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College Entrepreneurs: 25 Business Ideas that Students Can Launch for $200 or Less

August 6, 2011

Now is a good time for college bound students, or those already in college, to start a business.  In fact, I almost consider it a must.  Much more than college graduates of the past couple decades, current matriculants, and the next few classes after you, need to be prepared to find ways to supplement or replace income from a job.  Let’s face it: There is more competition, automation, constant changes within corporations; downsizing could happen at any time and there are fewer government safety nets.

Some view this as a bad thing. Maybe, maybe not.  Shakespeare said: Nothing is either good or bad, only thinking makes it so.  Whatever you think of these realities, they’re here.  The key now is to accept the new economic reality — and prepare for it.  You can still achieve great career accomplishments and live comfortably; you just have to make the right strategic moves.

Launching a business in college — or collaborating on one — sets you up for success.  I’ve come up with 25 business ideas you can start for $200 or less.  Use one of these or come up with your own.  Some of these may work better than others, or may not work at all, depending on where you go to college.   So choose wisely, and adjust quickly if the business you start isn’t growing.

In addition to reviewing the 25 ideas, take note of my five quick tips for creating a college business success:

  1. Innovation is good but it can also be overrated.  Don’t feel like you have to come up with the next Dell, Facebook, Microsoft or Google to launch.  You can start a simple business that generates a profit.  And that’s the main idea.
  2. Pick an idea that has an immediate and obvious customer base that needs or strongly wants what you plan to sell.
  3. After the initial $200, or whatever you spend for startup, don’t put any more outside money into the business.  That’s your test for whether you’re succeeding.  The business needs to pay for itself and pay you.  So, once you start, the business should generate enough for you to reinvest into the business and then begin to pay yourself.  If you see things dwindling figure out whether you need to adjust prices, offerings, or do more marketing and selling.  Pay attention to customer inquiries and demands. They will lead you in the right direction.
  4. Remember the business is a great experience but it’s not the main reason you are there.  You are there to get a great education.  So develop discipline and time management skills that will allow you to go to class, make good grades and still operate your business.
  5. Take advantage of every possible resource and opportunity you can access that will improve your business.  Visit local and on-campus government business assistance resources, tap into the expertise of professors, apply for scholarships and competitions that focus on college entrepreneurs, study abroad to get international experience and new ideas, connect with students who are from growing economic powers like China and South America, and keep a written or audio journal of your business experiences — these will all come in handy.

25 start-up ideas:

  1. Delivery service – Are there established businesses in the area that could boost their business by being able to deliver? Become their delivery service.
  2. Transportation service – If you go to a rural or suburban school where students need transportation to do simple things and you have a car, start a transportation service.
  3. Tutoring service – If you’re attending college on scholarship and know a required subject very well start a tutoring service for local elementary or high school students who want to get into a good school like you. You can also record your tutorials and sell them as downloads online.
  4. Career counseling service – If you’re a good communicator think about going to the on campus career center and meeting some of the employers and recruiters who are there. Learn what they are looking for and then become a career coach and counselor to other students (but market to their parents).
  5. Staffing service specializing in internships – Start an on-campus staffing service where you help local or national businesses connect with the best students for internships and help students who want to do internships find the best opportunity.
  6. Personal training service – Are you athletic and into sports?  Think about starting a personal training service either at the on-campus facility or a local fitness facility.
  7. Late night food service and delivery – If you go to a college in an area where late night food establishments aren’t available or there is only one that doesn’t have a great variety (like the Huddle House, which was the only place open at night at the first college I attended).
  8. Party promotion – If you like to party, know how to promote and know how to get the right deejays and party people to your events then becoming a campus Diddy might be for you.
  9. Onboarding service for international students – Many students from other countries attend American colleges and universities.  For those who have not lived in America for awhile or for those who have lived in homogenous neighborhoods until attending college, the college experience may be overwhelming. If you enjoy meeting new people and are compassionate perhaps you can work with the office of student affairs at your school to create a welcoming service and hospitality program for international students.
  10. Graphic arts and design services for presentations and papers – If you enjoy graphic arts and presentation design and you’re good at it, think about offering these services to students (and perhaps, professors) who want to spiff up their research and reports.
  11. Résumé writing service – Are you good at finding the best angles to present information?Start a résumé writing service helping students put their experience in the best possible format and phrasing to attract interview and career opportunities.
  12. Image consulting – Have you always been considered a fly guy or fly girl? Help students improve their image in general or for professional interviews.
  13. Hair styling and grooming services – Provide hair cuts or hair styling as a mobile barber or stylist.
  14. Group travel service – Do you like traveling and have a knack for planning? Put together student travel packages for Spring Break, study abroad and other purposes for which students might want to travel.
  15. Website or smartphone app for rating professors – Some professors are amazing, some are more boring than paint drying on a wall.  Your college mates might want to know that and maybe you can start a website or smartphone app to allow group rating and comments so everyone will know what they’re getting into before they register for a class.
  16. Student awards program – Everyone is looking for a way to get ahead in today’s competitive job market.  Team up with student affairs or the Student Government Association to start an on-campus student awards program where students are rated and awarded in certain categories that are relevant to future career success. Charge an entry fee and look for sponsors. This is a cool way for students to get accolades they can add to the list of credentials that can be presented to possible employers.
  17. Performing arts troupe – Did you sing, dance and act in high school?  Put on plays or performances at your school or in the local community and charge for tickets. Or, start a local America’s Got Talent-type contest.
  18. Dog walking or pet care service – If you love animals starting a dog walking or pet care business could be fun.
  19. Bookkeeping service – If you’re an accounting major or just good with numbers offer to keep books for a few local businesses or find customers online.
  20. Organizing, de-cluttering service – Are you really organized? Help others get organized and get paid for it!
  21. Financial planning – Personal financial planning is a field that is expected to grow in the next few years. You can get an early start by beginning your financial planning business on campus. Work with students to help them save and manage their money. College is a time when people can really put a damper on post-college opportunities by ruining their credit or getting into debt. Help students avoid this and get paid for it.
  22. Photography and video services – If you have a great eye for composing scenes and images consider starting a photography and video service. You can offer headshots to students and faculty and help local businesses near your college produce and post videos online.
  23. Mobile boutique – Do you always get compliments on your style? Consider starting a mobile boutique selling to your classmates and be a walking billboard for your own business.
  24. eBay service – Place an ad in your college newspaper or a small local newspaper or put out flyers offering to sell people’s valuable but no longer used items on eBay in exchange for a fee. Busy people who don’t have time — or don’t want to take the time to do this — will jump on it. (I did.) You can also sign up for deal sites like Groupon and Living Social and visit local consignment shops to buy tangible items that are way below price then sell them on eBay at a profit (Hint: You can even sell some items with a photo and not even have it in inventory yet but make sure you can get your hands on the item when someone buys it, if you decide to do that.)
  25. T-shirt company – Really cool t-shirts just never get old and they’re the standard uniform for lots of college students. Come up with neat designs or funny sayings or create custom shirts for on-campus organizations and find someone to print the shirts for you and you’re in business!

Are you a college student thinking about starting a business? What do you think about these ideas? What are you excited about, or maybe scared about? Tell me what you think in the comments section below!  xxFJ

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 7, 2011 12:00 pm

    pretty good insights. I’ll be sure to stop by and read more from you. thanks.

  2. Drew permalink
    August 7, 2011 8:39 pm

    Good article! Thanks.

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