You’re sitting in a college lecture and a lightbulb goes off — another business idea. You imagine the market for this product, the feasibility of it, and the funds you’d need to start. Then, class concludes and you go about your day. The idea is gone. A fleeting moment of unlocked potential lost forever.
A college campus is full of untapped potential. It’s a sea of consumers with similar tastes, spending budgets, and common residence. Students are surrounded by so many business opportunities, but they just don’t take enough advantage of them. In my two years at the University of Dayton, I have stumbled upon needs for photography services, graphic design, and countless versions of apparel and alteration. I started side hustles creating composite photos for fraternities, custom embroidery for sororities, alteration services for anyone who ripped their pants over the weekend, and ecommerce platforms for reselling thrifted apparel.
Through these entrepreneurial endeavors, there are a few takeaways that I strongly believe are pivotal lessons to be learned at a young age: leadership, responsibility, and initiative.
A few lessons in entrepreneurial leadership that I learned can be traced back to a significant experience I had in school. In the University of Dayton’s entrepreneurship program, every student’s sophomore year is spent running a small business for the duration of two semesters. At the beginning of the semester, students are encouraged to pitch a business idea. The class would then vote on the best ideas that were presented. If a student’s idea was among the top vote getters, that student would lead a group of four team members to bring their business idea to life with a $5,000 loan from the program.
My idea was to provide sustainable clothing to college students at a low price. We did this by thrifting select clothing pieces and reselling them on campus either as they were bought or reworked into a one-of-a-kind statement piece. Throughout the semester, I learned to delegate tasks to my teammates, incorporate their ideas into our business plan, and manage our goals to achieve more. At times, when I finally felt our success was just adequate enough, I lost track of our goals. I would put off selling for a week or two. I would let a meeting slide with the excuse that, “We’ve worked hard enough, let’s take a break”. In the end, I realized that this lack of direction left my team stranded. They wanted to keep growing while their leader remained stagnant.
Looking back, if I had more initiative and clearer communication with my teammates, we may have grown a larger business than we did. This was a leadership lesson that I take with me in other projects: If you’re not the one keeping everyone on track, who will be?
Responsibility is a crucial value to practice at a young age because it sets up the entirety of your adult life. When you start a business, learning responsibility kicks in quickly. It begins with the time, money, and effort you put into the business. When I started my first small business selling handmade clothing, I quickly realized I was burning through my money quicker than I ever had before. In a short amount of time, I went from turning a hobby of mine into hundreds of dollars of expenses per month. I was spending lots on equipment, materials, and packaging. It was the personal investment I made to start my passion. After closely watching the purchases I was making and the impact those expenses had on my profits, it became clear that I needed to be more responsible with my money.
The time management skills that came with starting my own business were not something learned but more so forced into me. If I wanted to continue being a full-time student and entrepreneur, I was going to have to figure out how to balance the two. Now, I do this by strictly designating homework time, sewing time, photoshoot time, meeting times, and blocking out time for self-care and socializing. Before I was in deep with small business endeavors, I watched TV and scrolled through Instagram, thinking there was nothing better to do with my time. Now, I realize those times in between classes, when I could watch some TV, might be the perfect time to crank out a custom embroidery order and save time at night. Or, when I am setting deadlines for alterations, it is better to set a deadline far in advance and deliver it ahead of time versus setting high expectations only to ask for an extension. With balance and time management, you become responsible for how you spend your time and what you can accomplish given the time of day.
If I have learned anything through starting my own small businesses, it is to never be afraid to take initiative. The more experience I have starting new side hustles, the more confident and efficient I am at growing them.
I never planned on starting my own business when I did. I sewed together clothing and posted videos about it on TikTok. After gaining a lot of traction and an overwhelming amount of support, I began selling my clothes and my hobby took off. That compelling support is what drove me to continue with making clothes. It’s also what encouraged me to venture into other areas of interest. The experience in building that venture led to my confidence in my business plan for the project in UD’s entrepreneurship program. The confidence I had running that small business is what gave me the initiative to start taking professional photos for people.
The value of taking the first step has become increasingly apparent to me as I go through these entrepreneurial experiences. It has applied to other aspects of my life in several ways too. These experiences gave me the confidence to run for president of my business fraternity. It provided me the confidence to sign up for my first marathon and the motivation to actually complete it! It drives me to keep accomplishing more and push myself into more and more complex ventures.
Through all these side-hustles and small business ventures, I have learned to keep pushing myself and taking the initiative to start something new. I will use these lessons in leadership, responsibility, and initiative to start my first clothing rental platform in the fall! More importantly, I will carry these lessons with me in my school work, team contributions, and job search post-grad. There are so many valuable experiences to take away from being an entrepreneur. Taking the initiative and learning them at a young age are undoubtedly one of the best ways to set yourself apart from others and grow as a unique person.
My name is Melissa Oei and I am a rising junior at the University of Dayton with majors in Entrepreneurship and Marketing. Currently, I am the president of UD’s entrepreneurship fraternity, Epsilon Nu Tau, sole-proprietor of Made by Missy, a sustainable handmade clothing company, and an avid runner! I love working with my friends to start new businesses on campus and encouraging others to do the same.