, the ones they have dreamed of, and enable them to become self-sufficient within three years of employment.”

In the long term, Mike hopes to expand the business further, to provide employment for more women and to reach more customers. “Our brand represents a new form of business,” he says. “We want these products to transform the lives of hundreds of deserving women, allowing them to provide for their families, educate their children, and pursue a limitless future.”

There’s certainly no question of his commitment to these goals – though he does admit that keeping on top of studies at the same time can be a challenge: “I could definitely use some more sleep!”

Mike’s advice: True passion must be at the core of any business. If there’s no passion behind the idea, then there will be no substance to anything else you do. You must wholly live and breathe your mission and idea! It’s also important to remember that everything is a learning process. Never stop asking questions and absorbing everything around you.

This article was originally published in October 2012 . It was last updated in November 2016

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