I got very lucky with my degree. I was fortunate to be surrounded by incredibly smart people who could teach me how to pass exams at the last second. I survived three years at a top university and walked out with a 2.1 BEng without attending 99% of lectures. The reason? I was frantically trying to start a business (and before that come up with a great business idea).
Universities should be a breeding ground for startups. Where else can you tap into resources for marketing, video, development and design and then have networks like the university TV station, radio station and social media to help get the word out… not to mention hundreds of societies/clubs? It’s not just about available resources either – the people behind this are actively seeking experience, the majority of whom would work on an exciting project for free so that they can reference it when applying for jobs after graduation.
Anyway… enough background information. This post walks you through a bunch of student business ideas across online, academic, services and everything else.
If you own a decent DSLR, you have everything you need to get this venture off the ground. Partner up with venues directly or latch onto an existing promotions company and become the *official photographer* for specific venues or nights. Get that *official* locked down so that nobody else can get in on the action. Then turn up at the start of the event, slap a lanyard on and get snapping! Venues love pictures and love posting pictures up on social media after big events, so make that your business!
Amp this up another level by creating your photo booth. Photo booths cost thousands of $$$ and are quite pointless. Grab a rail, a shower curtain and head down to your local party store for a bunch of silly props. For £20 ($25), you’ve got yourself a photo booth service which you can sell, watermark and distribute through venues’ social media. Simple!
2. eBay Trader
My flatmate and I did this throughout our time at university buying tablet computers from China and selling them on eBay. A friend of mine made a fortune buying white headphones (iPhone style) in huge bulk and selling them individually. Another friend purchased jewellery making kits, made the jewellery and sold it individually. Pick something that works, do it at scale and invest in some envelopes/parcels etc and you’re on your way.
The intro text to this guide talks about how lucky I got at university. I wouldn’t have gotten a good grade without some serious support from some knowledgeable people. Looking back on it, the amount of time and value that my friends gave me was outrageous, and they really should have charged for it! Tutoring isn’t anything new, and it doesn’t need a big description from me, but where there are students, there are tutors. That’s a fact, so why not leverage it? My focus would be around exam time.
Yes, this is a simple extension of the above, but it can also be a lot more than that. Video opens up a new arm of business. You can make promotional videos for specific nights out, or branch out from nightlife all together and make video explainers for local companies (maybe even businesses listed in this guide). Just like photography, if you own a decent camera and have a copy of Final Cut Pro, your costs should be covered straight off the bat.
Go crazy and create a photography/videography company where you hold exclusive rights across every venue/event and license out the photography itself to other students for a cut!
5. Nightlife Promotions
This section of the guide is about business ideas, not simply ways to make money. Yes, you can become a nightlife promoter for an existing promo company overnight, but why be the little guy? Did you know that if you have a big social media following, access to a network (like a society) and some good branding (simple design), you can pitch to run your own events? Pick the quietest night of the week and approach a big venue with a solid plan. For zero upfront hiring fees you can get a shot at running your own promotions company, make it work and before you know it, you’ll be running events all over the city.
Another straightforward and obvious business idea for students. Students wear clothes; students need to wash clothes, students cannot be bothered to wash clothes = market. Doing this on an actual schedule can make it super-efficient. Sign up students/apartments on a specific route for a particular day of the week, then make the rounds just like a paper round when you were younger! Head to a laundrette or max out your washing machine, and you’re quids in.
Pretty much every single business idea listed here needs some form of design. If you’re studying design or just interested in it, there’s a definite market here. Design flyers, websites, banners (think how many popup banners are around at the start of the school year). Make some slick business cards and start handing them out to everyone that might be interested.
8. Prom Makeup
If you’re reading this guide word-for-word, you’ve probably realised a recurring theme… playing to student seasonality. Just as students need to move every year (see cleaning, removals), seniors go to Prom every year in the thousands. Makeup artists cost a tonne of money, so if you’re a dab hand at makeup, invest in some quality product and start hitting up all the female-focused sports clubs and societies to get clients.
9. Fitness Instructor
When I was at school, I joined the gym for £100 ($124) for the entire year! The problem? I had no idea what I was doing. I would’ve gladly paid for a personal trainer. In regular gyms, PTs can charge up to £100 an hour for a session (same as the ANNUAL membership fee). Set up shop closer to £20 ($25) an hour and you’ll crush it.
