18 Low Investment Business Ideas for College Students

18 Low Investment Business Ideas for College Students

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.

1. Start a video production company ($1.99M/year)

How Much Can You Make?
$10,000 — $1,500,000/month
Average Initial Investment
$3,803
Time To Revenue
210 days
Skills
Business model
Work from home

Henry Finn from San Francisco, California, USA started Luminous almost 9 years ago, a video production company.

  • Revenue: $166,000/ month
  • Founders: 2
  • Employees: 4
  • Location: San Francisco, California, USA

Case Study

I’m a filmmaker and that’s where my passion is. I’m an artist from my balls to my heart and I only became a producer and use my head because I also hate working 9-5s and I wasn’t interested in moving to LA. So I realized pretty quickly if I wanted to be free doing something I loved I would have to learn the business side.. which was really hard for me in the beginning.

I made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of hard lessons because as an artist you don’t care about a lot of things that corporations care about (namely learning to look at a project as a product for capitalistic needs over self-expression) and also have to add a lot of components to your knowledge like branding, marketing, etc.

Luckily the fear of letting the corporate machine suck my soul out forever (I used to be in banking) outweighed my cynicism, so I sucked it up and made a business for myself.

But actually, the moment that really changed my perception of reality was when I accidentally started one of the world’s top modern art sites (at the time) with a group of friends way back in 2005 or so.

We were originally going to make a collaborative portfolio site to try and get clients for our businesses (filmmakers, photographers, graphic designers, etc.) and I was trying to solve the problem of how to get someone to come back to our website once they’ve visited it once.

So I had this hypothesis that if instead of making a simple portfolio site, if we actually made a blog and just shared dope art we love with the world, it might give people a reason to come back.

how-henry-finn-built-2m-year-video-production-company-working-with-the-biggest-brands-in-the-world

2. Start a tutoring business ($1.2M/year)

How Much Can You Make?
$1,500 — $375,000/month
Average Initial Investment
$100
Time Commitment Per Week
Min. 5 hours/week
Skills
Interests

Adam Shlomi from Miami, FL, USA started SoFlo Tutors over 3 years ago, a tutoring business.

  • Revenue: $100,000/ month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 2
  • Location: Miami, FL, USA

Case Study

I come from an entrepreneurial family. My father works for himself and my maternal grandfather started a clothing factory. Working for myself has always been encouraged by my family, but before I could get started, I needed to learn a skill. At Georgetown, I study international politics and business. Most students with these backgrounds go on to work at prestigious firms like J.P. Morgan. I really didn’t know what kind of business I could start, and frankly, planned to work as a (boring) data analyst after graduation.

If you have an idea but don’t have the knowledge to execute, use that idea as motivation and go learn how to turn your vision into reality.

Tutoring first came to mind because I had spent significant time working for other tutoring companies and cutting my teeth/learning how the industry works during my teen years. I first started tutoring when I was 15. I was hired by College Experts, a local test prep center in Davie, Florida. My first student was three years older than me, and I spent our first session teaching him how to use his calculator rather than trying to explain any complicated formulas. Being a student myself, I was able to bring a student’s perspective to tutoring. I worked for College Experts until my senior year of high school when I began tutoring on my own and finding clients on Craigslist.

how-i-started-a-15k-month-sat-tutoring-business-while-in-college

3. Start a guitar company ($1.2M/year)

How Much Can You Make?
$3,000 — $100,000/month
Average Initial Investment
$13,250
Skills
Business model

Adam Klosowiak from Provo, Utah, USA started KLOS Guitars over 7 years ago, a guitar company.

  • Revenue: $100,000/ month
  • Founders: 2
  • Employees: 13
  • Location: Provo, Utah, USA

Case Study

KLOS Guitars is the first company that I started. And how I got here is quite the unconventional path.

I’m from the suburbs of Chicago originally. After graduating high school I went to Princeton University to study electrical engineering with an emphasis on semiconductor physics, which was fueled by my passion for science and a curiosity of how things work.

I first dipped my toes into entrepreneurship my junior year when I entered into a Hackathon with two of my peers. The three of us felt that our curriculum was too theoretical and we wanted to test our hands on skills by building something practical. We came up with Dorm Control, which was a bluetooth controlled power strip that you could control via your phone.

how-we-invented-a-carbon-fiber-guitar-and-grew-to-1m-year

4. Start a life coaching business ($120K/year)

How Much Can You Make?
$100 — $660,000/month
Average Initial Investment
$2,400
Time To Revenue
240 days
Time Commitment Per Week
Min. 5 hours/week
Skills
Interests

Sinem Günel from Vienna, Austria started Personal Growth Base almost 3 years ago, a life coaching business.

