Minding your own business: Students who double as entrepreneurs
Updated: Apr 6, 2020
Story by Ledjen Haase | Photos by Isaac Janssen and Ledjen Haase
Being an entrepreneur in addition to being a student requires dedication, innovation and responsibility. Five of these student entrepreneurs discussed how they created their businesses, how they managed their time and what they learned along the way.
Born in Cambodia and raised in Richmond, Kentucky, Ling is a first-generation college graduate who completed her degree in public health at UK in December 2019. Coming from a developing nation and seeing her parents’ work ethic, Ling learned the importance of hard work and striving for your goals.
Ling’s parents own Asian Nails in Frankfort.
“They sparked my love for nails,” Lo said.
After graduating high school, Lo decided to enroll in nail school to be certified to do nails herself.
“Once I got to college in 2015, I started doing my girlfriends’ nails on my dining room table just as a way for us to get together and catch up with one another,” Lo said. “My friends suggested I turn it into a side hustle, and I got inspired to name my business after the street my house was on, State Street.”
It began as a word-of-mouth connection between her friends and their friends, but Ling realized she could reach more of a college-aged demographic using social media.
“Social media expanded my business more than I imagined, and I average two new clients a week,” Lo said. “Instagram provides a way for people to see the services I offer.”
Ling is able to get most of her supplies from her parents’ salon and cover any additional items she wants personally.
As her business began to grow, Ling decided to change her vacant bedroom into a nail room to have a space dedicated to doing nails.
“It did not all happen overnight,” Lo said. “I had two years of trial and error to see what worked for me and my business. My college career was school and nails, so I had to focus on time management and designating certain days specifically for school and other days specifically for doing nails.”
To build onto her nail certification, Ling decided to get lash certified in the summer of 2019 to offer lash extensions and lift services.
“I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, so my prices take that into consideration, but I also understand my market and that the majority of the target audience are college girls, so I want to be affordable,” she said.
“My advice for other entrepreneurs? Just do it!” Lo said. “You learn a lot about yourself while doing this and get more out of it than you might realize at the beginning.”
With undergraduate complete, Ling is moving out of the house that she has created her business foundation in. But she will still be available for bookings in Lexington on certain days of the week, as well as in Hamburg.
“I’ll always keep the name State Street Nails,” she said. “I’ve built up a following and clientele list under it, so we’ll see where State Street Nails ends up next.”
To catch up on the latest updates of State Street Nails, see pricing, or book an appointment, follow @statestreetnails on Instagram.
George Bell, a UK marketing senior, was an entrepreneur by age 5.
“[I] used to sell my toys in yard sales and when I turned 12, I would sell candy, cookies and other snacks that we would have left over from my mother’s job at school, and would make about $30-$40 a day,” Bell said.
In fall 2017, Bell launched Life Off U, a college marketing app platform that helped students save money at local businesses and for businesses to market to students.
“I’m from Louisville, so when I got to Lexington, I wasn’t sure on what there was to do here on weekends,” Bell said. “So I thought, there should be a platform for students to connect with local businesses in the area and get deals, discounts and know about events.”
Life Off U was operational for until 2019, when Bell decided that he was ready to close the door and look at other ventures.
“If you would’ve asked me two years ago, I would’ve thought Life Off U would’ve been my life, but I became ready to move on to something else,” Bell said.
With Life Off U’s chapter ending, another began: Synerjii.
“Right now, I am in the process of developing Synerjii, a personal relationship management system that provides a way for you to categorize, manage and follow up with your business contacts and networks,” Bell said.
“My target market for Synerjii are young professionals entering the job market. You’ll be able to do scheduling, link emails and categorize your networks in one place instead of having to shuffle through business cards or emails.”
Synerjii is in beta testing, but Chase is his primary investor, and Bell aims to have the platform out by May 2020.
Aside from these hats Bell juggles, he’s also the president of the Entrepreneur Club, a part of the Winslow project— the latest property project in development at the corner of South Limestone and Winslow Street, bringing 900 new parking spaces and 23,000 square feet dedicated to retail space, which will include a food hall and UK innovation space.
“There are tradeoffs with balancing everything,” Bell said. “One semester I might have lower grades but good business opportunities and vice versa another semester. I’m still learning work-life balance and allocating my time to self-care, social life, school, business and going to the gym. Sometimes it feels like I have five plates spinning on these tall poles and threw them up and try to catch them.
“Eventually I want to bring the money back to Kentucky,” Bell said, “So many people leave Kentucky and don’t look back, but I want to bring success back to Kentucky to empower other people. There’s a lot of talented people and opportunities here.”
Bell said students who want to be entrepreneurs should just go out and do it.
