Start ups and side hustles: NCF student entrepreneurs
Vendors lined up during 2023 New College Pride. Photo by Gaby Batista.

Start ups and side hustles: NCF student entrepreneurs

New College students aren’t shy about taking on big challenges, with many tackling internships, theses and jobs on and off campus. The honors curriculum seeks those who strive to take on challenges, resulting in the future-oriented student body seen on campus today. Entrepreneurship goes hand in glove with dedication and certain skill sets one can market as special or worthy of financial compensation. During events like Newstock and Garage Sales, student entrepreneurs are able to showcase their work, including  painting, crochet, jewelry making and a wide assortment of services like haircutting, tarot reading and more. The Catalyst reached out to a number of students involved in their particular craft to get a sense of who they are and why they do what they do.

Chloe Rusek dying a customer’s hair. Photo courtesy of Chloe Rusek.

Third-year and Catalyst staff writer and videographer Chloe Rusek describes her work as a “side hustle”  to “provide a service that makes people feel good.”

Her mother was previously a hairdresser, and although Rusek studies film and digital media production, the hair cutting gene has remained. While haircutting is self-defined as a side gig, Rusek isn’t necessarily in it for the money. “I do pay-what-you-want haircuts. Basically, you come get a haircut and it could be a $1 haircut or a $30 haircut. Whatever you can afford.

“Lots of times I work with clients who have had nightmare haircut experiences and I also do a lot of gender-affirming cuts,” Rusek continued. “It’s interesting to learn about all the different textures of hair. I’ve done straight hair, curly hair and lots in between, giving me more experience. I see cutting hair as an art that can make the biggest difference in a person’s everyday life.”

Rusek has a sign in her dorm window describing what services she offers, but mostly relies on word of mouth to get new clients. Most of them are New College students. While this may not be a major source of income for Rusek, the experience of cutting hair is rewarding in and of itself.

“I’ve had multiple people be ecstatic about gender-affirming haircuts or just having a great experience overall because it’s very hard to trust someone with your hair,” Rusek observed. “I love making people feel good about themselves plus you make a lot of new friends. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing someone walking around campus with the haircut you gave them.”

Hannah Barker giving her “Shark Tank” pitch at a school-sponsored event. Photo courtesy of Hannah Barker.

Third-year Hannah Barker is a jack of all trades, running her small, one-woman graphic design business along with other part-time campus jobs.

“I would describe what I do [as] provid[ing] a variety of visual branding to help create a marketable identity for individuals, small businesses and nonprofits,” Barker detailed. “I offer vectorized logo creation, graphic design creations, art commissions, photography, matte board frame cutting, merchandise designing/ordering and currently trying to expand into creating small wooden signs.”

As an Art and Museum Studies Area of Concentration (AOC), Barker’s work in graphic design is useful in a variety of ways to her studies “in regard to understanding design as art.” Many may recognize her work in the Student Activities & Campus Engagement (SAUCE) office as a Marketing Coordinator, creating countless fliers that students walk past each day announcing an upcoming SAUCE event.

Barker credits personal connections made throughout her academic and professional career that allowed her to take her business in different creative directions. Social media is a large contributing factor to her growing client base, including Redbubble, an online marketplace for designers to sell a multitude of products with their designs printed on them.

While Barker’s small business has grown to provide many services, she stated, “One of my most memorable experiences in my business is when I got the opportunity to pitch my business to real-life investors, kind of like Shark Tank. This was part of an entrepreneurial experience hosted by the New College Career, Engagement & Opportunity Center and State College of Florida. I was able to dress professionally and share why my business plan is successful, and what makes my business shine.”

Project Malu logo designed by thesis student Annie Dong. Photo courtesy of Aimee Mendoza.

Thesis student Aimee Mendoza aims to develop her start-up, Project Malu, where science communication expands through digital storytelling using techniques from StoryCenter, a platform where one can learn multimedia storytelling skills through workshops.

“As an older student, I had a desire to find an opportunity to have a job that was beautiful and passionate for me,” Mendoza said. “I’d been a working professional for many years and this production company allows me to do things that inspire myself and others. I’d like to communicate science to the community so that they have a meaningful and impactful resource for science that directly impacts where they live.”

Mendoza was able to further this endeavor through many means. As a Eugenie Clark Fellowship recipient, Mendoza has the opportunity to work with Marine Biology professionals from New College, Havenworth Coastal Conservation, the Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program and Minorities in Shark Science (MISS).

“I also received a grant from Minorities in Aquarium and Zoology Science (MIAZS) to learn a technique on how to create digital stories combined with ArcGIS,” Mendoza said enthusiastically. “I feel very well supported in my field already.”

Through these fellowships and grants, Mendoza was invited to speak at the 2023 Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) conference in January, detailing her work on science communication through digital storytelling to an audience of many industry professionals.

“I am hoping that other students, nonprofits and organizations would want me to [help] create their stories for their stakeholders and other grant funding opportunities,” Mendoza said.

Assortment of crafts and goodies sold by Molly Branham at Newstock 2023. Photo courtesy of Molly Branham.

Second-year Molly Branham’s entrepreneurial endeavors lean towards the creative, hands-on side of services. She sells knitwear items, hair tinsel applications, mends clothes and much more. She has sold at Newstock, so some students may recognize her work, whether it’s noticing a classmate with shiny strands of tinsel in their hair or a statement piece of handmade jewelry.

“People tell their friends where they got something I made or hair done, and others contact me,” Branham explained. “My customer base is mostly students and people I know from outside of school and their families. I also tend to get customers from talking to people who compliment pieces I’m wearing or ask about it if I’m knitting in a public place.”

While Branham keeps her work offline, the multitude of services she provides are in demand. “I kind of consistently fall into this kind of work because a majority of what I do is things that aren’t super common. People want something fixed or made and don’t know where to go to find something like that or for a reasonable price.”

Branham made a comment regarding the barter system by which New College entrepreneurs can conduct business with one another in a mutually beneficial manner. “I love trading stuff with people. My friend was talking about wanting a balaclava and not knowing where to get one, so I told him that I could [make one]. He got to pick all of the details and provide measurements. He is a potter so I got “paid” in a ceramic jar and two plates. I love having pieces from different creatives, so this is a really cool way to share work and services.”

These four individuals showcase the tenacity that New College students so proudly express, encompassing a wide array of talents, many of which can gain them a quick buck. There is much to learn from student entrepreneurs as they make their way into the business world or use their skills to barter with and benefit their communities.

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