  • Revenue: $10,000/ month
  • Founders: 2
  • Employees: 0
  • Location: Vienna, Austria

Case Study

One and a half years after starting my studies in business administration I came into touch with entrepreneurship and I immediately knew that I wanted to dig deeper into how to build your own business and be your own boss.

So I started reading books, especially biographies, of successful entrepreneurs.

Pretty soon I found out there’s one major component all of them have in common: They all talk about their personal growth and how they had to improve themselves so that their businesses could grow.

This immediately triggered me and I started digging deeper into the topic of personal growth.

how-i-started-a-10k-month-personal-growth-advice-business

5. Start a finance blog ($90K/year)

How Much Can You Make?
$3,500 — $665,000/month
Average Initial Investment
$364
Time To Revenue
150 days

Alexis Schroeder from Colorado, USA started FITnancials over 9 years ago, a finance blog.

  • Revenue: $7,500/ month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 1
  • Location: Colorado, USA

Case Study

After I graduated high school, I went through a huge lifestyle change and lost 60 pounds. Fitness became my life, so naturally, friends and family would come to me for advice. My sister who had started a blog already (Michelle from Making Sense of Cents) told me it’d be a great idea to start a blog so I could help people. So I did!

Treat your business as a legit business and not a hobby.

I went on to become a NASM Certified Personal Trainer with a specialty in Fitness Nutrition. I worked at a gym for a short while and realized I hated the culture (at the particular gym I worked at), and fortunately kept my job working as a special needs caregiver. I then started college and wanted to be a special education teacher.

how-i-started-a-7-5k-month-blog-about-personal-finances

6. Become a freelance app developer ($360K/year)

How Much Can You Make?
$10,000 — $91,000/month
Average Initial Investment
$350
Time To Revenue
240 days
Skills
Business model

Phil Scarfi from New York, USA started Pioneer Mobile Applications about 6 years ago, a freelance app developer.

  • Revenue: $30,000/ month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 3
  • Location: New York, USA

Case Study

While I was in high school, I started getting interested in software and coding. I took a few fundamental coding classes and fell in love with it. Come my senior year, I decided to follow this interest and study Computer Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst). This is where all the magic began to happen.

For those of you that don’t know, UMass Amherst has the top dining in the nation. Because of this, myself and other students would spend hours on end per day in the dining commons.

You might be asking, Why on earth am I talking about food right now right?

how-i-started-a-successful-mobile-app-development-agency

7. Start a subscription box business ($240K/year)

How Much Can You Make?
$400 — $16,666,667/month
Average Initial Investment
$3,182
Time To Revenue
360 days
Skills

Michael Arciola III from Austin, Texas, USA started Southern Cigar Co over 7 years ago, a subscription box business.

  • Revenue: $20,000/ month
  • Founders: 2
  • Employees: 0
  • Location: Austin, Texas, USA

Case Study

My journey to build Southern Cigar Co. was much different than most. Although I’ve always enjoyed cigars, it wasn’t built around a passion for cigars.

During my time at Florida State University, I always joked around (sort of kidding, sort of not) that the computer science students were expected to learn something than immediately put it to use in the real world. The flip side being the business school, where you learn something very abstract that you likely won’t be able to apply until you are at the senior level.

There are people less qualified than you, doing things you want to do, simply because they decided to believe in themselves.

how-i-started-a-20k-mo-cigar-subscription-business-as-a-college-student

8. Start a supplements company ($30M/year)

How Much Can You Make?
$1,000 — $2,500,000/month
Average Initial Investment
$152,681
Time To Revenue
420 days
Skills

Nick Bare from Austin, Texas, USA started Bare Performance Nutrition over 10 years ago, a supplements company.

  • Revenue: $2,500,000/ month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 23
  • Location: Austin, Texas, USA

Case Study

In 2012 I was a junior in college studying Nutrition at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I was also in the ROTC program there so I knew that upon graduating college I would be commissioning into the US Army as an officer.

My friends and I were your typical broke college students and we loved weight training. Because we couldn’t continue to buy our own pre-workout supplements due to personal funds, or lack thereof, we decided to all go in together and purchase bulk ingredients to make our own pre-workout supplements.

Many of these college students, and friends of mine, took out this $25K loan to buy new cars, take vacations, get engaged and married, but I decided that this would be my funding to launch my company.

how-an-active-duty-soldier-built-6m-year-bare-performance-nutrition

9. Start a cbd business ($3.3M/year)

How Much Can You Make?
$3,000 — $800,000/month
Average Initial Investment
$57,200
Time To Revenue
300 days
Skills
Business model

Evan Marshall from Chatsworth, Ontario, Canada started Plain Jane over 4 years ago, a CBD business.

