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14 Entrepreneurs Who Started Their Business in College 

Kimberly Hirsch

October 11, 2022

5 minutes

Whoever said college was for studying and partying has never met these 14 college students. These students came to college with one thing in mind: to start an empire! They didn't need a graduation cap or degree to get right down to it and start their career. If ever you needed the tiniest bit of inspiration, read on and you will see that success has no age restrictions. You might need your parent's permission to rent a car or buy alcohol but you don't need their permission to start a legacy. 

Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little

Matt and Mike were mere freshmen in college when they started a little company called WordPress, a free publishing platform, from inside their dorm room. WordPress will celebrate its 20th Anniversary next year, and with it, some impressive stats. While the numbers vary depending on what you read, WordPress is responsible for around 40% of all the websites you visit on the internet today. Considering the number of websites on the internet, that is a staggering amount. When asked about being an entrepreneur, Mullenweg has said: “It's good to work for someone else. Because then you appreciate it more when you are an entrepreneur.”

Catherine Cook

Being a female entrepreneur is pretty inspiring in and of itself, but Catherine Cook also made headlines when she started her own business as a young teenager. After watching her older brother start a successful business, she didn't waste any time and started her profession while she was still in high school. Cook launched a company similar to Facebook but for high school, called MyYearbook. It later transformed into an app widely used today called MeetMe. Six years after starting the company, she sold it for one hundred million dollars. Yes, you read that figure correctly–9 figures! When asked about her success, she told others: “Stop just thinking about it and make it happen. The worst that can happen if you fail now is that you’ll have firsthand experience to make your next venture a success.”

Corine Tan

Corine Tan, another wildly successful female, also makes our list of student entrepreneurs. After working remotely teaching kids in China and struggling with anxiety and overall mental health, she saw a need for something that connected the two. At age 21, while still in college, she created Kona, an Asian-American platform that “aims to help remote managers lead with care — by using automated best practices like employee check-ins and work-with-me guides to spark empathetic conversations in the workplace.” It seems to me that, aside from being ultra-successful, she's also doing some good in the world with her focus and commitment to improving mental health. 

Sam Chason and Matt Gronberg 

Sam Chason was one year into his business before meeting Matt Gronberg, the perfect business partner. The two ran Storage Scholars from their dorm together at Wake Forest University. Starting out, they used their dorm as a makeshift warehouse, storing up to 800 boxes in the hallways and renting trucks to deliver them. Six years and 23 college campuses later (and counting!), the duo was featured on ABC’s Shark Tank in 2022 and got the deal of a lifetime. They have big plans in the next few years to expand, globally and become a household name in moving and storage. “It’s like when you pick Crest versus Colgate at age eight, you kind of just run with that for the rest of your life, right?” -Sam

Tim Keck and Chris Johnson

Founders of a satirical college newspaper called The Onion, Keck and Johnson started the paper as freshmen at the University of Wisconsin in the 1980s. The publication became a hit for its satirical articles, cartoons, and short fiction stories in Madison, Wisconsin. Today, The Onion publishes local, national, and international stories but went out of print a few years ago. It focuses instead on its website and video production. It’s pretty impressive to see the company stand the test of time and adapt in a digital world. It has received some backlash for its satirical content over the years but stands firm in its belief in satire as a way to deliver the news. Many writers and alumni of The Onion have gone on to have lucrative writing careers for many popular comedy shows.  

Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian

Reddit is easily one of the most visited websites on the internet today. Likely, you'd never guess that it was founded by two college freshmen, Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, in 2005. The pair started the company just for fun as a way for people to share ideas and discuss topics. People use Reddit to “learn, share, debate, and a place for many to build a community” for anything in which they are interested. It’s transformed a lot and added many new features since first debuting, and today it is estimated that 1.7 billion visitors visited the site in May 2022. 

Susan Gregg Koger and Eric Koger

This one makes the list for being a part love story, part success story. The founders of Modcloth weren't just business partners– they were high school sweethearts turned college sweethearts, living in a cramped dorm together when they came up with the idea for Modcloth in 2002. Originally the site was used for reselling vintage dresses and “built on a love of vintage garb and thrift shopping” and is one of the most popular online retailers around. Today the company has over 350 employees and is located in L.A. The company has been purchased and sold by Walmart over the years.

Paul Orfalea

Despite not doing well academically in high school due to dyslexia and ADD (unlike most of the other entrepreneurs on this list), Paul Orfalea attended the University of Southern California with the support of his family. His family had a background in business and extended a loan for him to be able to start his own company while still in college in 1970. That was the beginning of the copy store Kinkos, which soon had 1,200 locations and 23,000 employees in 10 different countries. The name "Kinko" came from a nickname of his which he earned thanks to his red curls. Kinkos was later purchased and merged with FedEx. How did Orfalea have so much success at such an early age? “I get bored easily, and that is a great motivator. I think everybody should have dyslexia and ADD." 

Mark Zuckerberg

I couldn't make this list without including Mark Zuckerberg. While he may be mega-famous now for his creation of Facebook, Zuckerberg is one of the most brilliant examples of a college entrepreneur we have seen in our lifetime. While his story is probably familiar to most, the Cliff Notes version is that he started the company from his Harvard dorm room. The company, initially known as “The Facebook,” was intended as a social network for just the Harvard campus, eventually expanding to other nearby campuses and then beyond, and is now used globally by over two billion users of all ages. At age 38, Zuckerberg is one of the world’s youngest billionaires. His interest in computers at a very young age led him to create new games and programs before entering college. His passion and expertise have made a lasting impact worldwide and his story was featured in the 2010 hit movie, The Social Network

Final Thoughts

We often think that college will lead us to success, but for a few–success arrives before that. An ingenious idea, a passion, a necessity, or pure drive have created some of the most successful college entrepreneurs. Their success is inspirational to both young and old, and they live to show us all that inspiration does not necessarily come with age.  


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