Undergraduate entrepreneurs offer advice to hopeful students

Christina Salter

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Northwestern students received firsthand advice Thursday from a panel of successful entrepreneurs dressed in business casual attire.

These entrepreneurs have started and run multiple businesses, yet they are still undergraduates themselves.

InNUvation, the club for entrepreneurship and innovation at NU, held its second Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Panel from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday. The panel featured five student entrepreneurs who had started their own businesses. Four of the students were NU undergraduates and the fifth was an undergraduate from the University of Chicago.

The panel members began the event by describing the businesses they had been involved in or started, which ranged from a summer storage service to a Chicago guidebook. The panel then took questions from the audience of about 25 students and discussed their motivations, business plans and challenges.

Associated Student Government President Neal Sales-Griffin spoke about opening two barber shops in the Chicago area, one of several business ventures he has undertaken as a student. Running a business as an undergraduate required a lot of sacrifice and was never about the money, he said.

“Freshman year, when everyone was getting straight As, I was running a company,” the SESP junior said. “You need to be a little crazy, to be completely honest.”

Bill Pulte is a co-founder of Campuslist, an online marketplace for college students, and described his business as “just an idea that came out of my dorm room.” The Medill sophomore then went on to start Great Lake Helicopters, an aerial photography service. He advised budding entrepreneurs to rely on both a business plan and their common sense for success.

Panel members also discussed what inspired them to start their own businesses. Matt Cohlmia is the current president of Chicago Unzipped, a student guidebook to Chicago. Facing the challenge of increasing Chicago Unzipped’s circulation by 4,000 was the “best educational experience I’ve ever had,” the McCormick senior said.

“There’s a certain passion,” Cohlmia said. “You can really just get excited about creating something that wasn’t there before.”

Audience members said they were curious to hear the panel members’ stories and pleased to receive good advice in the process.

“It’s impressive that they did so much and are so young,” said Tayyiba Khan, a McCormick graduate student.

The panel members chosen were among the best-known entrepreneurs on campus, said Jon Cagadas, panel moderator and vice president of InNUvation’s undergraduate division. They were meant to give other aspiring entrepreneurs more confidence and information, the Weinberg freshman said.

“A lot of students have ideas, they just don’t go for them,” he said. “These five people up here did it. They’re a testament.”