Did you know that in 2019, the average debt per student was $29,900?
Another year of college means another year of tuition, books and living expenses.
We've all been there - prioritizing academics while trying to make ends meet financially is no walk in the park.
And sometimes, adding a job with full-time hours into the mix just isn't in the cards.
Because of this, more and more students are opting to start their own business to help with the financial burden of going to school + the ability to have flexible hours.
We've identified 18 inspiring student entrepreneurs that started a business during college, the process of launching their idea, and how much they're making today.
Start a video production content strategy business
Henry Finn started Luminous, which sells video production content strategy and is making $166,000 revenue/mo.
When it comes to a commercial project (which does result in single-serving products); the process is the same every time. We hear from a prospective client through a request for proposal or a referral. Then we get to know them, talk with them personally and hear about their needs in their own words, which always provides insights not found on an RFP. Then we do a deep dive into their business that goes way beyond whatever they request from us. This is because if we do work together, we consider ourselves part of your company and want to know everything a C-level employee would need to know. If there is something about your business model that we believe will hinder your commercial project, we will tell you. This is because we are hyper-results driven, and if we drive hundreds of thousands or millions of eyeballs to your landing site and it sucks, it will not convert anyone and we will tell you because otherwise you will blame us and we are having none of that. Lol.
The success of our long-term relationships depends on you achieving results that your CEO will look at and say “Yes that was a good investment let’s hire that company again” so it’s better for us to do it right or don’t do it at all.
Often this means we end up having business development talks because if for instance, you are a B2B company and you don’t have a sales force ready to convert the traffic we give you, we will not work with you. We have recommended companies invest in their sales team before working with us many times.
We are here to add rocket fuel and lift-off but if your ship does not have the infrastructure to support it, we can not do much for you.
Start a sat/act tutoring business
Adam Shlomi started SoFlo SAT Tutoring, which sells sat/act tutoring and is making $15,000 revenue/mo.
When I decided to take SoFlo seriously as a full-time operation, the first things I did were build a website, make a logo, and start posting on craigslist and Facebook. I didn’t hire another tutor for the first 3 months because of 1.) I didn’t have the client demand and 2.) I wanted to work out all the kinks of online tutoring.
I thought about what my SAT tutoring experience was like as a student and how that experience could have been improved. I asked and answered how to onboard students, how long sessions should be, what the right amount of homework was, and what curriculum would work best.
This process was all about using various past experiences and critical thinking to brainstorm how I could create the best tutoring experience for my students. I made templates for text messages to send to parents and students for initial outreach and began to operationalize my variables. I came up with a homework schedule based on students’ current weaknesses and time remaining until test their official test date and tried out a series of different curriculums to find out which one was most effective.
Start a unique instruments business
Adam Klosowiak started KLOS Guitars, which sells unique instruments and is making $100,000 revenue/mo.
My brother and I were both broke college students when we started KLOS Guitars, and this really forced us to be extremely lean. When you have no money, you really have to get creative with how you get the things you need, be it information or materials.
The qualities that we wanted the first model of the KLOS guitar to have were pretty clear to us from initial market research. We wanted the guitar to be the most affordable carbon fiber guitar on the market so that people like ourselves (college students at the time) could afford it.
The reality is that there will always be mistakes when you’re starting a company, and in hindsight vision will always be 20/20. The best thing to do is to create a minimum viable product as fast as possible, launch it as it is, and start interacting with the market.
Start a self-improvement advice business
Sinem Günel started Personal Growth Base, which sells self-improvement advice and is making $10,000 revenue/mo.
I believe one of our core strengths is that my business partner, who is also my boyfriend, is a great salesperson.
When selling B2B seminars, we always first found out what the customer needed and then made an offer without even knowing how to properly execute. But we knew we would find it out.
Some of our biggest projects were initiated that way. For example, seminars on teambuilding and productivity for apprentices of some major companies.
Start a a personal finance website business
Alexis Schroeder started FITnancials, which sells a personal finance website and is making $7,500 revenue/mo.
Starting Fitnancials was incredibly inexpensive. I think I remember it costing less than $100 and I didn’t put any money into it for many years since it was a hobby blog.
When I decided to go all-in on my business, I eventually invested in courses, email marketing, and graphic designers to design my website.
Start a mobile app development business
Phil Scarfi started Pioneer Mobile Applications, which sells mobile app development and is making $30,000 revenue/mo.
When learning about creating businesses, my mentor spoke to me about the Lean Startup Methodology and how startups are using a somewhat scientific method approach to starting a business.
