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News Clips 01/08/2013
From students to start-ups: Local college grads open businesses
Source: Miami Herald, 01/07/13
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By Alexandra Leon
It started with a baby.
Catherine O’Sullivan, a senior studying architecture at the University of Miami, wanted to create a wooden rocking toy for her cousin who was expecting his first child in Ireland.
O’Sullivan worked on the toy with boyfriend Michael Galea, also a UM architecture student. Made of bamboo, the toy was sleek and functional, designed to ship and be assembled easily.
Little did the couple know the small wooden horse would become a baby of their own.
After graduating last May, O’Sullivan and Galea realized the profit potential for the toys, and Wee Rock Toy Co. was born.
Galea and O’Sullivan are part of a brave cadre of recent college graduates who are starting their own businesses. Despite the slow economy, grads and teachers say they are motivated not so much by want of jobs but by a desire to work for themselves or build their dreams. The national unemployment rate for college grads 25 and older was 4 percent last year, still above normal for educated workers, but well below that of the overall workforce.
While O’Sullivan, 23, has a day job at an architecture and urban design firm, and Galea, 25, has pending job offers, the couple has invested close to $20,000 in creating about 100 of the bamboo rocking toys.
“We figured this is the right time to try it,” Galea said.
Although they have no prior business experience, both O’Sullivan and Galea live in Miami-Dade with their parents and have not started paying their student loans. The simplicity of the rocking toy’s design, which uses no parts or hardware, allows them to keep costs relatively low. They both used money earned during college to finance the business, and haven’t had to take out any loans.
Wee Rock has already sold 13 toys, which go for $300 each, in the first month of business, and the duo is confident sales will pick up in the coming months.
Martin Luytjes, an entrepreneurship professor at Florida International University, said more and more students like Galea and O’Sullivan are starting their own businesses, not out of necessity, but because they’re the right age to get their foot into the businesses world.
“Now young people are realizing that, ‘Wait a minute, I have some great ideas and I want to pursue them,’ ” Luytjes said. “When you’re out of school, it’s easy to start a business because you have nothing to lose.”
Luytjes said he sees students from a variety of majors taking entrepreneurship classes to complement their studies, because every industry has a business side to it. Many students major in entrepreneurship because they feel it gives them more potential than other subjects.
“The major is the number-one most versatile degree,” said Christopher Poore, 23, another UM graduate.
Poore and business partner Ronald Rick III, 23, opened a Miami-based franchise of College Hunks Hauling Junk & Moving after meeting company founder and UM alumnus Omar Soliman through a senior-level entrepreneurship class. Poore said they felt comfortable embarking on their own business venture right out of school because their studies taught them every aspect of the business world, from creating business plans to marketing.
Other students who don’t have a business background still see more opportunity in entrepreneurship than in taking traditional jobs for their degree.
Drake Kurlander, 25, graduated from Florida International University in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies.
“I graduated and it was like, ‘What are we going to do?’ ” Kurlander said.
He decided to partner with classmate Ian Wogan, now 27, to create GOI — short for Garden of Ian. The company started as a landscaping business, but the pair started planting gardens around town, building irrigation systems and more recently, Kurlander has become a certified arborist. With each incarnation of the business, he has learned something new, like filing taxes, dealing with lawyers, and building a website.
“There’s been a tremendous learning curve along the way,” Kurlander said.
The biggest thing these young entrepreneurs have learned along the way? Nothing is more important than building relationships with customers and giving them a quality product or service.
It’s what Poore calls “guerrilla marketing,” and it’s more important than even having a Facebook page for your business.
Poore and Rick, along with their employees, attend community events, pass out flyers by hand and take coupons to local stores. Similarly, Galea and O’Sullivan have showed their toys at local farmers markets and Fairchild Garden’s Ramble. Kurlander makes sure to mention his business to everyone he meets, even when he’s at a social event.
After building that strong customer base, the young entrepreneurs figure success is only a matter of time and perseverance.
“In the last two years my perspective has changed on how the world works and how business is driven,” Kurlander said. “I have a much more real understanding than when I started.”