The Founder’s Zodiac: The College Student’s Star Map to Starting a Small Business

Illustration of a college student lifting a graduation cap to reveal an idea light bulb

After studying some of the one million business owners who use Shopify, we discovered that founders tend to fall into one of five personality types. Which one are you? Start with our quiz.

Summer solstice is approaching, Stargazers, and with it comes long, hot days. For those of us in the full-time working realm who have a few vacation days saved, summer is a time to sit back and sip some sunshine. But if you’re a college student, summer may look more like opportunity—opportunity to reduce tuition debt, gain some real world experience, and set yourself up with a flexible side gig once classes resume.

The future is bright for those who seize it. Even better news: there are ways to design your summer around something you enjoy, where you set your own hours and make money. There is no shortage of clever small business ideas for college students. But which one is right for you? Well, it might depend on your entrepreneur personality type. 

In short, your summer startup should reflect your interests and leverage your strengths. Join us as we explore ways to make the most of your summer break and answer questions like:

  • Which is the best business for college students like me?
  • What is the best business for beginners?
  • What are the most successful small businesses?
  • How do I get started?
  • What are the benefits of starting a business as a college student?

You’re done with exams, young Stargazer, but we have just one more test. We need to know a little more about you so we can make recommendations tailored to your unique personality. Take the quiz below and sign up to join the Founder’s Zodiac community. Already know your Founder Sign? Skip ahead.

7 benefits of starting a business as a college student

If I could leap back in time, do it all over again, I’d have dipped my toes in entrepreneurship much earlier. The lessons I learned from side gigs have helped me grow personally and professionally. There are several benefits to pursuing business ideas in college—and it’s not too late for you to cash in on them:

  1. 📊 Gain real world experience in business. Sure business school can teach you theory and formulas, but there’s nothing like doing business to learn the ropes. 
  2. 🛠 Learn skills that may not be taught in the classroom. Strengthen your skills in empathy, delegation, stress management, customer service, and more. Student entrepreneurs have a leg up on fellow graduates once they hit the job market. The skills you learn outside the classroom become just as valuable as those learned in a lecture. 
  3. 🤝 Build your professional network. By the time you graduate, you already have a contact list full of people to approach for references, mentorships, and even jobs.
  4. 👩🏻‍🎓 Try out an industry before you graduate. Studying fashion management? Try running your own business selling clothes online to get a taste for the industry.
  5. 📝 Flesh out your resume. As a new graduate, your CV may be pretty sparse. But if you run your own business in college, you can add “CEO“ to your list of accomplishments.
  6. 💰 Earn extra cash. Saving to pay expenses and minimize debt is a good idea if you want to lessen the burden after you graduate.
  7. 📆 Enjoy an income source that works around your studies. As your own boss, you make the hours. The common struggle of scheduling a part-time job around studying and classes can add stress. Work on your own business on a flexible schedule and then go all in on your summer break.

💡 For parents and teachers

Know a college student looking for a summer opportunity? Share or use this guide to help them start a business that sets them up for success. For younger students, we’ve developed a useful resource on small business ideas for teens and kids.

12 business ideas for college students

Whether you’re fresh out of high school or you’re on break before your senior year of college, this is your moment. When else in your life will you have this much time—and youthful energy—to make a leap? There are plenty of business ideas for beginners that require little upfront investment, and can even be run from your home (or dorm room). 

Before we look at specific ideas picked for your personality type, get inspired by this list of the best business types for college students:

