What do Zuckerberg, Dell and Gates have in common? None of these entrepreneurs waited until after graduation to work on their projects.
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What do Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell and Bill Gates have in common? They all founded their respective companies while still in college.
If you dream of becoming an entrepreneur, you don’t have to wait until you graduate. Even if you don’t end up creating the next Facebook, you can gain valuable experience and make money from your venture. Take a look at the 10 Coolest College Start-Ups of 2011 as selected by Inc.com for some examples of students starting companies you probably haven’t heard of before.
Want to flex your entrepreneurship muscles while still in school? Here are four ways to get started:
1. Open a virtual store on eBay or Amazon
Opening a virtual store is appealing because it requires little funding. All you need is an account on eBay or Amazon and something to sell.
When I was in school, I sold DVDs, CDs and video games out of my room. (My closet looked like a miniature Best Buy.) Anticipate which new releases will be popular, and find somewhere that’s selling the title at a reduced rate (like an eBay user selling them in bulk, or a sale at Walmart). Then figure out the minimum price you’d need to charge to make a profit after eBay or Amazon take their fees, and boom! You’re in business.
The same strategy can apply to any product. I ventured out from media products when Livestrong bracelets were trendy; I found a site that made custom wristbands and ordered a huge batch of them with popular phrases, then sold them individually for a higher price. What could you resell for a profit?
2. Turn your talent into a freelance job
If you’re particularly talented at something (perhaps what you’re majoring in), you can make money off of it. Offer website design, photography or even social media marketing as your side gig.
You’ll need to learn how to market yourself to acquire clients, but this is a good skill to develop before you apply for full-time jobs anyhow. And if you get enough clients while you’re still in school, you’ll have a decent income base when you graduate – and who knows, you might not even have to apply for a job! Sites like elance or odesk are good resources for online freelance work.
To build your credibility, consider working for free at first. Working for free is “a great way to gain experience and get your name out there,” says Benjamin Stitzer, who freelanced as a photographer while he studied at Southern Adventist University. For him, working for free lead to several paid jobs. And if you have trouble landing clients, Stitzer says, simply do the work for yourself and use the results to prove how good you are.
3. Start a YouTube channel
While you might not think of a YouTube channel as an entrepreneurial venture, Tyler Oakley would disagree. The popular vlogger, who recently graduated from Michigan State University, has acquired more than 130,000 subscribers on YouTube by treating it like a business.
And business is booming! (Take a look at YouTube’s partner program to see how Oakley earns money from making videos.)
But Tyler says the key isn’t to expect to make money from the get-go. “It’s never been the goal to make money on my channel – but I have to admit, [as a recent college grad,] it’s an amazing perk,” he said. “The point is to express yourself in your own way and to connect with people.”
4. Design or create something
If you’re an art major or good at knitting or crafting, go ahead and set up shop. Look for local arts & crafts fairs to sell your work in person, or list it on sites like Etsy. Just like working a freelance gig, this will not only be a good stream of revenue during school, but if you build up enough sales, it can become a full-time entrepreneurial project. Start simple just by selling what you have, possibly what you create in class, or try to get commissioned to create something specific for a customer.
If one of the ideas above sparks your interest or you have an idea of your own, Forbes offers more in-depth tips for getting your dorm room business on the road to success.
What business do you dream of building?