  • Revenue: $275,000/ month
  • Founders: 2
  • Employees: 16
  • Location: Chatsworth, Ontario, Canada

Case Study

At MIT, Duane and I grew weed in our dorm room and were really interested in learning more about the plant. After college, I went to work for a tech startup in San Francisco as a software engineer.

Duane created Miramix, a supplements manufacturing and branding company. Over the few years we were out of college, we saw the tides turning for cannabis legalization and knew we wanted to be involved.

When 2018 rolled around, I quit my job and Duane flew out to California.

how-two-college-roommates-started-an-online-cbd-business

10. Start a meme-based product ($162K/year)

How Much Can You Make?
$13,500 — $20,000/month
Average Initial Investment
$20,000
Skills

James Reina + Davis Harari from New York, USA started The Nut Button about 5 years ago, a meme-based product.

  • Revenue: $13,500/ month
  • Founders: 2
  • Employees: 0
  • Location: New York, USA

Case Study

Davis:

I thought of this product while interning before my senior year of college. I was in a meme group chat with some friends - and everyone thought the nut meme was hysterical.

how-we-created-a-product-based-on-a-meme-and-made-100k

11. Start a subscription box business ($78K/year)

How Much Can You Make?
$400 — $16,666,667/month
Average Initial Investment
$3,182
Time To Revenue
360 days
Skills

Bemmu Sepponen from Tokushima, Japan started Candy Japan about 11 years ago, a subscription box business.

  • Revenue: $6,500/ month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 0
  • Location: Tokushima, Japan

Case Study

I’m originally from Finland, but now live in Japan.

I started working full-time as a developer at a tiny software company when I was 17 years old, then changed jobs and worked at a university developing tools related to freetext search. The department encouraged me to try to also apply as a student, I got in and now have a computer science degree as well. Finland can be very flexible like that.

The biggest impact from becoming a student for me was the ability to have an exchange study period. The choice of where to go was obvious, as I had been interested in Japan for a long time and Japanese was my minor subject. I spent a year in Tokyo, then didn’t really feel like going back, and asked the administration if I could maybe stay another year? And to my surprise they said yes, so I ended up studying Japanese full-time there for two years total.

starting-a-japanese-candy-subscription-service

12. Start a cbd business ($888K/year)

How Much Can You Make?
$3,000 — $800,000/month
Average Initial Investment
$57,200
Time To Revenue
300 days
Skills
Business model

Jackson Jesionowski from Tucson, Arizona, USA started CannaFacturer over 3 years ago, a CBD business.

  • Revenue: $74,000/ month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 8
  • Location: Tucson, Arizona, USA

Case Study

Eight months ago I crashed snowboarding. Not your typical crash, the last thing I remember was thinking “I'm going too fast” approaching a jump and the next, waking up in a hospital throwing up violently. Afterward, I did not feel like myself, there was a substantial concussion and my cognitive abilities were lacking. I thought there had to be SOMETHING I should be taking.

Through my research, I found marijuana, CBD specifically, reduces the swelling that is causing damage to the neurons. I went shopping and boy were it expensive, to get the most bang for my buck I settled on vape juice, given its high bioavailability compared to oral products.

how-i-left-college-to-start-a-17k-month-business-selling-cbd-hemp-products

13. Start an online video editing business ($72K/year)

How Much Can You Make?
$2,000 — $208,000/month
Average Initial Investment
$150,075
Skills

Sabba Keynejad from London, England, United Kingdom started VEED about 4 years ago, a online video editing business.

  • Revenue: $6,000/ month
  • Founders: 2
  • Employees: 1
  • Location: London, England, United Kingdom

Case Study

Tim and I met during an online hackathon. During the hackathon participants were encouraged to meetup for real. We actually got on really well, and stayed friends and kept spitballing ideas for a startup for years.

At this time, I was a design student at Central Saint Martins and I had recently won a competition for Sony Music creating an interactive music video for the band Hurts with my friend Virgil. Then soon after graduation, I started working as a creative technologist in London for a bunch of different advertising & branding agencies and a few startups too.

how-we-developed-a-6k-month-online-video-editing-software

14. Start a clothing blog ($72K/year)

How Much Can You Make?
Skills

Jon Shanahan from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA started The Kavalier over 7 years ago, a clothing blog.

  • Revenue: $6,000/ month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 1
  • Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Case Study

My days with a camera can be traced back to my parents’ Sony Handycam when I was 6 directing my friends to make mini movies (still somewhere around here on VHS) but high school was a defining time for that passion as I joined the video club.

