College is the perfect time to start a business because you have support from loved ones, low living costs, a testing ground of possible customers, and the ability to try out multiple different ideas to see what business model works best for you.
Some of the biggest names in the world right now were started in college dorm rooms or by college-aged founders. Just look at Facebook, Google, Apple, and Walmart. They took a chance in their college years and used that time to start hugely successful businesses that have changed our lives and how we conduct business.
Let’s discuss how to start, possible business ideas, success tips, how to secure funding for your venture, and resources you can use to get started now!
Business Startup Ideas for College Students
Here are some of my favorite startup ideas for college students. Check out our entire article for more ideas!
- Creative/Artistic Ideas: Online platforms like Etsy have made it easy for artists to share their creations in various mediums, from digital to canvas to graphics to stationery. Freelance platforms like Upwork and Fiverr allow creatives to earn extra money and build a writing, designing, and graphics business.
- Technology: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) services are a much-needed service for local businesses near your college campus, and you can get to know their businesses intimately since you are local to the area. If you have skills in developing apps, you can create a social calendar for your campus or a guide for new students that details the hottest places in town to get food, hang out, grab a drink, work out, and so much more.
- Retail/Sales: Many fashion trends are coming back in style, and thrift stores or consignment stores are the perfect places to find clothes that can be resold online for a profit. If you are handy with a sewing kit, you can add your own flair to create your own designs or mend clothes that aren’t in perfect condition.
- Lifestyle/Services: Colleges are a perfect setting to teach makeup or hair tutorials or offer your services for formals or special events. Offer pet sitting or walking services to professionals or families going out of town or working long hours during the day but want their pets to be taken care of. If you have an extensive social network, you can promote for clubs or shows.
What You Need to Get Started
Skills needed to be an entrepreneur include:
- Time management
- Ability to prioritize tasks
- Juggling responsibilities
- Business planning
- Market research
- Customer service
- Soft people skills
- Raising business funds or bootstrapping to get the business off the ground
- Phone skills
- Understanding legal contracts
- Finding professional services such as legal, accounting, sales, marketing, etc. that suit your business
What It Takes to Succeed
Being an entrepreneur and starting your first business requires a certain mindset to help you succeed in your journey. Here is a step-by-step guide to planning out your entrepreneurial path:
- Step 1: Find your idea. Try to avoid intentionally finding the next big thing and instead focus on what areas of life interest you. Think about what you enjoy doing and find ways to monetize the skills or activities you already enjoy. Making money from activities you already enjoy doing will inspire a passion and desire to keep pushing forward if things get hard and keep you focused on the “why” behind starting a business in the first place.
- Step 2: Conduct market research. You can come up with the best idea in the world and be hugely passionate about building a business in that arena. Research your local area to see if there is a demand for the product or service you are thinking of making. Then, figure out what supplies you need to create your products or services and how much those cost. After, determine how much you need to charge for your products and services compared to what potential customers are willing to pay.
- Step 3: Develop a business plan. This will help you to think about the hard questions of your business and flush out details. This document cannot be written quickly, so set aside time to sit down and plan out what you want your business to look like from the ground up. Build a solid foundation from Day 1 because you owe that to yourself and your business.
- Step 4: Learn to speak about what you do. No one will believe in you and your business if you don’t believe in it. Practice talking about what you do and how it benefits your customers. Selling yourself and your skills will help you to gain loyal customers and investors for your business. Don’t forget that customers have many options of where to spend their money, so it’s up to you to convey your brand to customers and establish authority in the marketplace.
- Step 5: Figure out how to fund your business. Part of writing a business plan is determining how the business will be funded, how much funding is needed, what the funding will be used for, and where funding will come from. When you start negotiating with investors, it’s up to you to get the best terms for your business, such as interest rate, percentage of the company that you are willing to give up in exchange for funding, and repayment terms.
- Step 6: Figure out how you will market your business. Whether you use social media, website, or local marketing is based on your business model and business plan. Develop a strategy for your marketing, so you aren’t just throwing marketing dollars out the window. Marketers create personas of their ideal customers to better understand them. Find where your ideal customers hang out and direct your marketing dollars there.
- Step 7: Future planning continuously. Starting a business and making some sales doesn’t mean that your business will be successful long term. Success comes from intentional planning and maintenance of what you’ve built. Build processes that help your business run with as few hiccups as possible.
Tools and Apps
Entrepreneurs tend to work more than full-time hours (up to 60 hours per week) when first starting their business; I can attest to this from personal experience. Finding tools and apps that save time while keeping you organized and on task will lighten your load and improve how your business functions.
Here are some of the best:
- Google Drive: Free to anyone with a Gmail account and allows easy transfer of files and collaboration on projects.
- Dropbox: Storage for digital files that can be shared with users anywhere
- OneDrive: A Microsoft suite product that allows file sharing on supported devices.
- Trello: Collaborative project management tool that keeps teams on the same page.
- Asana: A platform that allows remote teams to collaborate on projects and split up work.
- SmartSheet: Workflow tool that gives teams a resource to develop workflows and share them with the team.
- Melio: Free to use accounting that lets businesses pay bills and payroll, track invoices, and cash out to your bank account in 2-3 days after receiving payment.
- Wave: Small businesses can rely on this for basic accounting and invoicing.
- FreshBooks: Keep track of expenses, send invoices, report expenses, and track payments
Three major funding sources for startup businesses are to self-fund, bootstrap, or seek funding from angel investors, accelerators, venture capitalists, syndicates, or private investors. Bootstrapping means having a soft start to the business and using sales to expand your business as your profits grow. Usually, the business is started as a part-time gig while you continue to work a full-time job until the business makes enough money to support working in it full time.
It’s important to have a well-written business plan, pitch, and proof of concept for your business before approaching potential investors because funding sources are flooded with requests for funding regularly, so make sure you stand out from the crowd.
AngelList and Entrepreneurship.org will give you the inside scoop of what investors are looking for to consider investing in your company AND potential investors based on what industry you are working in.
I have worked with 10 business accelerators and incubators in the last 20 years. This experience has allowed thousands of entrepreneurs to learn to pitch their business ideas to potential investors, flush out their business ideas, and receive mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs, enabling them to avoid common rookie mistakes.
How Colleges Help Entrepreneurs
Some colleges will offer scholarships to prospective students, while others will offer startup resources for college entrepreneurs that can provide recipients with awards from $500-$150,000, depending on the circumstances. The best way to find what awards your school offers? Seek information from the school finance office. If your school doesn’t offer startup programs that offer funding, ask about community resources such as business accelerators or incubators. Some entrepreneurs will reach out to colleges in the community to ask for interns or apprentices to work in their businesses which could help you gain valuable experience.