From tapestries to laptop repair, UNC students are taking their interests and transforming them into enterprises before they're done with undergrad.
For some, the idea for a business came out of a hobby. For others, owning a business is a way to build their resume and practice skills for their careers.
Ashley Zheng’s business, Tapestries by Ash, grew out of talent and a love for crafts.
“I had tie-dyed some tapestries before, and a lot of people liked them and asked if they could buy them from me,” she said.
Zheng started her business last summer while taking classes part-time. She kept it up through last semester’s 17 credit hour load and graduation last December, and found it easy to balance her business with her studies.
“There were some times, though, that I would have to send orders out a day late or something, because I had to do schoolwork,” she said.
Every tapestry is named after a different city: There’s Algiers, Tokyo, Cozumel, and even Greensboro and Chapel Hill. While the income aspect of the business is nice, Zheng uses it as a way to keep her creativity alive, and plans to continue the business for as long as she enjoys it.
“It’s more of like an enjoyable craft thing that I do,” she said.
For sophomore Victor Brown, owning a business is a way to train for the future.
Brown, a business and biology major, started The Repair Concierge in 2015 out of an interest in combining his love of technology, fixing things and helping people. Through his business, he repairs phones, tablets, MacBooks and laptops.
Brown uses the business as a way to grow a brand and practice his manual dexterity, since he hopes to be a surgeon. For him, The Repair Concierge is not about the income, but about diagnosing and treating technology.
“Just like not every repair will be easy, not every case I see as a physician will be easy,” he said. “It’s all in the challenge.”
Brown understands he has competition in the repair business, but he uses customer service to set himself apart. He considers himself a service provider.
“It’s important to differentiate by reputation,” he said.
He has repaired phones for professors and professionals in his hometown Winston-Salem, but currently draws a lot of his business from UNC students. Social media, especially Facebook, has proven to be a great platform for free advertising.
“I do enjoy seeing this entity that I’ve created growing,” Brown said.
His business is all about time management. He can typically repair phones in 30 minutes to an hour, but The Repair Concierge can get busy during phone upgrade season, and Brown is busy with his pre-med and business studies.
“I’m a student first, but my business is a very close second,” he said. “This is my supplemental income. My clients are very important to me, along with my reputation.”
Other student business owners understand the importance of reputation. Spencer Amos, a sophomore communication studies major, originally created the podcast recommendation website Audibant for ECON 325: Entrepreneurship Principles and Practice, but has watched the website take off thanks to user feedback.
The website has only been around for two weeks, from concept to publication, but it already has over 400 users.
“Customer feedback is the most important thing,” Amos said.
Users can ask for recommendations on Audibant via the logical route, where an automated system recommends podcasts, or the quirky route, where Audibant’s creators personally select podcasts for users.
Audibant is a freelance project, so Amos and team members Jack Turner, Talpha Everette, Wanyi Chen and Zac Gonzalez currently do not receive income from the website. They are exploring advertising or sponsorship opportunities as their business grows into the future.
“I think this is something that we could all see doing full-time, if this was something that was to take off, something that we could absolutely polish up and hire enough people to be able to send out the recommendations and have that customer contact,” he said.
Amos and his team have considered automating recommendations but are concerned it would take away from direct interactions with users. The team keeps busy in the meantime.
“We’re kind of swamped as far as keeping up with Audibant and keeping up with your schoolwork, and we’re all doing internships,” Amos said.
Despite the challenges of running a website together, the team has struck a balance in delegating tasks and dividing up the work, Amos said.
“I think we’re very fortunate to have team members that work hard and work together,” he said. “In the end, we all understand that we have a common goal, and ultimately we can just try things.”
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