Maintaining a close relationship with our customers has helped us not only retain clients, but attract new ones.
I saw how successful this process worked and I realized I could take a similar process and use it for creating successful applications.
Start a cigar subscription service business
Michael Arciola III started Southern Cigar Co, which sells cigar subscription service and is making $20,000 revenue/mo.
This was possibly the easiest part. Since we aren’t doing anything new or novel, there’s processes and companies in place to help us out.
But first, when I got to this phase I realized I wouldn’t be able to manage the day-to-day activities. Not that I couldn’t, but at the time I was a double major in computer science and business, was running my own web design firm, very active in school clubs/activities, and just got accepted to be an intern at Viacom/MTV at their headquarters in NYC.
Due to my overwhelming schedule, I knew bringing on help would be my best help in bringing this vision to life. I ended up asking my roommate and good friend at the time to manage the day to day operations as I knew I could trust him with that.
Start a sports nutrition supplements business
Nick Bare started Bare Performance Nutrition, which sells sports nutrition supplements and is making $500,000 revenue/mo.
I found my first contact manufacturer online through some deep google researching. Over the years we have worked with a few different manufacturers until we found the perfect ones. Today, we work with two contract manufacturers (one is in Texas and the other is in California).
In the beginning, when we were just getting started and moving very little volume, there was never a relationship established between myself and the manufacturers. We were a small fish in a large pond. Today we talk with our manufacturers on a daily basis, and usually multiple times a day.
I personally formulated our first two products that entered the market. I worked with the contract manufacturer lab team and R&D department to bring it to life, but the majority of the input came from my research. Even though I was studying Nutrition in college, we never covered sports performance and especially dietary supplement research, so I would spend hours in the evening researching ingredients and their effectiveness. I initially put together a formula, sent it over to the manufacturer to price and received the quote - over $30 per bottle! At the price point, I would have to sell this pre-workout for it would be shunned in the market! Over the next couple of weeks, I went back and forth with the manufacturer to create the best product possible at the most reasonable price too. We removed some ingredients and added others, changing the dosage of some and ended up getting our price point to exactly where it needed to be. It ended up taking about 12 weeks to approve a formula, finalize the flavoring profile and put everything into production (which was another 12 weeks).
Start a cbd cigarette business
Evan Marshall started Plain Jane, which sells cbd cigarette and is making $275,000 revenue/mo.
There are a bunch of different philosophies about creating products so this is just my take.
I believe a product has to have some essential attribute that makes it different from existing products. It can be price or a unique feature but something has to be different about it. I believe marketing and brand is a lagging indicator of your products. Simply selling something already out there with a different label doesn’t really appeal to me. Most of the work of selling a product is done by the product so differentiation can be crucial for growth.
Our first goal in prototyping our product was to figure out if our identifying attribute, a low smell and ultra smooth weed was an interesting concept to anyone.
Start a product based on a meme business
James Reina + Davis Harari started The Nut Button, which sells product based on a meme and is making $13,500 revenue/mo.
We knew Alibaba was going to be the place to source something like this, so we started scouting a “sound button manufacturer” (that was the verbatim search term), and sent an inquiry to basically every vendor there.
It’s such a simple product that we weren’t super worried about quality — we valued communication and price over all else, with the intention of building a lasting relationship with our supplier.
Start a candy surprise boxes business
Bemmu Sepponen started Candy Japan, which sells candy surprise boxes and is making $6,500 revenue/mo.
When I started in 2011, the term “subscription box” was not in popular use, and it wasn’t even clear that people would want to subscribe to anything besides BirchBox makeup samples.
So before spending too much time on the project, I wanted to make sure I could actually find paying subscribers. I did this by emailing past customers of the online store I had been running before during my exchange study, asking them if they would be interested in random Japanese candy. Three people agreed to subscribe, and I started shipping candy to them even before putting up a website.
Start a cbd/hemp products business
Jackson Jesionowski started FullBodyZen, which sells cbd/hemp products and is making $17,000 revenue/mo.
Once the idea was validated in the fraternity I contacted my friend who owns a smoke shop and pitched it to him. He gave me a price they would pay and crunching the numbers I could make 300% margins. Great!
I ordered 100 empty pods, plastic clamshell packaging, higher mg CBD vape juice and paid a friend to design a label.
Start a online video editing business
Sabba Keynejad started VEED, which sells online video editing and is making $6,000 revenue/mo.
In the early days of VEED, we had to build out a lot of basic infrastructures to allow us to build all the features we have now. We needed a solid foundation that all our other products would be built off.
