Summer Means Business for Collegiate Entrepreneurs

Over their summer breaks, college-age students have started some of the largest and most successful companies. As a pre-med student at the University of Southern California, Dineh Mohajer, combined her knowledge of chemistry with her knack for fashion to create a nail polish to match her strappy blue sandals. Since it’s inception in 1995,  Mohajer’s “Hard Candy” cosmetics are carried by exclusive department stores worldwide.

During the summer of 1970, Paul Orfalea, just out of college, opened his first photocopy shop in Isla Vista, the campus community of the University of California at Santa Barbara, and launched Kinko’s. At the age of 17, Fred Deluca borrowed money from a friend and started Subway Restaurants.

Of course, not all businesses have to mushroom into lucrative mega-companies to be worthwhile. Taylor Birkey, a junior at Taylor University in Upland Indiana partnered with is brother Noel, a freshman, to start a small business to help pay for college. This summer the duo expect to earn $10,000 through “Birkey Brothers for Hire,” which offers a potpourri of services for busy parents from cleaning decks to walking the family dog.

Noel says the idea to start their own business began as a family discussion. “My mom said she thought that we could make more money if we were self-employed rather than work for someone else at a minimum wage job,” explains Noel. “My dad created our web site for us and things began to happen.” Taylor says, “Everyone’s looking for work to be done around their house in the summer, and my family knows a lot of people who can be customers. At a graduation party, I talked to everyone about hiring me and my brother to work for them.”

While many students may be uncertain about whether entreprenuership is right for them, they no longer have to wait until they graduate to learn how to launch a business. For decades, most schools offered one or two new-venture courses and little else. But today, more than 1,500 schools nationwide offer at least one class in entrepreneurship, according to In addition, almost 550 related degrees are currently available at colleges across the country.

The growing number of entrepreneurial classes is part of an explosion of interest that started more than 20 years ago, said Gerald Hills, founder and chairman of the Chicago-based Collegiate Entrepreneurial Organization, a non-profit network of more than 100 universities.”The major factor has been the [lack of job] security provided by large corporations,” he said.

According to Kenneth Lacho, professor of management and entrepreneurship coordinator at the University of New Orleans, more than 2,600 students have taken a class in entrepreneurship at UNO since 1994.”These courses train people how to start a business, manage franchises and family businesses,” he said. Plans are in the works to offer entrepreneurship-currently a minor-as a major.

If you’re a college student thinking about starting a business, here are ways to explore your entrepreneurial bent:

1. Identify your market. What need does your product or service fill? Who would be  your customers?.

2. Inquire at your school. In addition to offering courses in entrepreneurship, some schools sponsor business-plan competitions, where faculty and local venture capitalists judge student’s business ideas and award seed funding to the winners.

3. Consider participating in a national organization. Many organizations offer projects that allow you to test and develop your entrepreneurial skills with fellow students. One such organization is SIFE, Students in Free Enterprise. You can visit their web site

4. Get advice. Talk with a person you admire and respect in business about your idea and ask for their suggestions.

5. Craft a business plan. If you need help, many books are available that can help you get started with implementing your idea. Visit your local bookstore or library to find resources.

Taylor says the best thing about working for yourself are the lessons you learn. “I’m learning financial management, marketing, and scheduling, and it’s not from a book but from real experience.” And the experience is paying off. The brothers are getting so much business that they’re needing expert advice to develop their skills. A new customer wants his house painted and asked the guys for a quote. Taylor says, “I used to work on a paint crew, but I never had to give a cost estimate. I’m going to call my former employer and find out how to do this.” Taylor’s discovered what other business owners can vouch for: Working for yourself means getting help from other people who know what they’re doing.

Both brothers emphasize that owning a business is fun and requires confidence and the faith that “anything is possible.” For more information about starting a business, contact the U.S. Small Business Administration or visit their web site at

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