53 small business ideas to start at university
Running low on cash and inspiration? Our list of profitable small business ideas helps you get started from home with just a small investment.
Setting up your own business and working for yourself is a great way to earn extra money at home. But finding a great idea can be quite tricky.
These small business ideas will get your entrepreneurial juices flowing and set you up for startup success.
How to come up with a profitable business idea
- Do some research: what do people need or want? Think of an everyday obstacle. How can it be overcome? Start with a Google search.
- 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 business ventures might support your future or education.
Best small business ideas
Here are the profitable business ideas you can start from home:
1. Make money from social media
If you're big on TikTok, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, you can make money (and get free stuff) by advertising products for brands.
You'll have more luck with companies that are relevant to your brand. For example, if you're a food blogger, approach kitchenware companies to promote their gadgets. But bear in mind it's not uncommon for influencers to promote all kinds of products, even if they're not in your niche.
Check out our guide to making money from social media for more info.
2. Start a website
As far as small business ideas go, things couldn't be much easier than setting up your own website.
The best part is that it can be about anything you like (within the confines of the law, of course).
3. Become a YouTuber
Whether it's from ads or the opportunities for sponsored content, there's some serious money to be made on YouTube.
You don't need millions of subscribers to earn money from YouTube videos. Just pick a topic that interests you (games, comedy and music tend to be popular) and put together simple guides or reviews.
As long as you're offering something different, there's no reason for you not to do well.
4. Pet sitting
All of these business ideas are worth trying, but does it get any better than getting paid to hang out with animals?
From busy workers who are out during the daytime, to families going abroad for a couple of weeks, plenty of people are willing to pay someone to look after their beloved pets. Even if it's just to walk the dog for an hour or so each day.
As we explain in our guide to becoming a pet sitter, the money isn't bad either.
5. Resell textbooks
Although selling your own textbooks is a great place to start, that's not your only option.
At the end of the semester, offer to buy your classmates' second-hand textbooks. Chances are they'll accept a fairly low price as it saves them the hassle of selling it online themselves.
Then, at the start of the new term, find the new students taking that course. Sell the books to them for more than you bought them for (but less than the cost of a new copy) and you're in. Simple supply and demand.
6. Sell on creative marketplaces
These sites are the perfect place to cash in on your talents. Whether you're good at graphic design, composing music or even developing recipes, you could be earning big bucks.
7. Publish a magazine or blog
The easiest place to start when it comes to publishing a magazine would be to focus on your main interests. That way, you'll know enough potential contributors to start filling out your publication.
If you're a student, speak to tutors, experts and your classmates to see if they'd like to chip in. Once you've got your writers (and your content), you could place adverts in your magazine (or on your blog).
But it's not all about the money. This kind of project will look great on your CV, too.
8. Sell clothes on Depop
Extra money in your pocket? Check. Encouraging sustainability? Check. More space in your wardrobe? Check.
9. Upcycle and sell for a profit
It's not just clothes that can be transformed. There's a huge market for upcycled furniture, too. If you're in a charity shop and spot a tired old chair that could do with a lick of paint, give it that lick!
Once you're done, take to the internet and sell your work for a profit. Before you know it, you'll have your own small business. Sites like Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace are perfect for selling upcycled goods.
10. Run a delivery service
11. Buy and sell popular graphics and icons
Assuming you've not got the skills to design them yourself (if you do, this one is pure profit for you), pay a flat rate to a freelance graphic designer to create popular web graphics or icons.
12. Film screening club
Got access to a church hall or a bar that could use more customers on a quiet night? Or maybe a lecture hall (a.k.a. a glorified cinema)?
You could arrange to show a film on the big screen (bonus points if the venue already has a projector) and sell tickets to your friends, coursemates and family.
13. Get paid to queue
It's often said that we Brits love to queue. But, in reality, everybody hates it. We just respect the order and accept that it's the fairest way to approach things.
Now we've established that nobody likes queueing, it's time to offer a solution. Whether it's queueing outside a venue for theatre tickets or waiting on the phone to finally get through to a member of staff, you can profit from enduring the misery on somebody's behalf.
14. Convert CDs into MP3s
This business idea will more likely work for your parents or grandparents rather than people your own age (although don't rule it out!). But if you find someone willing to pay, don't let age get in the way.
As long as your computer has a disc drive, you can copy the songs of the CDs onto your PC. If you're not sure how to do it, see this guide to ripping CDs to MP3.
Afterwards, it's just a case of dragging and dropping the songs over to whatever device your paying customer would like to listen on. A simple task, if not a little time-consuming.
15. Self-publish a book
Always had an idea for a story? Nowadays, with the rise of eBooks, there's nothing to stop you from becoming a published author.
Take Ken Ilgunas as an example. He self-published a book about living in a van.
16. Start an accommodation reviews website
You could offer your fellow students a solution. Simply start a review site for accommodation in the area.
17. Set up a Skype language course
Are you bilingual? If so, you could be making some serious cash from something that probably seems completely natural to you.
