Each of the nine businesses listed below began in college, and in some cases, with no initial profit motive in mind. Some of these businesses are still with us, including Google and the social media behemoth Facebook. Others, like Def Jam, have been transformed through mergers and acquisitions. Some of the entrepreneurs below stayed in school while developing and operating their business, while others dropped out in order to give their venture their full attention. The story of each business is as unique as the products they created.
- Def Jam:
Producer Rick Rubin started the Def Jam record label back in 1984 in his dorm room at New York University. After Russell Simmons came on board, the duo began releasing recordings of what they believed was the most vital and exciting music of their time: rap. Rubin would eventually leave Def Jam to form Def American Recordings, now American Recordings, but not before releasing several classic recordings by artists including LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy.
The story of Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg, or at least Hollywood’s version of it, should be familiar to anyone who’s seen The Social Network or spends more than five minutes each week surfing the Internet. Interestingly, for all of Facebook’s insistence on their genuine concern for the privacy of their users, back at Harvard, in order to populate a very early version of Facebook called Facemash, Zuckerberg hacked into the school’s computer network and copied private images. What began as first a college hook-up site, and later morphed into a social study tool for an art history final, has recently become a billion dollar publicly traded company. And we’re sure Zuckerberg, who still looks and dresses like a college sophomore, is only just getting started.
Sean Fanning developed Napster, one of the first aggregated and user-friendly peer-to-peer music file sharing platforms, when he was just a freshman at Boston’s Northeastern University. As it is with most teenagers, the concept of intellectual property didn’t exactly dominate Fanning’s thinking at the time, although, in his defense, it is unlikely that he could have predicted how popular Napster would become — or how many people would try to sue him for copyright infringement. In June 2012, Fanning and fellow Napster co-founder Sean Parker launched a new live social video mirco-sharing platform called Airtime.
While at Santa Barbara’s University of California, Allison Perry teamed up with classmates Brenton Taylor and Bryon Myers to build a better, more mobile device to deliver oxygen. The project was inspired by Perry’s desire to provide her grandmother, who used a 50-pound oxygen tank, with a better quality of life. Perry and company initially proposed the oxygen concentrator as part of a pitch for a contest sponsored by their school. Soon after, University of California alum offered the trio a $200,000 to develop their product, and the Inogenone One became a reality.
It may seem attractive to you to drop out of college to pursue a business venture. But there are many college dropouts who wish they’d hung in there and finished their degree. Then again, there’s Michael Dell, a dropout who, after being funded to the tune of $300,000 by his understanding and investment-minded parents, threw everything he had into a business he’d begun in his dorm room, selling computers he’d built from stock parts. He would eventually gross $73 million in his first year of trading. Dell offers this sage advice to a new generation of entrepreneurs: “As important as school was, I found that it could be very disruptive to a steady income.”
- Time Magazine:
While working as chairman and managing editor respectively of the Yale Daily News, Briton Hadden and Henry Luce conceived of publishing a weekly news magazine. The first name they came up with for the new magazine was Facts. Somehow, they ended up instead with the iconic name Time Magazine and created their first issue in 1923. The magazine gradually increased its circulation by utilizing radio and movies and now has a readership of more than 25 million.
- Insomnia Cookies:
Initially, Insomnia Cookies founder Seth Berkowitz operated his business out of his University of Pennsylvania dorm room, making late night deliveries of cookies he’d baked to residents of other dorms across campus. Since 2002, Insomnia Cookies has grown into a large corporation, with its headquarters located in New York City and 20 branches in college communities across the country.
Stanford University computer science grad students Larry Page and Sergy Brin created a search engine called “BackRub” not as a business venture, but as a Ph.D. project. Their search engine operated with a new technology they called PageRank that determined the relevance or “ranking” of a website by the number of pages that linked back to the original site. They later renamed their search engine research project “Google,” and the rest is history.
The phrase “reddit” came to RedditM co-founder Alexis Ohanian while in the library of the University of Virginia in 2005. After graduating, Ohanian and Steve Huffman would go on to perfect a social news site that allows users to upload, share, and subscribe to content that’s relevant to their interests. In 2006, Reddit was acquired by Condé Nast Publications, and now profits through sponsored links, advertising, and “gold accounts” that offer more perks for users.