If you're young and full of the energy it takes to start a business while still in college, why not start two—or even three? That's exactly what 21-year-old Jeremy Clarke did. He started his first business, a website design company called Vortex Web Solutions, while still in high school. After starting college at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in 2006, he launched SharperResults.com, a web resource used as an assessment tool in classrooms and in homes. And last year, he launched IndyDining.com, a directory of Indianapolis restaurants that includes menus, coupons and reviews. Together, his Middlebury, Indiana-based businesses bring in five-figure sales.
Clarke is full of ideas, and his entrepreneurial spirit is what drives him to launch new business concepts. "I'm really ambitious," he says. "I'm always looking for new opportunities. I want to dip my fingers into as much as possible."
Running more than one business while still in school is certainly a big challenge, but it can be done if the businesses complement each other or, as in Clarke's case, if they're based on similar technology platforms. In fact, the startup process is made easier by rapidly evolving technologies. "Today's entrepreneurs have Web 2.0 tools available to them that entrepreneurs even five years ago didn't have," says Alex DeNoble, professor of management and entrepreneurship at San Diego State University. Not only do these specialized tools enable entrepreneurs to manage technological processes more efficiently than in years past, but they also make it much easier for small startups to rapidly ascend to the global playing field, DeNoble says.
While time management is always a factor for successful college entrepreneurs, it becomes even more vital when managing more than one business. Clarke clearly lays out goals for every week, asking himself, "How much time do I want to give to each of my obligations? Some weeks I need to focus [more] on one business, but I always try to spend at least a few hours a week on each, just trying to plan for the future—and then studying when [I need to]."
Of course, starting a full-service coffeehouse and a baby-sitting service at the same time might not be as manageable. Labor-intensive gigs like those require more one-on-one attention than a web design or eBay business, which you can run even in the wee hours. But be sure to choose businesses you're passionate about. Once you start your first business, transitioning to a second one should be simple. For example, "website design is an easy entry point to give [student entrepreneurs] a taste of starting their own company," says DeNoble. "It gives them an entrée—practice dealing with customers, having to deliver to customers and meeting customer specs and requirements. Once they're in business, they can begin to branch out." While you shouldn't overextend yourself, college could be a great time to try your hand at more than one business—especially with all the great resources available on campus, from professors and fellow students to top-notch business centers. "Schools around the country are creating environments for students to start companies with a lot of support," says DeNoble. "It's a great time to be a young, 21st century entrepreneur."
—By Nichole L. Torres
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