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4 Ways to Dive into Entrepreneurship While You’re Still in College

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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?

Adam Britten is a Master of Digital Marketing Student at Hult International Business School in London. Read more about him at AdamBritten.com or chat with him on Twitter @AdamBritten.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Laura

    I want to own my own branding agency! Some day far, far away….

    • http://twitter.com/AdamBritten Adam Britten

      It doesn’t have to be that far away! Good luck, Laura.

  • Eddie

    I want to build an all-conquering social networ….wait….what? We have that?

    • http://twitter.com/AdamBritten Adam Britten

      Never heard of it… ;)

  • Josh

    I always wanted to start a YouTube channel, don’t think I have the acting skills to do that one though!

    • http://twitter.com/AdamBritten Adam Britten

      My advice: Just give it a shot. When I was talking to Tyler, he said he never anticipated that he’d get that many viewers; it was initially just meant for his friends.

  • Anonymous

    I love you Adam!

  • Manoe Dentener

    Great work, Adam! Might even somehow implement this into my classes.,

  • http://about.me/evangelos.tselentis Evangelos Tselentis

    What else? An agency specialized in Geolocation services and Gamification.

    • http://twitter.com/AdamBritten Adam Britten

      Sounds like a fantastic idea, especially for you.

  • http://twitter.com/fionalandrews fiona

    So true- I’ve taken on loads of freelance gigs that the “real world” might not have given me the chance to do. Universities are a sort of low-risk microcosm of the world where you can try just about anything you want!

    • http://twitter.com/AdamBritten Adam Britten

      Exactly. College is kind of like a sandbox in that sense. It’s really a great time to take a risk.

  • Kelly

    I had never heard of Elance… obviously checking that out now!!

    • http://twitter.com/AdamBritten Adam Britten

      Good luck with it.

  • Ghost

    Interesting ideas!

  • M.Rojas

    I would like to work as freelance! Good opportunity to gain experience :)

  • Erica

    This is really helpful. I’ve been thinking about selling things on amazon or ebay but have been putting it off because I’m so busy, but I never realized if you’re smart about it’s definitely worth your time. I had also never heard of Etsy, I’ll definitely have to look into that!

    • http://twitter.com/AdamBritten Adam Britten

      I’ve never sold on Etsy, but it’s also fun to shop on!

  • Melanie

    Good tips! Often YouTube is an overlooked social medium. Great integrated strategy.

    • http://twitter.com/AdamBritten Adam Britten

      YouTube is a huge opportunity. Glad you agree!

  • Tom H

    Really great article, Adam. I don’t think people realize how much potential they have in college. Most think about getting through classes, maybe having an internship, and THEN branding themselves. Way to show everybody how to think outside the box and profit along the way.

    • http://twitter.com/AdamBritten Adam Britten

      Thanks, Tom.

  • Nadine

    Love the youtube channel idea!! Great article Adam :)

  • Priya Ganguli

    Awesome ideas!! I’m already playing around with the youtube idea… love it!! :)

  • vaggelis

    how about Geo-location Services and Music @tselentis ? ;)

  • Michelle Chen

    a social enterprise for positive changes :)

  • Aubrey

    Ebay is a great idea :) that’s what I did!

  • Yasmeen Marie

    A branding consulting company! :)

  • Rachael

    Inspiring article to kickstart students, and anyone really, into starting to develop their dream business

    • http://twitter.com/AdamBritten Adam Britten

      Thank you, Rachael.

  • http://www.osalary.com/ O Salary

    eLance and Odesk and all the other sites offering freelance jobs are great. After graduating my gf had trouble finding a steady job. By doing little jobs on oDesk she has been able to get experience and also earn some money. I would suggest it to anyone in college – try it out and see if you like the actual job.

    • http://twitter.com/AdamBritten Adam Britten

      That’s awesome! Glad to hear of some success stories.

  • http://ongig.com/jobs/Zaarly/Campus-CEO--Zaarly-On-Campus-Internship Jason Webster

    Zaarly is a mobile commerce company offering college students an “on-campus internship” that offers a chance to win a trip to San Fran to meet Meg Whitman. I wish I knew about awesome internships like this when I was in school: http://ongig.com/jobs/Zaarly/Campus-CEO–Zaarly-On-Campus-Internship

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