50 business ideas to start at university

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By in Make Money. Updated April 2016.

Running low on cash and inspiration? Have a gander at our weird, wonderful and lucrative startup suggestions for business you can run from your dorm!Stuffed monkey sitting at office deskCredit: Alan Cleaver – FlickrWe’re not saying that running a business from the comfort of your home is a walk in the park but it is possible, and that’s enough to start talking about the options pronto!

If starting a small business sounds like it’ll take up too much of your precious time, head over to our quick-fix cash injection guide for ideas on how to make money pronto.

However, if you have a bit of entrepreneurial spirit in you, these ideas should get your juices flowing and set you off on your merry way to small-business success.

Enough monkeying around: let’s get to it!

Nail that big idea

  • Do some research: what do people need or want? Think of an everyday obstacle you’re met with – how can it be overcome?
  • If you could provide or invent something that would make life easier, better, safer, fairer or cheaper – what would it be?
  • What are you really good at or love doing? Perhaps start with that!
  • Think about what ventures might support your degree course or future ideal career.

50 startup suggestions

Lit lightbulbsCredit: Joe Goldberg – Flickr

  1. Upcycle and sell on free stuff you’ve found in charity shops, on Gumtree and on Freecycle
  2. Start a blog. Make your uni ramblings as engaging and insightful as you can (it helps to provide a few laughs and be opinionated). Once you have a good following, you can start hosting ads on your site for payment, or even write advertorials for brands (this basically involves you writing about a company for payment)
  3. Similarly, 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). You can run some ads and often blag freebies, and further down the line you could even 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 on to new students at the start of the new term (worth double checking that the same textbooks will be used again the following term, otherwise you could be left with a lot of useless material!)
  5. Cash in on your creativity by selling a design, a piece of music, a recipe, or whatever your speciality is on a site like Gumroad
  6. Become 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. We all know how easy it is to get into a pickle with this! 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. You could charge local businesses to advertise – the money might not start rolling in instantly but it’s a good project to invest in and will look great on your CV 
  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 (and could charge so cash for images!)
  9. Rent out your student room or house over the summer months on Airbnb 
  10. Run a ‘you want it, I’ll 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 by offering to do their grocery shopping online for them on the premise that you can claim cashback
  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 also get CV-pimping experience to bootcat computer freelance
  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 and charge a small joining fee
  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 unique
  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 to visit 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 newcomer Picfair, which allows you set your own pricesdropout-fb
  30. Produce a campus e-newsletter and take paid advertising from local businesses, or do deals to offer readers discounts and competitions
  31. Start an annual gift or card service where you select and post cards and presents so subscribers so they 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 rate 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 one thing we all seem 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 as students move into new homes) – check out Truprint
  39. Start an essay or thesis proofreading business
  40. Create a local guide – think magazine, website or app – that helps freshers make the most of their new town: the best cafés, cheapest deals, or hidden gems. You can sell these on and even ask businesses to pay a small fee to be included
  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 at. 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. Check out our guide to CV writing for a bit of inspo
  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 your own subscription service where customers get a study survival kit delivered to them at their homes or libraries during high stress periods – think Berocca, teabags, de-stress scented candles, cans of redbull, etc.

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 anyone’s safety to make a buck
  • Don’t skimp on your studies in favour or making some cash
  • 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 to put any of your ideas into action before you move forward
  • Don’t just think in terms of the money – going for ideas 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 startup.

Good luck, and let us know how you get on with your big venture! If you think we’ve missed any tricks with this list, fill us in using the comments section below.

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