There’s certainly no substitute for hard work and dedicating thoughtful time to what you’re working on. I’ve published over 500 videos in the last three years and it takes a lot of time and effort to get there but if you show up everyday you will be ahead.

I was a distracted student in high school but my one reprieve was making videos at the direction of my teacher Brad Schulte. One of my earliest projects is still on YouTube which received 700k views at a time when that was a big deal. Most of those views came from people searching for keywords which planted a seed.

starting-a-youtube-channel-and-blog-making-6-000-month

15. Start a stationery business ($48K/year)

How Much Can You Make?
$200 — $1,000,000/month
Average Initial Investment
$5,540
Time To Revenue
300 days

Jordyn from Michigan, USA started Jordyn Alison Designs over 4 years ago, a stationery business.

  • Revenue: $4,000/ month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 0
  • Location: Michigan, USA

Case Study

A few years ago, my boyfriend (now husband) went off to Boot Camp. In preparation for those months of zero communication, I started hand lettering and making long-distance greeting cards. I needed something to occupy my time… something more than just college!

When I first started my business, I was working full time as well as being a full-time college student. It was really hard to grow my business to what I dreamt it could be when I didn’t have a ton of time to spare. It’s taken me some time to not get discouraged from others’ faster success. However, looking back I really do appreciate my slow-but-steady growth.

In December of 2017, I graduated with a Bachelors in Graphic Design. I was looking forward to 2018 finally being my year to fully work on growing my business - but life happened, and let’s just say… moving across the country (22 hr drive non-stop) 3 times in 5 months really tires you out.

how-i-started-a-3k-month-hand-lettered-stationery-products-ecommerce

16. Build an iphone app ($36K/year)

How Much Can You Make?
$150 — $2,000,000/month
Average Initial Investment
$126,872
Time To Revenue
270 days
Time Commitment Per Week
Min. 5 hours/week
Skills
Interests

Dominic Morris from Sacramento, California, USA started HoopMaps over 6 years ago, a iPhone app.

  • Revenue: $3,000/ month
  • Founders: 2
  • Employees: 4
  • Location: Sacramento, California, USA

Case Study

I grew up in Oakland California where all my life I dreamt of playing professional baseball, I played other pickup sports with my friends but baseball was definitely the sport that I gravitated to. Every summer I played on a baseball team and my number one goal in high school was to play college baseball.

I thought to myself... there must be a better solution than driving around town hoping to get lucky and find a pickup basketball game.

I gained a partial scholarship to Texas Southern in Houston and before heading out for my first semester Hurricane Katrina hit the southern gulf and Texas Southern took in many college students from the New Orleans colleges to continue their education. Resulting in taking away my scholarship.

how-we-started-hoopmaps-went-viral-and-got-on-shark-tank

17. Start a travel products business ($12K/year)

How Much Can You Make?
$1,000 — $250,000/month
Average Initial Investment
$124,500
Time To Revenue
270 days
Skills
Business model

Regina Ye from Boston, Massachusetts, USA started Zirui almost 5 years ago, a travel products business.

  • Revenue: $1,000/ month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 2
  • Location: Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Case Study

I am a big traveler and a beauty fanatic!

Being an international student, I traveled back and forth a lot between countries and continents. When I came up with the idea of ZIRUI I was 18 and had already traveled to more than 20 countries, so I was very familiar with the pain of traveling and having to pack my things nicely.

I was just getting very fed up with the standard startup rhetoric, and being in the ecosystem, I saw there was a lot of ego in the game. Some people are not working on what they truly believe in but just picking a problem that sounds cool because a “startup” is cool now.

how-regina-ye-started-a-cpg-company-while-in-college

18. Start an exercise app ($3K/year)

How Much Can You Make?
$250 — $1,000/month
Time To Revenue
240 days
Skills

Justin Anyanwu from Raleigh, North Carolina, USA started Lazy Jar almost 5 years ago, a exercise app.

  • Revenue: $250/ month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 0
  • Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

Case Study

Ever since I was young, I always loved creating things. My first passion as a kid was being a farmer. I loved the idea of planting seeds and watching them grow into something more valuable than the seeds they came from.

My passion changed from farming to electronics when I observed my uncle fixing televisions. The mystique of electronics had me wanting to understand them, so I took a particular interest in physics and mathematics.

Just do it! Cliche, but very true. The worst thing that can happen isn’t failing. It’s not knowing what could be.

how-i-launched-an-app-that-charges-people-if-they-don-t-exercise

Conclusion

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.

Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
Want to start your own business?

Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.

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meet the author
Pat Walls

I'm Pat Walls and I created Starter Story - a website dedicated to helping people start businesses. We interview entrepreneurs from around the world about how they started and grew their businesses.