53 business ideas to start at university
Running low on cash and inspiration? Have a look at our low-investment yet profitable startup ideas for businesses you can run from your uni room with little money!
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 business 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 business ventures might support your future or education.
53 startup business ideas
- If you're big on social media, make money (and get freebies) by advertising products for brands. See our guide to making money from social media
- Start a website. Pick a subject you're passionate about, get blogging and start earning. We've identified 20 ways to monetise your website
- Earn money from YouTube videos by sharing a slice of the ad revenue. Pick any topic that interests you (games, comedy and music do particularly well) and put together simple guides or reviews
- Become a pet sitter or dog walker! Busy people with 9-5 jobs are often willing to pay someone to look after their beloved pets - plus you get to hang out with animals
- 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 (simple supply and demand)
- Cash in on your creativity by selling designs, music and even recipes on sites like Fiverr and Gumroad
- Start a magazine (or blog) about your degree subject and get other students, tutors and experts to contribute. You could then place adverts – but aside from the money such a project will look great on your CV
- Sell your unwanted clothes on Depop - or snap up gems in charity shops for bargain prices and sell them on for a profit
- Set yourself an unusual goal and blog or write a book about it - just like student Ken Ilgunas who self-published a book about living in a van
- Hunt around in charity shops, and on sites like Gumtree and Freecycle, for stuff you can upcycle and sell on for a profit
- Run a delivery service. Evenings and weekends could see you delivering McDonald's/beer combos, while early mornings could be coffees, newspapers or train tickets
- Create an alternative yearbook using a print-on-demand publisher and sell copies and advertising space
- Start a film screening club
- ‘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!
- Sell original 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 post out 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 inspiration
- 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 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 skimp on your studies in favour of making some cash
- Check any rules your uni or insurance provider might have about running a business
- You'll need to complete a self-assessment tax return each year
- 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.