Many U.Va. Students Launch Businesses While in School

May 1, 2012 — Entrepreneurship activities at the University of Virginia are growing by leaps and bounds, as evidenced by the many business plan competitions, the Entrepreneurship Cup and enrollment in entrepreneurship programs.

Eric K. Martin, co-director of the Galant Center for Entrepreneurship at the McIntire School of Commerce, told the Washington Post last fall that participation at the center has doubled in the past four years, with 10 percent of eligible students now taking part.

For some students, it's about pursuing a passion. For others, it's to support a social cause. Whatever the reason, starting a business is a way for students to take their destiny into their own hands. So who are some of these U.Va. students who have on the title of "business owner" while pursuing their degrees?

Katy Hutto, a first-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences and Jefferson Scholar, launched her own business called "Katydid: Beads for a Cause" in 2008 when she was 16 years old. She sells homemade beaded jewelry online and donates the proceeds to various charities, chosen by the consumer. Right now, buyers can choose among Habitat for Humanity, Invisible Children, Project HOPE and Seeds of Peace.

A friend's 16th birthday provided Hutto's inspiration. This friend was rather artsy, so Hutto thought a perfect gift for her would be 16 pairs of earrings. Previously, Hutto had beaded jewelry for fun.

This same year, many "invisible children," Ugandan children who were abducted to become child soldiers, visited Hutto's Georgia high school. When she heard the children tell their stories, she decided to make a difference somehow.

"I just didn't need all these beads sitting around. It'd make me happier to do something with them," she said.

Hutto has donated roughly $3,000 since the company's inception.

"It's really rewarding in the end," she said. "Seeing that I've actually done something in the world – at least to a small extent."

Third-year Commerce student Jack Prominski found his eye for entrepreneurship during his first year at Babson College – Prominski transferred to U.Va. as a second-year. While he has worked on several start-ups over the past three years, he currently is focused on the record-producing business, Electrical Requiem, which he founded about a year ago. It is a hip-hop production company currently working with one client, Sam Johannes, who has an album, "Opus Number One," coming out soon.

"Electrical Requiem right now is just a lot of fun," Prominski said. "If it turns into something bigger, it'll be amazing. Right now, we're just doing it because we like it."

Originally intending to go into investment banking, Prominski had a revelation when interviewing with investment banks for summer internships earlier this year. During one of his banking interviews, an interviewer suggested, "It seems like investment banking would be more of a hobby for you."

Prominski began to more seriously consider start-ups as a career, and is looking to work at a start-up this summer. He ultimately would like to pursue a start-up that involves music.

He squeezes 10 to 15 hours a week out of his study schedule to work on his business ideas. In addition, next year, he will chair the University Programs Council.

Having a business, being involved in extracurriculars and keeping up with coursework definitely hone Prominski's time-management skills.

"You have to make some decisions when you have a midterm the next day and you also have a meeting or a new release coming out," he said.

Yang He, a fourth-year student in the Commerce School and a computer science major in the College, started Hatjinx, a Web development studio, two years ago.

He got his start by creating websites for people and companies. Then he added a partner, and the duo soon became a group of Web developers, trained by He, designing and launching websites.

Now, the business has shifted focus. Hatjinx mostly develops web applications, which are more highly evolved websites.

After graduation, He will start a career in consulting, but plans to continue developing websites on his own time. A long-term goal is to create a popular website or application, such as eBay or Angry Birds.

Student Council recently received a $22,000 Jefferson Trust Grant to start an Entrepreneurial Innovations Committee.

The committee will focus on entrepreneurial networking and growth opportunities within the University, said Siddhartha Pailla, a systems engineering Ph.D. student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

"The opportunities that are presented to people at the Commerce School and business school about how to become an entrepreneur, start a company and eventually turn a company around – those opportunities are limited," Pailla said.

The committee hopes to expand student opportunities to learn about starting businesses, he said. In the future, committee members plan to attend regional conferences, host workshops with professors and recent alumni, and establish networking events.

Student Council also will distribute micro-fund grants to student start-ups, providing $200 to $1,000 to cover the initial costs of student businesses, such as establishing a website, printing and advertising.

– by Lisa Littman

Media Contact

Rebecca P. Arrington

Assistant Director of Media Relations Office of University Communications