Students of Enterprise

When they weren't studying, these students made the smart choice to pursue franchise ownership--and learned that a college education is about more than what goes on in the classroom.

College has long been a time to drink in knowledge, grow personally and begin exploring career options. It's still that, but something about the college experience is shifting. With the astonishing business successes and media exposure of their peers, many college students are realizing they don't have to walk down the job search road. Today, some form of entrepreneurship training is available at more than 1,500 colleges and universities nationwide, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. And the Collegiate Entrepreneurs' Organization, a Chicago-based organization that supports college students who want to start businesses, has grown from zero to 14,000 members since its inception five years ago, with entrepreneurship clubs on 120 university campuses nationwide. College students are purchasing franchises, too-and while some feel students might be too "wet behind the ears" to helm franchises, college franchisees are finding that ambition and effort, not candles on a birthday cake, determine success.

While practically everyone has heard of Subway, not many people know that its founder, Fred DeLuca, started the sandwich juggernaut as a 17-year-old college student in 1965. Nearly 40 years later, he's inspiring other young people to choose their own destinies. Working at the local Subway has become almost a rite of passage for teenagers, as it was for Jeff Smith back in 1994. He, like DeLuca, was 17 when he began his relationship with Subway-Smith worked there part time during high school and college before graduating to the next level at Subway: ownership.

Smith isn't the only early achiever looking beyond the corporate path. Brandon Gough, president of Juice It Up! Franchise Corp., notes a recent increase in younger applicants interested in the smoothie franchise. Gough says that while just "a handful" of the existing franchisees are college-aged, Juice It Up! is very receptive to taking on more youthful franchisees. "College students who don't have the business background to be successful on an independent level are able to take advantage of the opportunity that a franchise provides," he says.

For two years, Smith dedicated himself to sub sandwich artistry at the Subway in Cypress, California, before moving to the nearby Garden Grove location while attending college. But Smith realized a degree wasn't what he wanted. He was ready to start a career.

Idle chitchat with the Garden Grove franchisee led to bigger things when Smith said he was interested in purchasing a Subway. When that owner found out the Cypress franchisees wanted to sell their location, he told them of Smith's interest. "I was looking [for an opportunity], and this was the only job I had had in my life," says Smith, now 27. "It all just came together at that point."

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This article was originally published in the November 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Students of Enterprise.

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