10. Budget Nutritionist
Students love to budget, be that wearing a duvet as a coat to avoid heating bills, or eating beans on toast every day for a year. Having a small budget for food doesn’t mean you have to be unhealthy. Put some time into researching cost-effective, healthy meals, and you pave the way for nutritionist revenue. Maybe you could partner with the Fitness Instructor and sell a joint package.
This could have gone under Entertainment, but it can be wider reaching than that. There are plenty of businesses around the country that specialise in flyer/leaflet distribution. I believe you can letterbox drop these things without the need for any license, but if you’re planning on handing them out in a busy place, make sure you have the required paperwork. Your initial clients should be nightclubs and other student businesses.
12. Grocery Delivery
Just like laundry, this is a classic *lazy economy*. As a student, you need food. Supermarkets can charge £5 for 3-day delivery. You could charge £2 per person per £20 worth of food (to manage weight/complexity) and go every day. Amazon makes a killing on 2-hour delivery slots in London – this isn’t that far away! This could be further extended into general delivery, such as delivery from any dept store which would otherwise take a week. However, be careful and don’t spend all your time making hardly anything! You need a scale for this to work.
13. Gourmet Cooking
In my first semester at Southampton, somebody in my building almost burnt the apartment down by putting a pizza in the oven and forgetting about it. Amazingly, somebody else in the same building later tried to cook pasta without any water and fell asleep… cue the fire engines. Students don’t have enough income to hire a full-time chef, but for weekly dinners (we had flat lunch every Wednesday) or special occasions (Easter, Christmas, dates, anniversaries) there’s probably a market if you know your way around the kitchen.
When I was at university, I started a discount company called Student Hero. We approached every club in Southampton and asked for an exclusive discount. It didn’t have to be the best, but it had to be unique to us. We did the same thing with other popular places like Pizza Hut and Krispy Kreme. For just a couple of days walking around your local city, you can put together something of real value to thousands of people. Package that as an app or discount card and sell it to students.
You can also sell advertising on the app/card in the form of logos. We charged six venues £200 ($250)/logo, so covered all design, print and manufacturing costs straight away.
15. Nightlife Entertainment
This is a bracket term that can include so many different items, but I’m talking about supplying venues and promoters with what they need to run events without the hassle of actually running them. Perhaps you’re a DJ or a band; maybe you own the equipment, maybe you own a foam machine. Become the go-to supplier for every venue for the big events of the year, and you’ll have an easily scalable business. If you take the equipment route though, there are obvious costs, unlike the majority of things in this guide.
As far as I’m aware, this is yet to be turned into an actual business. Every year in Southampton, the whole place becomes insanely active for the sabbatical nominations. People campaign to win positions like Student President for the upcoming year. These elections are campaigned for like they’re the most important thing in the world with banners, soapbox speeches, lecture campaigning and viral videos. If they’re running like full-blown government elections, why not commoditise it like one? Become the authority and supplier of all things campaign related.
17. Listings / Reviews
My first foray into startups came through a listing site. Make a catalogue of every single shop, nightclub, event and activity that a student at your university may be interested in. Create a site like Yelp, add a personal review and open up the platform for student reviews, then market it to first-year students.
18. Student News
The news industry in every country in the world is competitive. In the UK you have at least five mainstream newspapers to choose from every day and countless online news outlets. Why isn’t the same true at your university? Just because there are union-backed media, that doesn’t mean there’s no room for innovation. A friend of mine created a student news website which did phenomenally well. Add in advertising and partnerships, and you’ve got a real business opportunity. One huge benefit of being unaffiliated? You can set your tone and be as blunt as you like.
With the right time and effort, any blog in any niche can become profitable. This website is a blog, this post is an “ultimate guide”, but it’s just a very, very, very long blog post. If you’re passionate about a specific topic, buy a domain for £6 ($8), set up a WordPress site and get writing. Aim for 500+ words per article and share it on your social media. When you have real traffic going through the blog, add Google Adsense.
