Photo by Emily Chow / North by Northwestern.
Snitches has made plenty of mistakes.
Like when Communication junior Yaa Boakye, one of four co-founders of the fashion design company, mistakenly spent $200 on metal studs for their line of customized Northwestern apparel. But for Boakye, that’s nothing.
Since founding Snitches this year, Boakye, Weinberg senior Harley Langberg, Weinberg freshman Annie Weiss and Communication freshman Jane Inhye have each invested hundreds of dollars into Snitches. So far, they’ve yet to see any profit.
“It’s more the emotional investment than a financial one,” Boakye says. “By next fall, it’ll be close to thousands. That’s when we’ll feel it.
Northwestern students are no strangers to piling on extracurriculars. But for those running a business, there’s money on the line. And unlike exams, where studying hard usually pays off, it can take months before a business is profitable.
Although Langberg, an economics major, helps out with a lot of the business aspects of Snitches, the responsibilities extend to all four founders. But Bo Fishback, vice president of entrepreneurship of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, says it’s not uncommon to find student entrepreneurs without formal training. In fact, his foundation, the largest nonprofit supporter of entrepreneurship in the world, avoids working solely with business or economics students.
“We’ve seen so many entrepreneurs coming out of engineering and design,” he says. “The most exciting thing since the dot-com boom is the democratization of entrepreneurship on campus. No one thinks you have to be in the business school to start something.”
Communication senior Louise Huterstein is one of those people. Although she’s a communication studies and international studies major, she’s the outgoing CEO of Northwestern Student Holdings, an organization that organizes and runs four student businesses: Wildcat Express Delivery, Wildcat Special Delivery, NUTutors and Northwestern Airport Services
“There are needs to be filled by people who are unconventional from a business perspective,” says Huterstein. “As long as you have the dedication and passion for it, you can still do it.”
NSH has some help, though. A nine-person board of directors, including former Fortune 500 CEO and McCormick professor Bill White, offers advice and support. But having such a resource at their fingertips doesn’t protect NSH projects from the ups and downs of starting a business.
Weinberg senior Joe Lischwe, CEO of Wildcat Express Delivery, thought WED would fail at times. In the fall, WED was getting around four orders a night.
“The board of directors said we needed to think of a way to close this up quietly,” Lischwe says.
Now averaging 20 to 30 orders a night, WED is safe, although it’ll be awhile before Lischwe’s wallet benefits –- currently, any profits are invested back into NSH.
But if getting paid in experience means anything, students running businesses are rich in opportunity.
“You learn a theory and you see the theory applied,” says Huterstein. “It means so much more in context. As soon as you have a taste of that, you want it all the time.”