There are loads of ways to make money from your language skills. One of the best and easiest ones is to offer language classes over Zoom or Skype. That way, you can sell your services to people all around the world without ever leaving your room.
18. Grow and sell your own fresh fruit and vegetables
You can grow loads of different fruit, veg and herbs at home.
Many plants can be grown indoors. Some don't even need proper pots and can thrive in old wellies.
19. Sell original work on Etsy
If number 6 on this list took your fancy, you can give this a go too. Etsy is the place to sell your original works. You could sell t-shirts, jewellery, stationery or anything else you want.
Of course, you should make sure you read our guide to making money on Etsy before you get started.
20. Sell audio or eBook versions of out-of-copyright works
Modern books won't be covered by this trick. If you're thinking of producing your own audiobook of the Harry Potter series, you're out of luck.
But older works (we're talking several decades) will often be out of copyright. This means that they're free to use and free for you to reproduce as eBooks or audiobooks.
We'd recommend targeting harder-to-find works, like medieval literature or 18th-century books. For these titles, there'll be less competition and possibly more demand for an accessible copy online.
21. Become a professional finder
Always fancied yourself as a bit of a Sherlock Holmes? You can use these skills, as well as the internet and some local contacts, to help people track down the impossible.
We're talking about irreplaceable possessions that they've lost. Or, extremely hard-to-find items that they'd like to buy.
All for a small fee, of course.
22. Become a freelancer
Whether it's related to your current course or your dream career, you can offer your skills to people who need web design, illustration, writing, admin support and much more.
23. Create food hampers
Parents of students will always be concerned about what their children are eating. They can worry a little less once they've sent them one of your hampers.
24. Run speed dating nights
Dating apps are all well and good. But, nothing quite beats meeting someone in the real world.
For students looking for a slightly less virtual matchmaking service, organise a speed dating night and charge a small fee for entry.
25. Make bespoke photo albums
Use a site like Lulu.com to produce professionally printed books or magazines. You can make each one unique by adding hand-crafted touches or notes.
26. Offer a transcription service for lectures
We'd never encourage people not to turn up to lectures, but very few classes ever have 100% attendance. As the lecture slides often lack a bit of context, you can offer to transcribe the lecturer's words and sell them to the absentees.
You could even sell them to the people who turned up, too. Just make sure they're the best lecture notes possible.
Or, if you've got some graphic design skills, why not offer to produce some handouts for your tutors?
27. Create a swapping site to match owners with borrowers
Clothes, services, bikes, books – people are always looking to borrow all of these and more.
A swapping site is a great small business idea to help match those wanting to borrow something with those who have something to offer. Or maybe a site that matches students who want to see the UK with those who live in other towns.
Not much to explain here. Our guide has all the details on becoming a babysitter.
The most important thing is to actually enjoy the company of children. Otherwise, what's the point (other than the money, of course)?
29. Organise student trips
Scout out some popular festivals or cities (either in the UK or Europe) and organise a trip for yourself and a few dozen other students.
Booking for a bigger group is more likely to get you a discount (on top of our tips for saving money at festivals). It's only fair that you charge your mates a little commission for setting the whole thing up.
30. Help friends and family with matched betting
Matched betting is a risk-free way of making a guaranteed profit if you follow the instructions exactly.
If you drop the ball, you could end up losing money. In exchange for a slice of the winnings, offer your expertise to your friends and family.
If you've not yet got to grips with the whole thing, here's our guide to getting started with matched betting.
31. Become a model for stock photographs
The beauty of stock photos is that you don't need to look like a typical model to feature in them. After all, they're meant to be more realistic.
That said, if you don't feel comfortable getting in front of the camera, you could help photographers find models instead.
Or, completely cut out the middleman. Simply grab a camera and have a go at shooting and selling your own snaps.
Check out our guide to selling photos online for some tips. We also share how much money you could make.
32. Produce a campus newsletter
To save on costs (and environmental impact), go for an email newsletter rather than an old-fashioned paper copy.
33. Start an annual gift or card service
Always find yourself forgetting people's birthdays? Yeah, us too.
Save yourself (and everyone else) a world of embarrassment by setting up a service that not only reminds people of important dates, but also sorts the gift and a card. Keep in mind that anniversaries and Valentine's Day are just as lucrative as birthdays!
And when you do, let us know so we can sign up.
34. Become a market research consultant
Despite students famously having no money, companies are still absolutely desperate to sell to them.
As a student, you can offer them some invaluable insight into how their brand and products are perceived by young people. And it's only fair that they pay you for your services.
Head over to our guide to product testing for more info on this kind of thing.
35. Publish yearbooks
Yearbooks are always great fun, but it's unlikely that your uni will be publishing one. Why not take up the responsibility yourself and be the hero of your course?
There are loads of print-on-demand publishers that will help you do this. If you want to maximise your profits (or keep the costs low for your buyers), you could sell advertising space to local businesses.
36. Buy and sell old gym equipment
Everyone has some unused home gym equipment sitting in the garage, right next to a pile of good intentions.
