50 business ideas to start at university

Running low on cash and inspiration? Have a gander at our weird, wonderful and lucrative start-up suggestions for businesses you can start from your dorm room.Stuffed monkey sitting at office deskCredit: Alan Cleaver – Flickr
We’re not saying they’re easy, or even about easy money – but these ideas should get your entrepreneurial juices flowing, and could set you off on your merry way to small-business success. Enough monkeying around: let’s get to it!

Quick thoughts for finding your dream gig

  • Do some research: what do people need or want?
  • If you could provide or invent something that would make life easier, better, fairer, safer or cheaper, what would it be?
  • What are you really good at or love doing? Start with that!
  • Or think about what ventures might support your degree course or future ideal career.

50 start-up suggestions

Lit lightbulbsCredit: Joe Goldberg – Flickr
  1. Sell alternative quiet snacks – stomach rumblers will pay to avoid the embarrassment of rustling in lectures and the cinema
  2. Upcycle and sell on free stuff found on Gumtree and Freecycle
  3. Start a YouTube channel and earn a slice of the ad revenue. It could be reviews or guides related to your course subject, or pick any topic that really fascinates you (games, comedy and music do particularly well). As well as running advertising or blagging freebies, down the line you could stream pay-per-view vids if you get enough subscribers
  4. Buy second-hand in-demand textbooks at the end of term and sell them to new students at the start of the new term
  5. Create audio walking tours of your local area, recommending everything from hotels, museums, events, restaurants and bars. Do deals with local businesses who pay to feature, and upload your files to sites like iTunes and Soundcloud for instant reach
  6. Be an ’emergency key holder’: offer a base package that lets people keep a spare key with you that they can collect if they lose their own. You can add sliding fees if they want you to deliver or for unsociable hours
  7. Start a magazine about your uni subject and get other students, tutors and guest experts to write for it too. The money might not be huge but your employability definitely will be
  8. Set yourself an unusual goal – like living on a yacht for a year or surviving on a tenner a week – and blog or write a book about it. You’ve got a good chance of featuring in the papers too
  9. Rent out your student room or house over the summer months on Airbnb
  10. Run a ‘you want it, I get it’ delivery service. Evenings and weekends could see you delivering McDonald’s/beer combos, while early mornings could be coffees, newspapers or train tickets. Or just see what everyday things people run out of and buy in bulk (midnight loo roll’s got to be a winner, right?)
    empty loo rollCredit: GorillaSushi – Flickr
  11. Create an alternative yearbook using a print-on-demand publisher and sell copies and advertising space
  12. Start a film screening club (or stick with the ever-popular student club night)
  13. ‘I queue for you’: stand in-line or hang on the phone so someone else doesn’t have to
  14. Convert someone’s entire CD catalogue into MP3 files they can play on their phone. It’s easy enough to do using software like iTunes but can take hours. Which is where you come in
  15. Start an accommodation reviews site for your campus or town
  16. Set up a Skype language course or conversational practice for learners around the world
  17. Buy packets of seeds cheaply and sell pot plants or fresh fruit/veg. You can grow lots of things without tons of equipment – some veg will even thrive in old wellies or grown indoors. Just keep it legal
  18. Lend a hand to the local elderly with doing their online grocery shopping
  19. Make and sell audio or e-book versions of out-of-copyright set texts, particularly if they’re hard to find (think medieval literature or 18th-century science tomes)
  20. Be the go-to finder for folk who’ve lost something irreplaceable or want to buy something hard to find. Use the web as well as local contacts and retail knowledge to track down the impossible… for a commission
  21. Freelance. Whether it’s related to your current course or your dream career, offer your skills to peeps who need web design, illustration, writing or admin support. You’ll get CV-plumping experience to boot, too
  22. Create food hampers that parents can order and have delivered to their kids – think student essentials in long-life eats or healthy stuff they’re probably not getting enough of
  23. Run a couple of matchmaker events for your campus
  24. Make bespoke photo albums: use a site like Lulu.com to produce professionally printed books or magazines and add hand-crafted touches or notes to make each one uniqueSkullcandy headphonesCredit: Brett Levin – Flickr
