Mix a big idea, a smart business plan and lots of study breaks — and you could be raking in the big bucks before you graduate college.
Not so simple…
But for some students that have the drive, the determination and the dream — building a business between classes can really happen. Three student entrepreneurs share their stories of success.
School: Senior at the University of Wisconsin
Hometown: Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey
Company: Founded Add The Flavor, LLC
Future plans: Venture Capital
Company Web site: www.addtheflavor.com
The idea of Add The Flavor, LLC (flavored plastic) came about during my freshman year at school when I had randomly found out that there was no such thing as flavored plastic. After being intrigued by this, which I saw as an opportunity, I decided to pursue the idea.
From there I secured start-up funding from a private investor and formed an exclusive partnership with A. Schulman Inc., the world’s largest plastic compunder, to perform all of our research and development.
After conquering several hurdles, such as the technology not working the first 10 times, 20 experiments and over a year later, Add The Flavor has created PolyFlav, a technology that is created by engineering polymers of flavor and impregnating them into the molecular structure of the plastic.
After injecting the polymer of flavor into the plastic, the polymer acts as a sponge of flavor in the plastic. When you put the plastic in your mouth the flavor disburses out of the “sponge” coming to the surface, which allows you to taste it. When you take it out of your mouth, the flavor desorbs back into the plastic, allowing the flavor duration to regenerate. Here is an interesting fact about our flavor duration: If you were to use the plastic for 100 hours, the flavor would change from 100 to 42 percent. After that 100 hours, if you stopped using it and let it sit for just two hours, the flavor level will rejuvenate back to 88 percent.
We now have a full team, which consists of about 10 people, including professors, polymer engineers, and manufacturers. A. Schulman Inc. assists us with R&D, manufacturing, and business development. There we have a team formed of about six different people ranging from engineers to sales.
My two main challenges of starting and launching a company while in school were focus and energy management, not time management. Of course, the start up phase of a business is very time consuming, so trying to achieve success in both was difficult. Through this endeavor, I have learned the importance of efficient management and how much of a role legal work has in the business.
After doing it for a few months, and enjoying every bit of it, I developed a skill set that was applicable to both business and school. When putting yourself to the test, you become very aware of strengths and weaknesses, and in knowing them very well, you can operate at full efficiency. By knowing your strengths and weaknesses, you properly allocate skills to complete tasks in a timely and orderly fashion.
As to where I see this business going, only time can tell, but I do know where I would like it to go. I would like this technology to be a value add to existing products and I would like there to be products created solely based around the technology. Both are in the works.
School: Senior at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business
Hometown: Long Island, New York
Company: Started RUIN clothing company in 2007
Future Plans: “Wherever the world takes me”
Web site: www.ruinclothing.com
RUIN was basically something I started as a hobby to entertain my own interests and make some money on the side. I would say relentless sales pitches and good fortune landed me a deal with Urban Outfitters; kind of the idea that if you throw enough against the wall, something sticks.
My brother and I created RUIN as a fusion of our interests and influences. From New York City culture to world travels to childhood memories, we have grabbed bits and pieces of things that have shaped us along the way. By recreating and reinventing all that has inspired us, we breathe new life into the past in a wearable form of expression. In this sense, RUIN is a lifestyle brand whose message is staying true to the self, staying in touch with what inspires you and innovating with one eye focused on the road ahead and the other staring in the rear-view.
With limited resources and experience, the most difficult part of the process was having faith in the product and myself. I remember thinking who's going to listen to some 20 year old with no background — there's a million other people out there trying to do the same thing. I learned that becoming comfortable with the process breeds confidence and people sense that regardless of age.
As a college student at a big university, I look around and see tons of opportunities to develop and market small businesses. Most of the people I encountered that helped make this project successful were actually really helpful and wanted to help out an adventurous kid, so I would say in that regard, being in college worked to my advantage. People seem to be attracted to the charisma/energy of young people — the entrepreneurial spirit. Another tremendous benefit of building a small business in college is that it was not my livelihood, so the pressure to succeed was not there. If it failed, that was OK and losses were minimal. It allowed me to have fun throughout and was a major factor in helping me succeed.
School: Graduate of the University of Pennsylvania
Hometown: Muncie, New York
Company: Started Insomnia Cookies in 2003, as a junior at The University of Pennsylvania
Future plans: 10 new stores opening, with a total of 22 locations nationwide
Web site: www.insomniacookies.com
When I opened the business I was very flippant about it, I didn’t think it was going to be my life choice. I simply saw an opportunity with no risk — baking cookies and delivering them around campus. I had no aspirations to do this for the rest of my life, it just ended up working.
I am not a baker by trade. I took a summer to perfect my recipe before launching the business, but it was mostly trial and error. Initially, I baked cookies in my ten person college house which didn’t last very long. Six months into the business, I rented commercial space to allow the business to grow properly.
I started getting the word out by putting up flyers and marketing in other ways. Soon after, the school newspaper picked up on the idea and students started ordering more. We went from being open four days a week to seven days a week. I had to begin renting a commercial space, and the company just grew organically at the time. It was completely unexpected.
The biggest obstacle I encountered was financing and learning how to grow a business. I was able to raise money through Angel investors, and this helped me get started and expand. That made it real, and from that point on it has grown. We are opening our 22nd location on September 1st.
On the one hand, starting a small business at a young age can be fabulous. College kids are pretty rash, pretty cocky, and a lot of them live in an isolated world, so you get into these businesses and it can seem like everything is going to be easy. In reality though, it can be really difficult and that’s something I’ve had to learn along the way.