Dreaming of becoming the next Steve Jobs?
You’re not alone.
College students and recent graduates alike are putting on their entrepreneurial caps and setting forth on a mission to start something of their own. These entrepreneurial kids are saying “no thanks” to boring 9-to-5 desk jobs and setting new standards.
Coo-coo for Chocomize
Eric Heinbockel, managing partner and one of three founders of Chocomize, had just graduated from Columbia University when he co-pitched the idea to create an online-based customizable chocolate company. At Chocomize.com, customers can choose from 90 ingredients to make their ideal candy bar. With $100,000 to get started, Chocomize officially became profitable in March 2010 after its 2009 inception. Heinbockel expects the company will reach $1 million in sales this year.
The Real College Guide:
How did you come up with the premise?
Even before we all started looking for jobs, we had talked about the idea of co-creation and customization. We saw this as being the food wave of the future. We had seen customized cereals doing very well, but they were already established in the marketplace. Through research, we found that chocolate was recession-proof and still a growing market. Taking an older, more stable market and combining it with our new concept allowed us to take advantage of these two different worlds.
How did you raise money to start the business?
We originally sought to get a bank loan, but there were rules that no startups were allowed when it came to bank lending. So we pitched the idea to venture capitalists, family and other potential investors. My grandparents put up some of the initial capital, and the other guys found investors as well. It worked out in our favor because now Chocomize is an entirely private company, and we maintain 100-percent ownership.
What has been the most rewarding aspect?
There are a lot of hours of work with not much to show. You spend so much time talking about the company and telling people what you’re doing, but no one really expects you’ll go through with it. Getting past that point and making it actually happen is tremendously rewarding -- a dream come true.
How can current students take advantage of their resources now?
Universities offer a ton of resources for students. Alumni networking, for example, can be key -- especially in terms of getting advice from others in similar industries. It’s remarkable what alumni connections will do.
Peace, Love and Great Design
It’s now been two years since The Bearon’s Caroline Rooney founded her startup T-shirt company. Currently a student at the University of Michigan, Rooney specializes in peace- and love-themed screen-printed tees in a variety of designs, each benefiting a specific philanthropic organization. The company is being repositioned as a lifestyle and culture blog with an online shop component.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Find people you trust and ask for their input. Make sure you are actually listening and don’t get offended. It is easy to be defensive of your idea -- it’s your baby! You have so much personally invested in it. But use all suggestions to help you create a better company, idea, brand. Oftentimes, you can’t see what is glaringly obvious to others.
What was your biggest challenge?
Honestly, the biggest challenges for me are more personal and situational. As a college student balancing a full course load and running a company, it can be really difficult. There is a lot of picking and choosing to make both work. Thankfully, if you really love what you’re doing, balance comes a little easier.
Where do you see the company going?
How do you hope The Bearon will impact other students?
I understand how difficult it is to be a creative young person with a less-than-normal major or career plan. I have had an unbelievable amount of support and encouragement, and I want to help provide that for other creative young people --whether that means interviewing new musicians and offering links to download their EPs, or blogging about another blogger, or doing a partnership with an art school student.
How do you see the company contributing to society?
Ten percent of profits are donated to a variety of nonprofit organizations. Right now, we are working on some great projects to support Alzheimer’s-related organizations. We understand the importance of being a socially conscious business and we try to get involved through partnerships, sponsorships and events.
A Is for Accessories
Lauren Kessler is receiving plenty of buzz about Lauren Nicole Accents, her expanding online accessories venture. As a fashion design student at Syracuse University, Kessler began her business utilizing on-campus resources. With positive feedback and growing popularity, Kessler now has a functioning website where customers can place orders for custom-made headpieces ranging from $32 upward.
TRCG:Once you realized your designs were catching on, what was the next step?
When my friends and other people at my school began to want to buy my designs, I decided to create a Facebook page. It was an easy way I could keep everyone updated on my new designs and for them to view different styles and prices. As I began to get attention from the press, I needed a website to legitimately display my work.
How do you stand apart from other companies?
There is a massive amount of competition in the fashion industry. When I started promoting my accessories, I realized how many other startup accessory and clothing lines were out there. I began to think about how my product was inherently different than my competition, and had to learn a lot about marketing and promoting my product so it would stand out.
What is the most rewarding aspect?
It’s exciting to see people interact and enjoy my accessories. The feedback I have received and the lessons I’ve learned are invaluable. My experience has taught me a lot about myself and where I want to direct my future.
T-shirts for a Cause
Giovanni Manella is only 20, but this current Georgia Institute of Technology student launched GivingThanks, which gives a T-shirt to a child in need for every T-shirt purchased online. With over 100,000 Facebook followers and a growing consumer base, Manella’s company hand-delivers donated shirts by strategically partnering with mission teams. That’s right: For a mere $17.95, anyone can order a GivingThanks shirt knowing they are helping to clothe underprivileged children.
The Real College Guide:
How did you come up with the idea?
It was designed to aid a Coalition for the Homeless event. Yet after months of work, it turned into a charitable organization for children across the globe.
How did you raise enough capital to get it off the ground?
Being prideful of starting my own company and never having a real job before, I funded GivingThanks with my saved Christmas and birthday money and used my life savings to apply for my copyrights and trademarks, and to hire a Web developer who still works with me today.
How did you gain recognition?
At first, sales were very few -- close friends, neighbors and family. I had to branch out and get my name on the vast marketplace. To do so, I became an official sponsor of the YMCA Scholarship Foundation, helping to provide children with the opportunity to go to camp, and sponsoring the Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation. These events helped spread the word. I also sponsor events at my university.
What unexpected challenges have you encountered?
Well, I had forgotten to thoroughly research when creating the name. I was contacted a few months ago by St. Jude’s Hospital because they felt GivingThanks and their subsidiary company Thanks and Giving was a conflict of interest. After having my lawyer mediate with them, it became apparent that even though they did not have a substantial case against me, they had more money and power. The new name and new designs are coming soon.
What has been the most rewarding aspect?
GM: Reading about myself in the media! My favorite was an article written by lifestyle magazine Central Florida. Not because of the article, but because I had forgotten to tell my parents about it. My dad was floating in the pool relaxing while reading the September issue -- he turned the page to see his son’s face front-and-center as the featured article and young entrepreneur of the month.
Image: Screenshot from http://www.thebearon.com
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