Young Entrepreneurs

12 Scalable Businesses to Start in College

Starting a business is not just about the money. You'll learn what it really takes to be an entrepreneur.
12 Scalable Businesses to Start in College
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Guest Writer
Writer and Founder of Save the Student
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Is there any better time to start a business than as a student? Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Richard Branson and many other successful entrepreneurs would probably argue not. Students with free time and few responsibilities can take risks that parents with mortgages and full-time work can't take. Launching a business is also brilliant real-world experience and could even cover tuition fees.

These practical business ideas require very little start-up capital and are flexible enough to fit around your studies. Having said that, they are not paid-by-the-hour jobs disguised as businesses. They are all scalable, meaning you can grow revenue with minimal cost and time commitment. Most will also support other students in making money and gaining priceless work experience.

Related: 3 Business Tips for Student Entrepreneurs

1. Speed-dating events.

Not all single students are satisfied with a Tinder swipe when it comes to dating, so offer them a face-to-face alternative that’s more fun.

Speed dating is one of the easiest events to both organize and sell in college. First, speak to local bars that have a good atmosphere, and arrange to have your event at one. If you promise to bring in a good number of customers, it shouldn’t be difficult to get the venue for free.

You need to sell tickets for the event -- and keep them cheap. List all the details on Facebook Events, and harness the power of Facebook Ads to promote the event to single students in your area.

If the first one goes well, simply rinse and repeat.

2. Secondhand textbooks.

Buy secondhand reading-list textbooks at the end of semester, and sell them for more as the course restarts. It’s classic supply and demand. Amazon Marketplace and eBay are good places to try this. Just confirm with tutors that the reading lists will be the same.

3. Local student discount card.

Arrange exclusive discounts with local businesses wanting to attract students. Once you have a decent number of discounts, list them on a webpage, get discount cards printed and start selling cards to students.

After you’ve made some money, think about evolving the business into a simple app. You and your advertisers can track usage and save money by not producing physical cards.

4. Blogging

Starting a website is easier than ever, and there are plenty of ways to make money off one, too. For example, you can earn commission as an affiliate for online brands such as Amazon Associates, or display Google AdSense banners.

Be aware that it takes time to grow traffic before you start earning decent money. Building a social media following is an effective way to attract eyeballs from day one.

In a noisy world, it’s also important to find your niche. Drawing on personal experience and interests will give you the best chance of sticking with it. Even if you don’t make much money, having your own website is a brilliant addition to your resume.

Related: How 3 College Friends Turned a Blog Into a Thriving Business

5. Student city guide

Create a local guide or map for new students, sharing the best haunts and tips on living in the area. Monetize the publication by selling advertising space to local businesses.

6. Cleaning agency

Student towns have no shortage of cleaning opportunities. There’s very little up-front cost involved, as you can place free ads online and ask for cleaning products to be provided by your client.

Complete a couple of cleans yourself to appreciate the business and then start recruiting others, leaving you to focus on building your customer base. Target landlords and agencies managing multiple properties to fast-track your cleaning empire.

7. Graphic templates

Pay design students to create graphic and logo templates, then list them to sell on online marketplaces. For a one-off cost, you can make recurring income forevermore, assuming the designs are good. The experience and income will also be great for your fellow students, but if you struggle to find someone local, try Fiverr.com.

The same strategy can also work for audio, video and website templates. Always do your research on which categories sell the best and what competition is already out there.

8. Tech repair agency

Unleash the skills of computer science students by marketing a service that helps people with laptop or phone problems. The students benefit from paid, hands-on experience, and you take a nice cut in the middle.

9. Laundry agency

Doing laundry is a universal student pain point, presenting a profitable opportunity. Pay students a cut of your earnings to take other students’ dirties to a cheap laundromat and return them clean. A simple stamp loyalty scheme could lead to plenty of repeat customers.

Related: 10 Financial Tips for the Entrepreneurial Student

10. Flyer distribution service

Approach local businesses offering to distribute flyers for them on a trial basis. When you have some signed up, recruit other students and pay them a cut of your fee to do the flyer distribution for you. Make sure you obtain appropriate permission or licenses first.

There’s the opportunity to expand the service into supplying the printed flyers too, and even venture into managing Facebook Ad campaigns to target local students online.

11. Pet-sitting agency

Place free ads online offering a pet-sitting or dog-walking service. If you’re after scale, grow into an agency and recruit other responsible students who have spare time.

12. Online courses

Start making your education pay. The online learning industry is worth $200 billion. Websites such as Udemy and Teachable enable you to create courses that reach a global audience. You’ll earn a commission for every student who enrolls and, with little ongoing work required, it can be a great passive income stream.

While college is a brilliant time to start a business, try not to neglect your studies. It’s all about balance and time management. Just as importantly, don’t forget to pay taxes on the money you make.

But more than anything else, make sure you enjoy the journey. As a student, you have almost nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying these business ideas out. Even if things don’t turn out as you’d hoped, starting a low-risk business is hands-down the best experience for any budding entrepreneur.

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