5 Multi-billion Dollar Businesses Founded by College Students

Here’s a shocker: You don’t have to get a job after graduation. You don’t need to punch a time clock, answer to a boss, or take vacation time only when allowed. You can skip conforming to a dress code, parking in designated spots, and working in the “cube farm.”

“Blasphemy,” you say? “Of course I need a job when I graduate. How else will I pay my bills and student loans? Are you kidding me?”

We aren’t advocating that you shouldn’t work at all — work is honorable and fulfilling. But college students can launch a business while they’re in school. Register for a course in entrepreneurship. See if there’s an entrepreneur’s club on campus and if there’s not, start one. Right now, you’re in one of the most creative places anywhere: college. Don’t wait for graduation to exercise your abilities. Get going now. Self-employment can be an exciting and profitable journey for those who burn with an idea and can endure the risk. 

Dorm-room Entrepreneurs Who Changed the World

There are many examples of successful enterprises created on college campuses, but the five listed below should get your brain turning. 

5. Tripod

Founders: Bo Peabody and Brett Hershey

School: Williams College

Year Founded: 1992

2020 Revenue: $1.95 billion

Background: During his first year at Williams College, Bo Peabody realized that current and prospective students were short on information about life on campus. The internet was still in its infancy in the early ’90s, but Bo believed an online resource could gain traction. At the time, CompuServe and AOL were the primary online access points, but those were “closed systems” that required subscription fees that most college students couldn’t afford. 

Aided by a classmate and his economics professor, Bo created Tripod, one of the first dot-com organizations. The name referred to the start-up partners and the idea that a three-legged stool provides a solid base.

In 1998, the team sold Tripod to Lycos for $58 million. Tripod was the eighth most-visited site on the internet and was one of the earliest social media platforms. Bo was a political science major, but he still developed the backend technology for an interactive website.

4. FedEx

Founder: Frederick W. Smith

School: Yale University

Year Founded: 1973

2020 Revenue: $17.4 billion

Background: While at Yale University, Frederick Smith anticipated that the growth of the computer industry would require speedier and more reliable delivery services than what was available in the 60s. 

Fredrick’s economics term paper proposed a hub-and-spoke system that could provide overnight delivery. While many have said his professor laughed at the idea and graded it an “F,” Smith says it probably received his usual “C” grade. 

After graduating from Yale, Frederick entered the Marine Corps, served two tours in Vietnam, and returned home to found Federal Express. The road wasn’t easy, but Smith secured $91 million in venture capital and began providing package delivery service to 25 U.S. cities. Before breaking even, the company operated at a loss for more than two years. Today, FedEx has lived up to Fredrick’s dream and operates a rapid delivery network via air and ground transportation integration.

3. Facebook

Founder: Mark Zuckerberg

School: Harvard

Year Founded: 2004

2020 Revenue: $85.96 billion

Background: Mark Zuckerberg was a 19-year-old college sophomore when he launched Facebook in 2004. Whether or not the claims he stole the idea from fellow Harvard students are accurate, there’s no denying the company’s phenomenal growth. Within 24 hours, the site attracted over a thousand users; today, there are nearly 3 billion.

Zuckerberg’s first attempt was called “FaceMash.” The platform presented users with two randomly selected female students to rank by attractiveness. Harvard’s administration shut FaceMash down, but its popularity encouraged the young entrepreneur to consider other possibilities. 

The rapid growth of “TheFacebook.com” (the original URL) encouraged Zuckerberg to open Facebook in Palo Alto, California. Zuckerberg received an investment of $500,000 in seed capital from angel investor Peter Thiel. From there, the Facebook phenomenon secured a spot in history.

Infographic: Facebook Keeps On Growing | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

2. Dell

Founder: Michael Dell

School: University of Texas

Year Founded: 1984

2020 Revenue: $92.15 billion

Background: Michael Dell founded “PC’s Limited” in 1984. Under that name, he sold computer parts from his dorm room at the University of Texas. He introduced his first custom computer the following year: the Turbo PC. Three years later, business was booming, and Michael changed the company name to Dell Computer Corporation. Today, Dell’s dorm room concept is one of the world’s best-known brands.

So, how does a pre-med freshman in Texas come up with an idea that resonates with the world? For Dell, the story began at a trade show. He realized that anyone with a little knowledge could build a computer. He drew start-up money from his savings account, then assembled and sold computers to other students at a discount

The concept took off, and Dell’s direct-to-consumer marketing model stuck. There was another ingredient to the company’s rapid growth: strong customer service. Before long, Dell Computer was competing against the likes of HP and Apple. How did Dell do it? Lower prices, world-class support, and easy access to upgrades — that’s the formula Dell used to see his company claim a spot on the Fortune 500 within a decade of its launch.

1. Google

Founders: Larry Page and Sergey Brin

School: Stanford

Year Founded: 1998

2020 Revenue: $146.9 billion

Background: For Larry Page and Sergey Brin, success has come from paying attention to your customers. Working from their dorm rooms at Stanford, Larry and Sergey figured out how to return better results for online searches. Other search engines focused on keyword density, but the founders of Google developed a method of counting backlinks to sites, considering those links as “votes.” If other websites found a site valuable, perhaps searchers would too.

They were correct. Before long, people weren’t just searching for content — they were “googling” for it. In August of 1998, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems invested $100,000 in Google. Other angel investors soon followed. Page wanted to change the search engine’s name to “googol” (the numeral one followed by 100 zeroes), but “Google” became the official name of a company on a mission: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

But What if You Don’t Live on Campus?

Suppose you don’t have a dorm room, though. What if you’re living off-campus or at home? Is there no hope?

Not according to companies like Apple, Microsoft, Disney, Mattel, Hewlett-Packard, and Amazon. Their founders launched those brands in garages all over the country. David Karp created Tumblr from a bedroom in his mother’s apartment. 

Here’s our main message: A college student with an idea can do amazing things. Throw in a bit of stubbornness, a friend or two, and a healthy dose of ingenuity — and that idea can turn into a profitable business. 

We’re not encouraging you to drop your studies and pack your bags for Silicon Valley, but we know from history (and from personal experience) that you don’t have to wait for that perfect job to appear. You can create it now!

NOTE: If you are an instructor teaching entrepreneurship and looking for ways to build your instruction, join our waitlist to be among the first to see Stukent’s new courseware and simulation for entrepreneurship.

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