    1. Teach, mentor, or tutor. Help high school students with summer studies or younger college students prep for classes that you aced last semester.
    2. Sell handmade goods. If you’re creative, take a break from the books to work with your hands. You can sell your goods through an online store, marketplace, or in-person event like a local market. 
    3. Start a service-based business. What services can you offer in your city or town? Launch a basic website to advertise services for childcare, pet-sitting, delivery, personal shopping, maintenance, landscaping—there are endless possibilities.
    4. Try dropshipping. Dropshipping lets you sell goods to customers without ever having to buy product upfront or manage inventory. This is a great idea for those with skills in design and marketing. The products are less important than how you curate, market, and position them.
    5. Start a community-focused business or non-profit. If your goal isn’t to make money but to gain skills and experience, you could start a cause-based business that gives back to a charity or community organization that you care about.
    6. Monetize content or a personal brand. If you’re already a minor superstar on a social media platform like TikTok or Instagram, consider leveraging your growing audience to make money. Do sponsored content or set up an online store that sells merch to your fans.
    7. Sell print-on-demand goods. This is another great option for starting a business on a low budget. If you have creative skills, you can sell your art or graphic design printed on anything from t-shirts to camp mugs. 
    8. Become a freelancer. Make yourself available to take on freelance work like editing, copywriting, web design, or whatever it is that you do best. You can set up a portfolio site or create a listing on a site like Upwork.
    9. Create experiences. While the world emerges from lockdown, the masses are craving in-person connections. Can you create and sell experiences to tourists, for example? Think biking or culinary tours of your city’s favorite spots.
    10. Become a reseller. If you have an eye for potential, scour local buy-and-sell sites or thrift stores for interesting and vintage finds. You can curate a unique experience by fixing up old home decor or vintage clothing and selling them on a dedicated website. 
    11. Sell at pop-up shops and markets. Grow your own veggies and make preserves, bake cookies, make handmade goods, or curate vintage. Whatever your skill or interest, consider how you can make extra cash selling at weekend markets or a temporary pop-up. 
    12. Run a summer camp program. Alleviate parent burnout after a year of tenuous childcare and schooling. Choose one your interests—say math, drama, or wilderness exploration—and create an engaging camp program for young kids.

But wait, how do I get started? It’s as easy as just doing it. Set up an online store and get a feel for the tools before committing to a plan, then learn as you go with free resources like the Shopify blog.

Handpicked summer business ideas and tips for college students

Hey, what’s your sign? We’re less interested in when you were born and more in what makes your tick. Here, we’ll hone in on your unique personality type and offer college business suggestions curated just for you. 

👟 Skip to your sign:

Feature sign: The Outsider

Illustration of The Founder's Zodiac sign, The Outsider

You’re our feature sign this month, Outsider, because you’re the most likely to already be planning for your financial future. Taking on debt to attend college was likely stressful enough for someone who avoids risk at all costs. If you’re already contemplating debt repayment, there are plenty of ways to get ahead of it now, even while you’re still studying. For you, starting a business in college could provide some financial peace of mind—allowing you to focus less on money and more on graduation.

Which is the best business type for Outsider college students?

You’re a reliable person, always submitting work on time and up to your high standards. Pick a business that doesn’t interfere with your dedication to your studies. Make your own hours and set your own boundaries so you don’t get overwhelmed. And remember to carve time out for social pursuits—the lessons you learn by joining teams or clubs or attending campus events could be just as valuable to your future.

3 college business ideas for Outsiders

Businesses that work well for you, Outsider, are those that you can run solo and without a lot of upfront investment. Here are a few to get you started:

  1. Offer a service to other students based on your craft or field of study. As someone who goes all in on one thing, your expertise likely exceeds that of many of your classmates.
  2. Sell handcrafted goods at local or on-campus markets. You may not be a natural salesperson, but the experience will help build those necessary interpersonal skills if you choose to run a business after you graduate.
  3. Sell digital products online. If you’re a business major, sell business plan templates. Photography major? Sell presets for photo editing software. If you’re studying music, sell licences to stock sounds or songs. Whatever your field, how can you add value and attract customers by running a low-investment business selling digital products?

💡 Learn more: The 13 Best Small Business Ideas (No Inventory Required) (2021)

The Mountaineer

Illustration of The Founder's Zodiac sign, The Mountaineer

You’re probably a bit of an overachiever, Mountaineer. Maybe you’re fast-tracking graduation. Or working two side jobs in the pursuit of getting out in the real world quickly and debt free. Maybe you’re already maximizing your summer break by hitting the pavement to scout out internships. Gold star! Whatever your ultimate goal, you’re chasing it non-stop. That’s why you’re likely the most suited of all signs to start a business while you’re still in college. The benefits are obvious—and that boss title is great for bragging rights.

Which is the best business type for Mountaineer college students?

While you’re quite self-motivated—reaching your goal is reward enough—you won’t shy away from a little deserved attention. You’re a natural performer. And even though you’re satisfied to call all the shots, you definitely thrive surrounded by people. Why not leverage your natural charm and leadership abilities to run your own student business?

3 college business ideas for Mountaineers

Lean into your strengths by making and monetizing content or running a service business—anything that puts you in the spotlight or surrounds you with people. Your best bets:

  1. Start or grow a YouTube channel. Find a niche or underserved audience and produce content that creates value. Once you build a loyal fan base, sell ads or promoted content, or set up a merch store to monetize your personal brand.
  2. Design a summer drama or sports camp for kids.
  3. Offer your services as a consultant, based on your specific skills or field of study. 

