Leader of the Pack
College is a time to explore new trends-to wear the hottest fashions, create the newest drink and jump onto the latest entertainment fad. You're young, you're free, and as a college student, you're neck-deep in a plethora of trends just by being on campus--the fashion magazines watch your crew to see what's going to be hot next season. So why not start a business selling a product or service that taps into a trend, and spend your college years raking in some fad-based profits?
The key to hopping on to a good fad with a college business is getting in early. "Do it as quickly as possible--get the first-mover advantage," says Stanley B. Gyoshev, assistant professor of finance at the Mason School of Business at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. "If you're starting a business like this, you don't want to be the biggest fish--you want to be the fastest fish." In other words, while it would've been cool to be the first to sell Napoleon Dynamite-inspired "Vote for Pedro" shirts on campus in 2004, it's over now.
Even though you want to get in fast, don't cut the typical business preparation short-maximize your efficiency by using your campus resources, such as entrepreneurship and marketing professors who can offer free guidance on how to launch your fad business, notes Gyoshev.
Jason Beck and Craig Rabin, co-founders of Collegiate Poker Tour Events Inc.in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, have a definite handle on today's trends. These childhood friends, both 22, got their business idea while at their respective colleges--Beck at the University of Miami and Rabin at Illinois State University. Upon graduation in 2004, the pair wanted to harness the popularity of poker playing for the college set. "I'm a poker player myself, and [we saw it] was a huge trend," says Beck.
The company organizes high-profile poker tournaments for college intramural departments. There's strictly no gambling--students play for free and win prizes including gift certificates and scholarship dollars. The company makes money through sponsorships from local and national businesses, who pay for the exposure to the highly coveted college consumers. Beck and Rabin hope to gross about $100,000 in their first full year of business.
And while getting in on the ground floor of a trend can be great, be mindful of the competition in your arena, says Terri Barreiro, director of the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship at Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota. "Think about who else is doing it," she says. Try to tailor your offering specifically to your campus or local area for a competitive advantage.
Just as quickly as fads start, they can fade, so be very mindful of how many products you're selling on a day-to-day basis--don't buy too much inventory thinking the craze will last forever. Once the fad starts to die down, you can close up shop and savor the profits you made before graduation, or you can try to change or broaden the focus of the business. For example, should people's passion for poker start to ebb down the road, the founders of Collegiate Poker Tour Events plan to broaden their company offering into an apparel line.
Now, profits in college--that's always fashionable.