Having built empires on the strength of determination and foresight, successful entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg are, without a doubt, an impressive breed of businesspeople. The same could be said for aspiring young entrepreneurs, whose mix of resolve and ambition inspires a certain sense of awe.
Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to start a business, a comparative advantage that young people are increasingly leveraging as they look to mimic the success of their entrepreneurial forebears. College students, in particular, are uniquely positioned to exploit their familiarity with technology, having come of age during an era that saw the birth of the iPhone, the vast expansion of the internet, and the rise of the app economy.
Armed with these kinds of experiences, college undergraduates are creating companies that could become the next Facebook or Microsoft, both of which were founded by then-college-aged kids. Sure, these scrappy entrepreneurs might not be able to attend the office happy hour, but what they lack in age they more than make up for in motivation. Instead of playing intramural softball, these students are treating their small businesses like extracurricular activities, as they look to disrupt the status quo in industries as varied as communication, music, food waste, and robotics. With more and more young people getting excited about the entrepreneurial economy—some middle schools now teach entrepreneurism to their students—it’s never too early to start a business.
In case you’re searching for some inspiration, we’ve put together a list of four college-aged entrepreneurs who have launched companies from their ivy-covered university campuses. For these young business owners, college is a time not only for personal growth, but also for professional advancement.
Inspired by an engineering class project they were assigned during their freshman year at Rice University, Nimish Mittal, Matthew Najoomi, and Sergio Gonzalez went on to co-found ProsthetiTech. Tasked with using engineering as a means of addressing a real world problem, the three friends embarked on a two-year project to create a portable robotic arm for their client, a seventeen-year-old with brittle bone disease who was unable to reach his light switch or pick up clothes from his floor. Having successfully completed the project, the co-founders are spending their summer perfecting the model and formulating a business strategy.
Though competing products are routinely sold for $50,000, ProsthetiTech’s flagship robotic device will cost only one-tenth of that. Mittal, Najoomi, and Gonzalez are hoping that their innovative design and economical price point will help them as they seek approval from the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) and work to secure Medicare reimbursements for their robotic arms.
David Levi, a rising senior at California Polytechnic State University, started developing the idea behind Magnetovore as a high school sophomore. Discouraged by his failure to learn to play the theremin, a notoriously unwieldy electronic musical instrument, Levi began devising an altogether new kind of instrument that combined elements of both the cello and the theremin. After a lot of trial and error, Levi developed the Magnetic Cello, which melds old and new design elements to create a novel musical experience.
After arriving at Cal Poly, Levi became a fixture at the school’s Entrepreneurship Center, where he realized his invention was viable. Emboldened, Levi founded Magnetovore as a means of marketing and promoting his ideas. He’s since attracted a spirited following, as performers like folk musician Ben Sollee have embraced his Magnetic Cello.
3. Flash Food Recovery
Founded by Arizona State University students Eric Lehnhardt, Katelyn Keberle, Mary Hannah Smith, Ramya Baratam, Jake Irvin, Steven Hernandez, and Loni Lehnhardt, Flash Flood Recovery is helping combat food insecurity in Phoenix, Arizona. Inspired by an applied engineering class, the college entrepreneurs decided to battle food insecurity with unused food, as they developed a program that uses cell phones to alert community members in need of food when new donations are available.
After raising nearly $40,000 in funding, the young entrepreneurs hope to grow their business by advertising on the Flash Food website, offering certification fees for participating businesses, and securing government funding.
Though Brienne Ghafourifar technically has already graduated from college, this eighteen-year-old definitely fits in a list of college entrepreneurs. Still a teenager, Ghafourifar has already raised $1 million in funding for the app that she and her twenty-year-old brother Alston are creating. Dubbed Entefy, Ghafourifar’s invention aims to streamline the 66 trillion e-mails, 18 trillion instant messages, and 10 trillion texts sent annually into an app that the siblings liken to a universal remote control. Essentially, Entefy is meant to tame the chaos of modern communication by condensing a user’s entire online identity into one place that can also be ported across devices—something the Ghafourifars are betting represents the future of communication. Overall, Entefy has garnered $4.1 million in investments and is currently in development, with a private beta version expected by the end of 2014.