From Books to Business: Student Entrepreneurs

Lauren Kessler, Chelsea Prince, Jessica Mah and Bradly Ericson

Most college students are recovering from midterms this time of year, bracing themselves for the second half of the semester or studying the drink menu at a nearby bar.

And in today's struggling economy, more and more of them are starting their own businesses instead of banking on employment. Such budding entrepreneurs manage to maintain their full-time course loads while taking on the role of CEO, with many sleepless nights to show for their efforts.

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Mark Zuckerberg co-founded Facebook in his Harvard University dorm room back in 2004. Five years, 300 million users and $500 million later, Zuckerberg is still working full-time at his booming business.

According to Gerald Hills, co-founder of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs' Organization, "On college campuses there's really been an explosion in interest in entrepreneurship. One number I've seen cited a lot, which I'm sure, if anything, is understated, is that more than 1,500 universities in the U.S. have entrepreneurship courses now and most have some semblance of a program in entrepreneurship."

Zuckerberg's success is just one reason students have been inspired to create their own companies. "I think it's a growing visibility," said George Burman, professor of entrepreneurship at Syracuse's Whitman School of Management. "The success of some of these significant entrepreneurs and this generation has watched that happen. They see it as both a viable alternative and an exciting one."

Hills said, "There just seems to be a real swing towards testing out ideas, and selecting venture ideas that have a low downside risk and just going for it and seeing what happens."

But starting a business can be tricky. Half of all new businesses fail, according to some estimates.

"People are making the argument that the percentage of successful ventures has risen above 50 percent, some have even said higher," Burman said. "I have a little trouble with that. I think it probably is true that the success rate has risen some.

"A typical pattern is, the first thing you try doesn't work," Burman said. "And then you take what you've learned and you do another new venture and you eventually get it right, and it works if you've got the patience and the resources to do that. But, obviously, launching a new venture, there is a significant element of risk."

Bradley Ericson is taking that risk. Ericson is a sophomore at Drexel University in Philadelphia and CEO of 3SecondReceipts LLC, a software company that creates a digital receipt at the point of sale. So, rather than wasting time and paper, your receipt is sent to you digitally.

Ericson is a marketing and entrepreneurship double major who signs his e-mails with his name and a quote that reads, "Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail."

For him, executing the plan wasn't as easy as coming up with the idea.

Balancing a Startup Business With College Classes

"To have a social life and to have a business and to do well academically, I basically don't sleep a lot," Ericson said. "I wrote a 30-page business plan for a competition and I was running on three hours of sleep and five cups of coffee. I think they knew me by name at the Starbucks on campus. So it was really, really tough, and I got sick throughout the year, but it all paid off so far."

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