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How to start a business in college

Remember when you were a kid telling people that you wanted to be a doctor, or a race car driver, or a… fill in the blank? Could you ever imagine your six-year-old self saying that you wanted to be an entrepreneur (or even knowing how to spell it)?

The World Economic Forum predicts that by the year 2030, majority of individuals will be self-employed or contractors. The future is being your own boss!

Starting a business in college probably sounds daunting, maybe even impossible. North Central University offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Entrepreneurship that allows you to learn, develop, and start your own business before you even earn a degree! Hear from Miriam Barnhart ’19 as she shares her journey through the North Central University Entrepreneurship  degree program and talks about the business she recently launched from her college apartment!

What it’s like to start a business in college

And open letter from a student entrepreneur

Hi! My name is Miriam Barnhart, and I’d like to talk to you today about my company LEST and how I built it entirely in my college apartment.

LEST is an ethical fashion company. We believe fashion can be used to reduce waste, rather than creating it. Every year, millions of tons of upholstered furniture is thrown away in landfills, where it can take up to 30 years or more to decompose, if it does at all. We help to change that cycle. We intercept furniture, take the fabric, and recycle the rest of the materials through the proper channels. Then we take that fabric and turn it into handcrafted, stylish, limited-edition bow ties. Since we can only get a certain amount of each type of fabric, our styles are always shifting and changing depending on what we’ve found.

how to start a business while you are still in college

Starting with an entrepreneurship degree

When I started my college career in 2015 at North Central University, I had no idea what was I was doing but after awhile finally decided to get a degree in entrepreneurship! 

Around the end of my first year, I had a conversation with one of my professors, Bill Tibbetts. He had seen a couch sitting on the side of the road and had been wondering if something could be done with it. The quirkiness of bow ties fit with the brightly-colored and textured nature of these couches. And so the first spark of LEST was born.

First steps of forming the business

Around this time I was working an internship at Padilla, a PR and Marketing firm near campus—an internship found through  a connection with the School of Business at NCU. This opportunity put me in touch with a lot of incredible people, many of whom loved the idea of LEST (though that wasn’t the name at the time) and wanted to connect me with like-minded individuals who had skills to bring to the team. Pretty soon I had a small team of talented people who wanted to help with design, writing copy, and more.

We knew early on that we wanted to manufacture our bow ties in the United States, and preferably through another small business. However, that’s easier said than done. Most manufacturers have a minimum order quantity of at least a thousand pieces. At the time, we had fabric from three couches – barely enough to make fifty pieces.

Also, in our experience, most small-batch manufacturers aren’t very accessible online so it took a lot of digging, a lot of unanswered emails, a lot of unreturned phone calls, and a few bad sample bow ties before we finally found someone who would work with us (and did quality work).  

With each step we took toward launching our business, I had incredible support through the incubator program at NCU. Through all the pivots, false starts, and bumps in the road, my professors were there to help, offer advice, and support me through their own networks. Without them, this whole process would have taken a lot longer and cost a lot more money. I am so grateful to have had their support.

Promoting and launching Lest

Throughout this entire journey, I had an incredible team of people around me. My husband Ben, LEST Brand Director, designed the logo and helped me develop the look and feel of the brand. We also received help from one of my classmates, Tyler Hanna, and his business partner Matt Anderson. Through their marketing agency 8-bit Rex, we were able to develop a website and create graphics, videos, and other content to support our launch. We also had the pleasure of working with our friend Ben Hanan to shoot a video for our products. We could not have done any of this without them. 

Finally January 11 came and we hosted the LEST launch party where we unveiled our video and celebrated with all of our friends. Our first bow ties are shipping out to our pre-order customers later this month! We have some new products in the works as well, including more than just new bow ties.

How to start your own business while still in college

Encouragement for starting your own business

Our journey hasn’t been easy. There have been laughs and amazing days, but also tears and discouraging days. From here, all we can do is keep at it. Through all the hardships and hurdles, we’ve learned that just deciding to keep going is the most powerful and impactful thing you can do. You got this.

If you’d like to stay updated on the impact that Miriam and her team continue to have, find their contact and social platforms on their website!

Want to start your own business while you’re still in college?

Learn more about the Entrepreneurship major at North Central University and build your skills to start a new business.