Can Starting a Small Business Pay for College? Two Former Student Entrepreneurs Say It Can!

For many college students the luxury of going to school without working is not a reality. Due to the bad economy and cutbacks in education fifty-seven percent of today’s college students have to work while taking classes. Compare that with only 10 percent as recently as 2000.

But is working while going to college a bad thing? According to The College Board students who work 10 to 15 hours a week actually do well in school, since they have to learn to be more organized with their time. However, there is a point of diminishing return. Students who work over 20 hours a week “often experience decreased school success.”

So how do you get the biggest bang for your buck in a 15-hour workweek? Meet two industrious people who found that the key to financial success in college was to start their own businesses…before they graduated.

A Magician Magically Makes Money Appear

Dave Young took up magic as a hobby when he was 16. After high school he attended Brigham Young University, and like any starving student Dave needed extra money so he worked in a ski shop, most likely making minimum wage. But Dave never gave up on magic.

“I performed tricks just for friends at first, but then people started asking me to do formal shows—and I’d get paid.”

Soon his bookings became more frequent, and before he knew it he was making more money doing magic than he was working in the ski shop. Dave put together a bigger show and found a booking agent who sent him on the road over school breaks.

“I ended up following David Copperfield’s tour, mostly in the western U.S”

He also worked evenings and weekends during the school year, but it was a challenge keeping pace with school.

“I had a Presidential Scholarship, so I had to maintain a high GPA.” Even though his grades were respectable, they weren’t high enough to keep the scholarship. “I was actually making more money as a magician, so I dropped the scholarship and continued doing magic until I completed my degree in Business Management.”

After graduation Dave married his college sweetheart and started a family. He ramped up his career in magic, but that meant even more travel. The heartbreaker came when after being on the road for two months straight he came home and his one-year-old daughter didn’t know him. He promptly terminated his career as a magician.

Thank goodness for that Business Management degree. Always having been entrepreneurial Dave opened franchises in several states and even dabbled a bit in lama farming. Eventually he started successfully managing his own money, and soon others asked him to manage their money, as well. He registered with the SEC as a financial advisor and founded Paragon Wealth Management in Provo, Utah. At Paragon he works with his daughter, Shannon (the same one who didn’t recognize him when she was a year old), a valued employee who contributes much to the company’s success.

Cultivating Relationships Leads to Opportunities

Larry Terkel got accepted into Cornell, but he didn’t want to be a financial burden to his parents. So mid freshman year he got a job delivering groceries to help with expenses. Several of his customers included the local fraternities, and being a personable guy, Larry spent a year developing relationships with everyone on his route, especially the frats.

The following fall some of his friends formed a band and Larry offered to book the band at the frat houses. The bookings were a huge success and soon word got out that Larry could get bands gigs.

“By my junior year I was managing 26 bands,” says Larry. “Some weekends my take would be $1,000. Plus, I had an open invitation to every party!”

An engineering major, Larry was also very good at math, and as such finagled his way into becoming a calculus teaching assistant while still an undergrad.

“At the end of my freshman year my calculus teacher gave me a B, when I thought I deserved an A. I went to him to state my case, and afterward he agreed to change my grade.”

The following year the calculus teacher remembered Larry from that encounter, so when he needed an assistant he tapped Larry for the job. This ended up being yet another source of lucrative income that literally covered all Larry’s tuition IN ADDITION TO the money he made doing his band management gig.

“By the time I was done at Cornell I’d earned an engineering degree and an MBA. I had paid for all my tuition and expenses through my jobs, PLUS I had enough left over to travel to India for a year with my girlfriend, Susan [who eventually became his wife.] All because I started my own businesses in college.

When Larry and Susan finally settled down Larry put his MBA to good use.

“After we returned from India, I joined my dad’s lighting fixture manufacturing company, and within three years my dad turned the business over to me.”

Larry grew the business substantially, eventually sold it to a public company (where Larry became CEO), and was fortunate enough to retire at 50. He now owns and operates The Spiritual Life Yoga Center in Hudson, Ohio, where he also teaches yoga and meditation, and is the author of several books, the most recent being How to Meditate.

In both these cases, Dave and Larry started businesses doing something that they were good at AND found niches that only they could fill. The secret to making a small business in college work is to create a job that doesn’t seem like work to you, allowing yourself to capitalize on your skills and talent—and above all have fun (oh, and make some money, too).

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One Comment

  1. Jill Orschel
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Great stories!! I’m going to have my kids read this one!

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