  25. Offer a transcription service that types up lecture recordings, or use your graphic design skills to produce handouts for tutors
  26. Create a swaps site that matches owners with lenders: think clothes, services, bikes or books – or maybe one that matches students who want to see the UK with those who live in other towns
  27. Organise student event trips to other cities or festivals – get a good deal on a coach and double your money on the tickets
  28. Design an app that lets students vent about their course or campus anonymously and compare experiences around the world
  29. Offer to sit for stock photographers or source models for them. Or just grab a camera and have a go at shooting and selling your own snaps. Try newcomerwww.picfair.com, where you set your own prices
  30. Produce a campus e-newsletter and take paid advertising from local businesses, or do deals to offer readers discounts and competitions
  31. An annual gift or card service where you select and post cards and presents so subscribers never forget important birthdays or anniversaries
  32. Be a market research consultant and sell your services to local or national businesses who want to know what students think about their stuff
  33. Pay a flat amount to a freelance graphic designer to create popular web graphics or icons, and sell them on a marketplace like GraphicRiver for recurring income
  34. If there’s something every one seems to have lurking in a spare bedroom, it’s unused home gym equipment and a pile of good intentions. Buy or beg the kit at bargain rates to re-sell or re-home with local schools, gyms, offices or personal trainers
  35. Offer to collect or wait for deliveries for a fee (saving someone else the time or cost of rearranging a missed package)
  36. Create a portfolio website that bands and musicians can use to connect with local events or businesses
  37. Start a home-made smoothie or sandwich business for local firms: they phone you their orders in the morning and you deliver on the dot at lunchtimesandwichCredit: Hdx Cafe – Flickr
  38. Turn your best photos or artwork into posters (good sellers at the start of term!) – check out www.truprint.co.uk
  39. Start an essay proofreading business
  40. Create a local guide – think magazine, website or app – that helps freshers make the most of their new town: the best caf├ęs, cheapest deals, or hidden gems
  41. Start your own travel exchange: put together packages of budget flights, accommodation and events and co-ordinate it between a uni abroad and your own
  42. Sell a uni essentials welcome package – stationery, kitchen kit, discount vouchers – that can be delivered to freshers’ rooms ahead of their first day
  43. Start a tutoring service for school students struggling with the subjects you’re acing. Offer online courses or webinars to reach more folk
  44. Be a sports coach for local or uni teams
  45. Collect other students dirty laundry and take it to the launderette for a markup
  46. Design a motivational app that logs lecture/seminar/gym attendance and awards points, vouchers or gifts for achievements or penalties for slacking
  47. Start an outdoor fitness trail on MeetUp.com, leading groups of people to different/unusual locations to work out without equipment while seeing the sights
  48. Offer a CV design or review service
  49. Design cases that disguise gadgets and make them less attractive to thieves. Think phone covers that look like pencil cases, or a laptop case that looks like a ring-binder. Recycled materials get you bonus points
  50. Run a recurring subscription service where customers get a beauty box each month, or a music album, book or selection of gourmet snacks – works for just about anything!

The golden rules

Dog with keep off the grass signCredit: Tim Simpson – Flickr
Keep your stellar start-up ideas on track with some common sense:
  • Don’t do anything illegal
  • Don’t compromise safety to make a buck
  • Don’t skimp on your studies
  • Check any rules your uni/insurance provider might have about running a business. Get the tax facts and know where you stand
  • Make sure you sound-out any rules about plagiarism if you intend to sell your notes or essays
  • Check whether you need a licence, insurance or qualification
  • Don’t just think in terms of the money – doing things that help your community or local charities can do just as much for your CV or personal satisfaction.

Everyone has great ideas, but very few actually turn their dreams into concrete reality. Whether you’ve got a world-changing concept or just want to make some extra cash, you’ve got to make a start before you can have a start-up. Good luck!

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