Entrepreneurial interests rising among students
Because of economy, more turn to startups as answer to job security
Zion Kim started his first business E-Z Greek out of a shared storefront in downtown New Brunswick at the end of his sophomore year.
Kim, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said starting the company, which sells fraternity and sorority clothing and merchandise, was a matter of opportunity and trial and error.
When he started working with cloth and learning about different fabrics, Kim, who had never worked in retail before, said he unknowingly ended up in high-end fashion stores looking at designer fabrics like those seen on fashion TV shows.
“I didn’t really know what I was getting into,” Kim said.
LaToya Fendrick, assistant director of the Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Programs at the University, said she has seen an increasing interest in entrepreneurship in recent years reflected within the student body, as students and graduates start their own businesses.
“Because of the world recession, many individuals have found themselves unemployed [or] having difficulties finding a job,” Fendrick said. “This has brought back the desire of many to open their own venture ... people want to work on their own terms and be able to use their own creativity as opposed to working for a corporation.”
Fendrick said the goal of the program was to provide students with the necessary knowledge and skills to seize any opportunity to advance their professional careers inside or outside of a corporate setting.
John Moon, who founded KnightTask, an online platform that connects University students and helps them find assistance with day-to-day tasks, said the entrepreneurship program provides basic information and resources so that students are encouraged to act on new ideas they might have.
“Everything is hard in life, but just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible,” said Moon, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
He said he reached out to brothers in his business fraternity for advice when coming up with the idea for KnightTask at the end of the spring semester.
After a fraternity brother told him about a similar product located on the West Coast, Moon said he had to reassess his existing model.
“You have to improve [the idea], or there’s no purpose for your product. It doesn’t add any value,” Moon said.
While he said competition is good because it makes companies strive for stronger products, Moon thinks support and positive criticism are also important to develop ideas.
Kim began working with JuiceTank, a company that provides startups and small businesses with office space and mentoring, and co-founded New Jersey’s largest co-working space, the JuiceTank Innovation Lab, he said.
The lab, which provides subsidized office space and offers all the perks of a personal office, such as coffee, Internet access and conference rooms, sets itself apart by offering mentorship to help people save steps and avoid mistakes.
“Someone like me could have avoided those mistakes if [they] had a mentor,” he said.
Kim said the University’s entrepreneurship classes expose students to professors who can share their firsthand experience and make the student’s life easier.
The classes introduce students to the idea of entrepreneurship, giving them the ability to organize and plan out their business strategy, he said.
“At the same time, nothing ever goes the way you plan it — especially in business,” Kim said, adding that entrepreneurs can never calculate enough to account for all the external factors.
Kim said he sees a trend toward entrepreneurship and working for startups rather than joining corporations out of college, a trend he partly attributes to doubt stemming from the 2008 economic crash.
“I think the mindset from having to be corporate or from having to join another company to have some kind of security in your life is more and more being dissolved,” he said.
Moon said innovation and entrepreneurship are becoming more popular because of this generation’s independent streak and desire to see the outcome of their work.
Moon said startups have a looser structure and more communication than large companies, making them more effective and adaptable.
“You have to do everything [in a startup],” Moon said.
Kim said workers in corporations are separated into departments and work on different floors doing specialized tasks.
“You would call that working on teams, but you’re really not,” he said.
Kim said co-working space promotes collaboration because, while you never know what ideas can be put into the discussion and what the outcomes will be, the results are almost always better when people build each other up with positive criticism.
“America and capitalism in general have always promoted individualism and cutthroat competition, but that’s not to say that two companies can’t be friends and help each other out,” Kim said, pointing out that Microsoft helped Apple avoid bankruptcy when it was going under.
“People are meant to work together,” he said.
Moon said people grow up being told what to do and how to do it, which leaves them with the mindset that if they fail, they will have wasted their time.
“If you’re afraid to create something radical, you won’t do anything,” Moon said.
Kim said people can learn faster and get more out of your efforts once you realize that mistakes only show you how not to do something, not that you fail.
“Making mistakes isn’t a bad thing. If anything, it’s one of the most glorious things you can do,” Kim said.