One recording/photography studio, two company cars, 25 employees and $75,000 worth of assets later, the University of South Dakota student-driven company, LLC, is just one local example of students pursuing their entrepreneurial endeavors along with an education.
Aided by USD’s Beacom School of Business and organizations like the Collegiate Entrepreneurship Organization (CEO), USD student entrepreneurs are emerging from areas of computer repair to photography.
This could be you
Working 100 hours a week, senior Julian Tucker rushes from meeting to meeting for Why Theory, an entertainment, promotion and marketing company located in Vermillion. As president of CEO, Tucker said the company started with four members in October of 2011, where they sold t-shirts for the Mac Miller concert.
“No one else was doing merchandise for Mac Miller, and we saw there was a demand,” Tucker said. “Ultimately, we created Why Theory to improve the entertainment experience at USD.”
After gaining the support of other like-minded students and creating a business plan, sophomore Sam Wilkens, who is Why Theory’s chief financial officer, said it came down to how much time each person wanted to put into the company.
“To each his own, in a way,” Wilkens said. “I think the business grew so quickly because we put a ton of time into this.”
While Why Theory has support in the number of its employees, other student entrepreneurs are shouldering the responsibility on their own. Casey Franken, who graduated from USD in December, is in the process of getting his business, Link’n Loft Beds, off the ground.
“When I was about 13, my room wasn’t very big, so my dad designed this custom loft for me,” Franken said. “It got so many compliments, I thought it might be something worth pursuing. With my background with CEO, it began to form into a business.”
Junior Daniel Asmus has been tinkering with computers since middle school, but has come to treating computer repair as a profession. After working on computers for free, Asmus said he wrote up a business plan with his objectives, created a website and was off and running.
“I like working with computers, they do what you tell them to do,” Asmus said. “I decided to pursue it like any other job, and I had to sit down and establish the essentials, like what services would I be offering, how much do I charge non-USD students compared to USD students, what kind of marketing tools do I need to use.”
Entrepreneur and USD graduate student Wycklyffe Mogondo began his business TextbookFella, an online platform to buy and sell textbooks, with a dream.
“It woke me in the middle of the night,” Mogondo said. “I had been bothered my first year on how much money I had to spend on books, and it struck me that a student had to pay $200 for a book and three months later its value could be $150. This practice, it did not seem right, and this motivated me not to sell my books to the bookstore, but to create a place for students to do the exchange themselves.
Balancing school and a
Since the creation of her photography business Jordan Kaylea, USD senior Jordan Schnieder has had two years of playing the balancing act between her studies and her business. Schnieder said the beauty is that most of her classes as an art student allows her time to fine tune her skills for her own endeavors.
“I’m lucky enough to be pursuing a business where most of the classes I take directly relate to what I’m doing as a photographer,” Schnieder said. “Many of the events I photograph, like weddings and engagements take place on the weekends, too. But say I double book events, that can be tricky to deal with.”
For members of Why Theory, who have become serial entrepreneurs with their range expanding to realty, construction, entertainment and music production, not to mention a possible clothing line, Tucker said it is about being prepared to work hard for it to pay off in the long run.
“I think you gain a large part of your education from actual experience,” Tucker said. “There is only so much you can gain from a classroom setting. Obviously, my classes have helped me tremendously, I picked up tools I need in my business. But tools are not what get you paid.”
For the past three years, Franken has worked to develop his customizable loft bed business, which he balances with his job as a DJ.
Why they do it
One perk of going into business for sophomore Ian Finn, a member of Why Theory, is the financial independence.
“You have the freedom to control your schedule, and you have the power to structure your day around your own agenda,” Finn said. “Being an entrepreneur allows you to remove boundaries you would otherwise have working for someone else. It gives you the freedom and independence to give back to your family, too.”
For Mogondo and his book exchange website, he pursued the business because he saw the need for change from speaking with other students, which encouraged him to find a solution in textbookfella.com.
“It is a learning process, creating a business,” Mogondo said. “You have to have a purpose to create the platform, and a passion to see it done. Seeing how I could benefit students, and giving them the power to manage their libraries, to remove books from their list or up the price of their books, I wanted to do this.”
Having a passion for their business and a passion to control their own career paths was a common thread among USD’s student entrepreneurs. Schnieder, much like Assmus, said it comes down to utilizing your talents.
“Being hired as a photographer for a wedding, I love to see the interaction between everyone involved,” Schnieder said. “I find what I do to be enjoyable, and I like being in control of myself and my actions. I get to be my own boss, make my own hours and show people my style of photography.”
Reach reporter Megan Card at Megan.Card@usd.edu.