💡 Learn more: Like, Comment, and Thrive: How to Start a Successful YouTube Channel for Your Business

The Firestarter

Illustration of The Founder's Zodiac sign, The Firestarter

If you’re not already running several businesses from your dorm room, Firestarter, we’d be surprised. You’re the type to always be looking for opportunity, running schemes, and making as much money as possible with the least effort. We can’t fault you for it—your ease in the business world is enviable, and it pays off. But if you haven’t used your talents to start a business in college, there’s no time like the present! 

Which is the best business type for Firestarter college students?

You get bored quickly if things aren’t challenging, fast-paced, and a little risky. It’s important for you to be able to pivot easily. With that in mind, look for businesses you can spin up—or fold—quickly. Choose anything that allows you to be relatively hands off so that you’re nimble enough to pursue new ideas. 

3 college business ideas for Firestarters

Here are some business ideas suited to your personality that you can act on today:

  1. Start a dropshipping or print-on-demand business to sell trending products.
  2. Run a service business offering coaching or mentorship in the field that you study.
  3. Invest in other small businesses. If you have some extra money to play with, back some projects that excite you.

💡 Learn more: Trending Products to Sell in 2021

The Cartographer

Illustration of The Founder's Zodiac sign, The Cartographer

Among all the signs, you’re the best at managing your time and budget. You keep meticulous records. Heck, your 25-year-plan is probably color-coded and laminated. Because you’re so organized, you know exactly how much time and effort you can bring to a side job or project between studying and classes. Starting a small business during your summer break is therefore ideal for you, Cartographer. You also get to be the boss (just the way you like it) and the extra cash will help minimize debt—your natural enemy—before you graduate.

Which is the best business type for Cartographer college students?

You’re a lone wolf, happy to get lost in the details. You’d rather work late than delegate if it means things get done right—and your way. You’re best suited to starting a small business that you can reasonably manage alone on top of your studies. Look for low-risk business ideas for college students like you that can be run from home.

3 college business ideas for Cartographers

Online businesses are perfect for those who lean a little more introverted. An online format paired with your creativity and attention to detail is a winning formula.

  1. Make handmade goods and sell them through an online store or marketplace.
  2. Create educational content—say craft, design, or home organization tutorials—and sell them online. Set up social accounts with free content and teasers to help build an audience.
  3. Offer freelance digital services like design, branding, writing, templates, or website development.

💡 Learn more: Online Business Ideas: 16 Best Low-Cost Ideas and How to Start

The Trailblazer

Illustration of The Founder's Zodiac sign, The Trailblazer

Your best trait, Trailblazer, is sometimes also your downfall. You have the problem of two many ideas and it causes you to lose focus on just one thing. At the risk of distracting you even further from your studies, a small business could actually be the cure for you. The constraints of a typical student job can feel restrictive to Trailblazers like you. And since you’re a natural at balancing a million things, why not add a little side hustle into the mix? 

Which is the best business type for Trailblazer college students?

A small business will allow you to act out your ideas, pour your creativity into a passion, and pivot whenever something shiny catches your eye. Since your passion naturally attracts others, consider a business that brings others into the fold. Design a working environment that you’ve always dreamed of—no dress code, no set hours, and lots of collaboration. You’re the boss, after all.

3 college business ideas for Trailblazers

Pick a business that lets you be flexible and solve creative problems. Here are a few ideas for Trailblazers like you:

  1. Create a series of designs around a trend or interest and sell them printed on products like tote bags or travel mugs. You can use a print-on-demand service to automate many of the tasks. Want a collab angle? Commission work from design students and sell their work too.
  2. Invent and sell a product or service that solves a problem—especially if it benefits college students like you. You have a built in customer base while you’re in school. And if it takes off, create work opportunities for your favorite classmates.
  3. Start a marketplace (online or a pop-up on campus) to help foster entrepreneurship among your peers. Sell the creations of others and take a cut for your hard work.

💡 Learn more: 12 Profitable Hobbies That Make Money

If you’ve yet to determine your Founder Sign, take our quiz, then sign up for our newsletter. The Founder’s Zodiac runs every month and offers up advice and relevant content curated just for your type. 

Illustrations by by Alice Mollon