“You’re never going to be prepared enough,” he said. “With every successful idea, there are two to three failed ones, so don’t doubt yourself and keep pushing.”
Reach George Bell @gfortune_500 on Instagram.
Current seniors Kendall Hutchison and Claire Frisbie are Integrated Strategic Communications majors and the founders of GoddessIncMovement.
In December 2018, the best friends and roommates had a vision to create “a platform for creatives and individuals aligning with their highest selves.”
GoddessIncMovement is about “self-expression, normalizing collaboration and get rid of the ‘competition’ mindset.”
Using the benefits of social media to build their business “persona,” Hutchison and Frisbie have created a hub where they can post their own creative content, along with creative events and sharing other creatives’ works that express confidence, authenticity and relatability.
Having spent over a year building their brand persona through social media, they are currently in the process of app development for their platform. Their software will be a shortcut to all social media links, allowing users to share their Instagram, Depop, Twitter, YouTube, and other social sites through one link.
“We want our app to be a way for creatives to connect with one another and explain what they do,” Hutchison said. “Anything you create is your art; don’t be scared of what others might say.”
The students enrolled in the Entrepreneur Boot Camp, which meets at UK, for fall 2019 and spring 2020 to be more educated on the ins and outs of building a business, such as financing, making pitches to investors and more.
The business partners said that prioritizing when to get things done is essential.
“It takes self-discipline to manage your time,” Frisbie said. “When doing activities in our personal lives, we try to find ways to tie it into GoddessInc since getting content for our Instagram can take a lot more time than you might think, but luckily, we have each other to hold accountable.”
Hutchison and Frisbie said GoddessInc is designed to be an umbrella brand for other ventures they plan to achieve.
“By the end of the semester, we’ll be pitching our app software to developers and investors to receive funding,” Hutchison said. “We plan on continuing our YouTube channel and eventually having a record label, doing merchandise designs, and helping other startups get their feet off the ground.”
The GoddessInc women point out that failure is inevitable.
“But look at it like a lesson, not a failure— everything will work itself out. We’re human, so failure can hurt but have the belief that something bigger is coming out of it and that if it doesn’t align with your highest good, then it is not meant for you,” they said.
Catch up on their movement on Instagram @goddessincmovement.
After interning in Washington, D.C., in the spring semester of 2019, Joanna Jackson realized she was “more excited picking out business casual outfits than doing legislative stuff.”
The 21-year-old political science senior from Shelbyville, Kentucky, decided then to go after her dreams.
“I used to sit in class and scroll through stores and daydream about fashion and curating it for others,” she said. “Although I am a political science major, your major doesn’t limit your dreams, goals or ambitions. What you pursue is entirely up to you.”
Eclectic Avenue, Jackson’s pop-up shop, combines “west coast style with pieces that you can dress up and down,” Jackson said.
Joanna sets up her shop at Lexington spaces and for local markets or events.
“I wanted a shop for college-aged students who are finding their style but still affordable.”
Jackson held her first pop-up shop event at The Hub on Campus in September 2019 during Parents’ Weekend, which taught her some valuable lessons.
“Expect things are going to take longer than you might think and give yourself an extra hour just in case,” Jackson said. “Make every single customer feel like they’re a priority. People want to feel special. They’re more willing to come back and spend money if they had a positive experience.”
Before opening Eclectic Avenue, Jackson “sat on the computer for days googling, ‘how to start a business.’” Her inspiration comes from The Native One in Cincinnati, whose owner, Anna Steffen, is Jackson’s age. “I can see what she’s done as a reference.”
For curating her collection, Jackson said, “you want to think ahead of the trend. Since I’m dealing with college-aged girls, you want clothing that is not too far off from trends, but still unique.”
Jackson attended the Atlanta Apparel market, which she said was a “great starter market” and a place to meet with vendors about starting the process.
“When interacting with vendors, stand out, make yourself a priority to them,” she said. “They’re willing to work with you. Something that I realized was that first-time buyers always get a good deal, such as free shipping, if you let them know.”
Joanna offers a variety of dresses, bottoms and tops that are below $100. When buying clothes, Jackson said “bring someone who’ll provide a different opinion and to give advice on appealing to more than one audience. Never be afraid to ask for help, you’re going to need help when running a business.”
Running a business will teach you a lot about yourself and is a reflection of what you put into it. “Everything is an investment when starting a business,” she said. “There’s a lot of risks, but a lot of rewards. You’ll learn that being told ‘no’ is okay. It can feel personal, but don’t take it that way.”
Sharing her advice for other entrepreneurs, Jackson said, “Something I tell myself every day is that you can pursue trying to be better while still being proud of where you are today.”
Keep up with Eclectic Avenue @shopeclecticavenue on Instagram and shopeclecticavenue.com.