Look on the likes of Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree and buy the kit at a bargain rate (or ask to take it away for free). After that, re-sell it to an individual, school, gym, office or personal trainer.
37. Offer to collect or wait for deliveries
This one's pretty similar to number 13. Save someone else the time or cost of rearranging a missed package by offering to wait for them. You could also collect it on their behalf.
38. Help connect musicians with local events and businesses
Create a portfolio website for bands and musicians. You can use the site to promote bands to local events and businesses. They'll then have a go-to resource for booking acts in the area.
39. Sell smoothies or sandwiches to local businesses
Call local businesses first thing in the morning and get them to place some orders for later in the day. Then, make the smoothies and sandwiches at home (we've got some great sandwich ideas) and deliver them to their door at lunchtime. Like Deliveroo, but much, much cheaper.
40. Turn your best photos or artwork into posters
Sound like something you could hack? Check out Snapfish and start printing your masterpieces.
41. Start an essay or thesis proofreading business
Ok, maybe the last thing you'd want to do after writing your own essays is proofread other people's.
But think of it this way: you'll get loads of exposure on how you should (or shouldn't) structure an essay. And, unlike when you're doing your own work, you'll be getting paid for your time.
Hit up some freelancing sites to start offering your services. There are thousands of people out there desperate for someone to give their writing the once over.
42. Create a guide to the local area
A website, a magazine, an app – whatever you settle on, use your knowledge of the area to create a resource that helps freshers make the most of their new town.
Include the best cafés, cheapest deals and some hidden gems. You can sell the guide, or give it away for free and ask businesses to pay a small fee to be included.
43. Start your own travel exchange
Put together packages of budget flights, accommodation and events and coordinate them between your own university and one based abroad.
If it's easier, try starting with a uni that yours is already affiliated with. For example, one of the universities offering a year studying abroad.
44. Sell a university essentials welcome package
When we say "essentials", we're talking stationery, kitchen utensils, discount vouchers and more. Basically, anything from our what to take to uni checklist that can be delivered to freshers' rooms ahead of their first day.
45. Start a tutoring service
Private tutors get paid seriously good money.
Naturally, you can market yourself as a tutor for school students in whichever subject you're studying at uni, but don't limit yourself. If you're studying English but did well in Maths at school, offer to help kids with this, too.
As we explain in our guide to becoming a tutor, you can also tutor online to expand your customer base.
46. Rent out your unused parking space
If you have an unused parking space outside your house, see if you can rent it out for some extra cash.
This idea's especially lucrative if you live near a train station, airport or high street, or if the area is largely permit parking only. Basically, anywhere where parking's at a premium.
47. Be a sports coach for local or uni teams
Pretty simple. If you're good at a sport, or just have a knack for teaching it, get paid to be a coach for one of the local teams (or the uni team, if they pay).
48. Collect other students' dirty laundry
We're probably not helping to fight the whole 'lazy students' stereotype here, but if your fellow students can't be bothered to take their washing to the laundrette (or don't know how to use a washing machine), why not do it for them?
You only need to charge a couple of quid per person. Depending on the size of the flats in your halls, you could be making upwards of £20 from each one.
49. Create a motivational app
Along with some inspirational messages, make sure the app can log lecture/seminar/gym attendance. It can then award users points, vouchers or gifts for sticking to their targets (or exceeding them!), and give penalties for slacking.
50. Start an outdoor fitness trail
People are always looking for ways to keep fit without paying for a gym membership. Outdoor fitness trails are among the most popular alternatives.
Set up a trail on MeetUp.com and lead groups of people to unusual locations, or places off the beaten track, all the while working out without any gym equipment.
51. Offer a CV design or review service
Most people feel a bit uncomfortable putting a CV together, especially when it's their first time.
Read our guide to CV writing to brush up on your expertise. You could then offer your services as a résumé reviewer.
52. Design secret cases for gadgets
Have you ever seen tins of beans that are actually secret containers for your valuables? This is the same principle, but for all your favourite gadgets.
Think phone covers that look like pencil cases or laptop cases that look like ring binders. Essentially, anything that's so worthless, no thief would ever think to steal it. There are bonus points on offer (from us and the customers of your small business) for using recycled materials.
53. Offer a study survival pack
Customers can sign up at the start of the year and let you know whenever they expect to have an intense period of revision or deadlines.
Then, whenever they need it, you can deliver them a study survival kit to their house or the library. Pack it full of things like Berocca, teabags, scented candles, cans of Red Bull and a few brain foods, and they'll be ready to go.
Golden rules for starting a business
Keep your best start-up business ideas on track with some common sense:
- Don't do anything illegal
- Don't compromise anyone's safety to make a buck
- Don't slack on your studies in favour of making some cash
- Check any rules your uni or student insurance provider might have about running a business
- You'll need to complete a self-assessment tax return each year
- Make sure you know the 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 money. Going for ideas that help your community or local charities can do just as much for your CV or personal satisfaction.
Anyone can have a weird or wonderful idea, but very few 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 business!