Armed with technology and unbridled ambition, the new crop of college entrepreneurs isn't afraid to challenge the status quo and engage in a David vs. Goliath battle. By applying laser-sharp focus to a specific inefficiency or potential improvement, these college startups are successfully revolutionizing traditional business models.
There is perhaps no industry more traditionally minded than the furniture industry, which is exactly why Emory University student Sean Belnick, 22, founded Canton, Ga.-based BizChair.com. With a goal of simplifying the furniture-buying process by selling directly to consumers, Belnick was able to reach $42 million in revenue for 2008. "I saw an industry that had virtually no presence online and realized there was an opportunity to build a more efficient way to get furniture to people," says Belnick. "Customers won, we won, and everyone was happy but the middleman."
To take on competitors with much larger capital arsenals, Belnick knew it was important to carve out a specific niche. While BizChair.com now sells a variety of office and home furniture, it all started with a sole focus on office chairs. "To start, pick one element and do it better than any of your competitors," Belnick says. "Once you have successfully established your initial position, you can grow from there."
Focus and efficiency were also essential for Sunil Rajaraman and Zak Freer, both 29, and Ryan Buckley, 26, who set out to change the way Hollywood does business. The trio knew of the industry's hesitancy toward change, but this didn't stop them from starting Scripped.com, an online marketplace for developing, buying and selling screenplays.
"I simply looked to my overarching philosophy in life," says Rajaraman, an MBA graduate from the University of California, Los Angeles. "If I see inefficiency in a system, I have to fix it. Scripped.com is just a more intelligent way of making sure that the most talented writers find an outlet for their work."
With limited resources, the founders knew they had to choose their battles wisely or risk getting crushed. "A lot of new companies try to be too many things at once," says Freer, a University of Southern California MFA graduate student.
"We knew we had to build a strategy that focused on attracting talented writers and didn't try to be all things to all people," adds Buckley, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The strategy paid off: To date, more than 11,500 writers have registered with Scripped.com, which projects sales of $100,000 this year.
Joel Holland, 23, is the CEO of Footage Firm in McLean, Virginia. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Joel Holland, 25, is the founder and CEO of Footage Firm in Reston, Va.