We must have built at least 4 different iterations of the product using different software stacks to get to where we are now. Unfortunately, there was very little content online that explained best practices in cloud-based video editing, therefore we pretty much relied on trial and error. Eventually, we have landed on a React + webGL front end build and FFmpeg + C++ on the backend with batch job cloud architecture to hold everything in place.
Start a menswear blog and reviews business
Jon Shanahan started The Kavalier, which sells menswear blog and reviews and is making $6,000 revenue/mo.
Before I started shooting my first video I had an idea of where I wanted to go and the format I wanted to follow. I recognized it was important to get something posted so I used my iPhone to record everything and just went for it.
I chose Frank and Oak as my first brand because I was a huge fan of the brand and very few people were talking about them online. At the time I was getting monthly deliveries of clothes from them so I decided my first year would be a video each month of my box, review it, and ask people to sign up with my link so I could earn some money to buy more clothing. I was familiar with Final Cut from my earlier roles and pushed through the agony of listening/watching yourself. It took about 1 week to get my first comment from a guy named Jaron which was thrilling. I used to get emails each time someone commented on a video. Had to turn those off after the first few months and I felt incredibly lucky.
My first setup
Start a hand lettered stationery products business
Jordyn started Jordyn Alison Designs, which sells hand lettered stationery products and is making $3,000 revenue/mo.
My products primarily stem from my real life. From something I wrote in a letter during boot camp, to something I said out loud jokingly to my husband… to him deploying with a week’s notice and feeling all the feelings. I try to make products based on personal situations. However, there are times when I feel like making Baby cards even though I have no kids, and the inspiration from those usually comes from what I hear people saying on Instagram about their kids, or scrolling through Pinterest and seeing a pretty nursery!
My cards are all produced in my home studio. I get my paper from a business in my home state, but then I cut, score, fold, and stuff all the cards myself! This is obviously more time consuming, but as I mentioned earlier I am a military spouse and the thought of moving around with tons of greeting card inventory did not seem like a good idea for me at the time. It’s definitely something I’m considering outsourcing in the future, but for now, I can’t do that. The biggest hurdle for me has been making my products as eco-friendly as possible. For now, I’m using a plant-based clear sleeve around my cards for wholesale orders but I imagine that will change in the near future as I work out other solutions.
My vinyl stickers are outsourced because I wanted the highest quality sticker that could be waterproof and fade resistant. I believe I saw a Facebook ad from the company I used, so then when I went to look up manufacturers their name stood out to me. My stickers come packaged plastic-free whether the order is from a brick and mortar or from my online store.
Start a curated games business
Dominic Morris started HoopMaps, which sells curated games and is making $3,000 revenue/mo.
I felt confident that once we created this app it had the potential to be great for the adult recreational sports community, an underrated sector.
So Donte decided to take some courses on coding and learned objective C and he gained enough knowledge to build out a condensed version of our HoopMaps aka our MVP.
We started building sketches of what we wanted the app to look like, literally from the settings button to the type of features we would like to have.
Start a reusable waterbottle business
Regina Ye started Zirui, which sells reusable waterbottle and is making $1,000 revenue/mo.
It was not an easy nor short process by any means.
So I actually took an architecture class when I was a junior just for some extra credits but ended up learning the essential skill to start the design process.
I learned CAD modeling and spent a few extra nights at the computer lab to finish a very coarse 3D model so I could stop just waving my hands or drawing on the whiteboard when I tried to explain the idea to people.
Start a exercise accountability business
Justin Anyanwu started Lazy Jar, which sells exercise accountability and is making $250 revenue/mo.
The design process for the initial prototype (version 1.0) and the current app (version 2.0) was basically the same.
Granted, I learned a lot from building the initial prototype; like questions to ask a developer before you hire them. It helped that I already had a technical background so I could ask really precise questions that guaranteed that the app wasn’t going to be a subpar nightmare.
I’ll give you an example - I once interviewed a developer that was going to store credit card information on the phone’s internal database. Just the idea gave me hives. The right answer would have been using a third party credit card processor like Stripe to handle all that sensitive heavy lifting. Obviously didn’t hire that person.
We get it - starting your own business as a full-time student may seem overwhelming at first.
But, think about the financial freedom, flexible hours, and incredible experience you would gain from giving it a shot.
The best part? You don't need a ton of money to get started.
All 18 student entrepreneurs we just presented launched a business with little to no start-up cost.
That can be you, too.
We hope you enjoyed this blog post. Check out more inspiring businesses and how they got started on Starter Story.