53 business ideas to start at university
Running low on cash and inspiration? Have a gander at our weird, wonderful and lucrative startup suggestions for business you can run from your uni room!
Setting up your own business and working for yourself is a great way to earn some extra cash at uni without being tied down to shift work - but finding a great idea can be quite tricky!
These ideas should get your entrepreneurial juices flowing and set you off on your merry way to small-business success.
How to come up with a business idea:
- Do some research: what do people need or want? Think of an everyday obstacle – 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.
53 startup business ideas
- Hunt around in charity shops, and on sites like Gumtree and Freecycle, for stuff you can upcycle and sell on for a profit
- If you're a dab hand at social media and have thousands of followers, you can make money (and get freebies) by advertising products for brands. Our complete guide to making money from social media has everything you need to know
- Start a website. Pick a subject you're passionate about, find a niche and get blogging. 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)
- Similarly, you can earn money from YouTube videos by sharing 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
- 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 (it's 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!)
- 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
- 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
- If you've got a flair for fashion, sell your unwanted garms on Depop - or snap up gems in charity shops for bargain prices and sell them on for a profit
- 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 some cash for images!)
- Become a pet sitter or dog walker! Busy folk with 9-5's are often willing to pay someone to look after their beloved pets when they're busy - plus you get to hang out with animals all the time
- 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?)
- Create an alternative yearbook using a print-on-demand publisher and sell copies and advertising space
- Start a film screening club (or stick with the ever-popular student club night)
- ‘I queue for you’: stand in-line or hang on the phone so someone else doesn’t have to
- 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!
- Start an accommodation reviews website for your campus or town
- Set up a Skype language course or conversational practice for learners around the world
- 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!
- If you've got a creative flair, you can sell your work on Etsy - think greetings cards, stickers, badges and illustrations
- 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)
- 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
- Freelance: Whether it's related to your current course or your dream career, offer your skills to people who need web design, illustration, writing or admin support. You'll also get CV-pimping experience to boot
- 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
- Run a couple of matchmaker events for your campus and charge a small joining fee
- 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
- Offer a transcription service that types up lecture recordings, or use your graphic design skills to produce handouts for tutors
- Create a swaps site that matches owners with borrowers: 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
- If you're good with kids, offer your services as a babysitter. Parents always need someone to watch their brood when they go out in the evening
- 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
- Help friends and family with matched betting and take a cut of their profits
- 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 prices
- Produce a campus e-newsletter and take paid advertising from local businesses, or do deals to offer readers discounts and competitions
- Start an annual gift or card service where you select and post cards and presents to subscribers so they never forget important birthdays or anniversaries
- Be a market research consultant and sell your services to local or national businesses who want to know what students think about their stuff
- 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
- 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
- Offer to collect or wait for deliveries for a fee (saving someone else the time or cost of rearranging a missed package)
- Create a portfolio website that bands and musicians can use to connect with local events or businesses
- 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 lunchtime
- Turn your best photos or artwork into posters (good sellers at the start of term as students move into new homes) – check out Truprint
- Start an essay or thesis proofreading business
- 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
- 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
- Sell a uni essentials welcome package – stationery, kitchen kit, discount vouchers – that can be delivered to freshers’ rooms ahead of their first day. See our what to take to university checklist
- Start a tutoring service for school students struggling with the subjects you’re acing at. Offer online courses or webinars to reach more folk
- If you have an unused parking space outside your house, see if you can rent it out for some extra cash (but always check with your landlord first)
- Be a sports coach for local or uni teams
- Collect other students dirty laundry and take it to the launderette for a markup
- Design a motivational app that logs lecture/seminar/gym attendance and awards points, vouchers or gifts for achievements or penalties for slacking
- 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
- Offer a CV design or review service. Check out our guide to CV writing for a bit of inspo
- 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!
- 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 for starting a business
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 of 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.