This can be closely aligned with a blog. An affiliate is somebody who sends traffic to an eCommerce site like Amazon and gets paid if that user buys something. A great example of this is tech – if you’re a bit of a geek and opinionated, start a blog writing reviews for new tech with an affiliate link through to each product. If you get good traction, you can eventually get the products for yourself for free from brands in return for a review. If you wanted to, you could then sell those products or gift them through a marketing campaign.
I wouldn’t have survived starting up if I didn’t have an alternative revenue stream like freelancing. Over time, this became a full-time revenue stream, and I worked as a freelancer for six months straight. If you’re skilled in any online discipline like the design, copywriting, A/B testing, coding etc, setup a profile on UpWork or PeoplePerHour and start bidding on jobs! These platforms are reviewed-based, so go above and beyond for your first 20 customers to get great reviews then it’ll snowball.
This is an extension of tutoring, but if you’re terrific at one particular subject, you can host webinars across the country to tutor people at other universities too. Charge a small amount to join or a small amount to get the recording afterwards.
23. CV/Resumé writer
One thing that people generally suck at is talking themselves up. It’s one of those things that is a lot easier to do for somebody else than for yourself. If you’re great at writing and punchy in your tone, you can build a business with CV/Resumé writing. If you do this for a client and they get a job, grab a testimonial from them and list who they were, where they now work and their testimony on your website. Before you know it, requests will be pouring in.
Another one for the writers out there. Press releases are the business equivalent of a CV. There are opportunities left, right and centre here to help local businesses with PR. You can team up with your university’s blog too and start offering that as a service (university shout-outs to companies). If you want to do this at scale, check out the freelancing suggestion in the Everything Else section of this guide.
The prank of choice when I was at school was to cmd-f-replace a word like “a” with a swear word just before a friend turned his assignment in! Start proofreading your friend’s assignments for something cheap like £1 ($1) per 1000 words. You need scale, but you’ll get faster and faster with practice.
26. Halls Cleaning
I believe this to be one of the best small and self-sufficient businesses you can ever start at university. Print out some flyers and go door-to-door around your halls of residence. You require zero experience (assuming you know how to do dishes) and there’s no cost beyond cleaning supplies. If you wait until your first booking to buy the cleaning supplies, you have zero debt and are instantly profitable. This can scale too. By managing the commercial relationship with students, you can build a cleaning empire around your university, hiring friends/classmates/anybody to clean and take a cut.
27. End of Tenancy Cleaning
I’ve kept this separate from Halls Cleaning for a reason, volume. Halls cleaning is all about scale by numbers – you take on a large volume of in-and-out jobs that you charge a small amount for per person/room/flat. For anybody that’s rented a student house and had to clean it at the end of the year, you’ll know this is a much bigger, much more complicated job. Once the semester is up and it’s time to leave, students have to deep clean their entire house, scrubbing the walls, cleaning all the appliances, windows etc. Professional cleaning companies can charge upwards of £200 ($250) for a single day’s work. I’m sure students can easily undercut this. With thousands of students doing this every year in every university, there’s a lot of revenue potential.
28. Sandwich Delivery
A revelation when I was at university. There was a 30-minute delivery for any sandwich of your choosing. This in itself was worth a mention on this list, but a quick way around the restrictions mentioned above is to focus on something very very simple and cheap (like sandwiches) and have a swift turnaround time. BBC Dragon Duncan Bannatyne made his fortune selling out of ice cream vans. Maybe you can be the first sandwich Dragon.
29. Flipping Burgers
This reminds me of one crucial caveat, If you’re selling food, make sure you have all the required paperwork. Burgers weren’t on my initial draft, but then I remembered that the sports fields at Southampton are a million miles away from any form of take-out. Athletes, and more importantly sports fans, need to eat! I think you’d make a killing if you set up a simple burger store near the action. Buying frozen burgers in bulk is very cost effective, and you could sell them for £3 ($3.7)/burger for an insane markup.
30. Moving / Removals
I moved house six months ago and paid £200 ($250) for a half day to a removal company to move all my stuff. You can hire a van for an entire day for significantly less than £200, and students don’t have furniture. You could probably move 10+ people/day. That’s a fantastic profit margin and a great form of exercise. The best thing? Students move every year, so just like cleaning, your market is close to guaranteed.
Related: 60 Online business ideas