The 28 Best Startup & Small Business Ideas For Students In 2022
Formation — 21 min read
There’s hardly a better time than your college years to start a small business or a startup. You’re right to object that you have a lot going on already as a student — it won’t be easy to juggle entrepreneurship and your classes. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, and the benefits make the effort truly worthwhile.
To aid your search for a business idea you can start right now while you’re still in school, we’ve put together this list of 28 startup ideas for students. Maybe you’ll find an idea here you love, or maybe you’ll be inspired to think of another idea on your own. But, before we get to the list, let’s address some of the most important questions about student entrepreneurship.
What are the benefits of starting your own business while you are still in college?
- It’s low risk. You still have your whole career ahead of you — now is the time to make mistakes and learn from them. Even a failed startup still provides you with invaluable real world experience. Lots of places would love to hire a recent graduate who has already had the experience of building a real startup, regardless of whether it failed or succeeded.
- It’s easier to find co-founders in college. While you’re still in school, you’re in close proximity with many other people like you who are engaged in their subject of choice and passionate about making a difference in their industry. This will make it easier to find people willing to partner with you for business ventures.
- It’s like rocket fuel for your career. Getting a good education is important, but there are some lessons that just can’t be learned in a classroom. Pursuing a real business or startup can teach you a lot, and it’s a great way to begin building your reputation and your network before you’ve even left school.
- You can use the extra money to help with college expenses. Finances are tight for nearly everyone during their college years. If your business gains traction, it could become a valuable source of extra money to help support you through your schooling.
- You can use campus resources. While you’re in college, you have access to resources you may be taking for granted. Benefits like workspaces with provided computers, consistent internet access, and advice from your professors give you a huge advantage over other entrepreneurs while you’re in school. Plus, you’re technically paying for these resources with your tuition, so you might as well fully utilize them.
- Other students are easily accessible customers. Your school’s student body is a prime source of customers early in the life of your venture. Young adults as a demographic are frequently the most willing to try out new products or ideas. You can also solicit feedback from fellow students by offering your product or service at a discount (or for free) in exchange for their input.
- The sooner you start, the more time you have to fail. Entrepreneurship is a road paved with failure. This is almost a guarantee for every entrepreneur. You have to make mistakes before you succeed, so better to start making those mistakes now and give yourself plenty of time to apply the lessons later.
Startup vs. small business
People sometimes use the terms startup and small business interchangeably, but they're actually very different. At the outset, startups and small businesses might look very similar. Both typically begin as an idea to meet an unmet need with a particular product or service. The biggest differentiators are growth intent and business goals.
Startups: Startups are all about growth. The whole point of a startup is to grow very quickly and make a large impact on the industry of choice. The organization is really just a vehicle to scale the idea.
Small businesses: Growth intent isn’t a defining feature for small businesses. They could plan to expand or to stay the same size forever. Instead, small businesses are primarily focused on capturing a very specific market and generating sustainable revenue.
There are other differences as well, like funding opportunities and risk level. However, growth intent and objectives are the two most important areas where startups and small businesses diverge.
What type of personality does a startup founder need?
Startup founders need to be innovative problem solvers who are passionate about creating solutions. Leading a startup to success requires a clear vision, a willingness to take calculated risks, and resilience in the face of failure. Founding a startup is usually a lot more work than opening a small business, so you should be prepared for a gruelling (yet rewarding) journey.
What type of personality does a small business owner need?
Small business owners also need to be driven, passionate individuals. It takes a great deal of focus to build a successful small business. However, it’s much easier to get started building a small business than a startup. All you really need to launch a sole proprietorship is a product or service to offer and a way to find or attract customers. Unless you have employees or you’re working with business partners, you’re not even required to register your small business.
The rest of this article will mostly focus on startup ideas for students, not small business ideas. However, you’ll find a few small business ideas mixed into the list as well.
Is it better to get a job at an existing startup?
If you’re wondering “do startups hire college students,” you’re in luck: startups love hiring college students because they want eager, innovative employees. However, you obviously won’t get the experience of creating a company from scratch.
On the other hand, founding your own startup is very difficult. It takes a unique kind of person to be compatible with the demands of entrepreneurship. You may decide the advantages aren’t worth it to you.
If you’re sure founding your own startup (or small business) is the right move for you, read on.
Why Innovative startup ideas are essential for college students
Startups are inseparable from innovation. A successful startup needs to be based around a new, valuable idea. One of the reasons college is a great time to found a startup is because college students are especially well-placed to engage in innovation.
- You’re in the thick of your studies — learning about your chosen subject, its history, and its most influential people is sure to inspire innovative ideas.
- You’re also surrounded with like-minded people with whom you can easily collaborate. Innovation is often the result of a group brainstorm, not one person’s lightbulb moment.
- An innovative startup complements your studies. There’s no better way to learn about your chosen field than by jumping right in and getting first-hand experience with your industry’s most cutting-edge ideas.
We’ve segmented our list of 28 startup ideas according to some of the most popular fields of study. You’ll also find a few ideas at the end of the list that could apply to students of any discipline.
Startup ideas for computer science students
Website development service
Today, every business needs a web presence, even if they aren’t an online business. There are do-it-yourself tools available, but they’re usually severely limiting. This leaves plenty of room for professional website development services and freelance web developers to step in. As a computer science major, you could leverage your knowledge of coding to build high quality websites for clients. Even better, you could partner with a graphic designer to create a full-service website design business.
Resources: Check out this article to learn what it’s like to have a young web development startup.
App development service
Like websites, nearly every business has an app now. Whether it’s a mobile app or a desktop software application, people across every industry are in need of software developers to build these apps for them. While it’s a crowded market, there’s also enormous demand and nearly limitless ways to distinguish your development services in particular. For example, you could position your app development startup as one that specializes in helping other student-founded startups turn their ideas into working applications.
Cybersecurity is one of the most highly sought after services in the computer science field. There are disastrous consequences to being unprepared for a cyber attack — it can be incredibly difficult for a company’s reputation to bounce back. If your studies are focused in the domain of network security, you might find success offering your services to businesses. A great way to get some experience and prove your business model has potential could be to offer your services to local businesses or other student businesses that can’t afford the more well-established cybersecurity firms.
Resources: You should begin by familiarizing yourself with the state of the cybersecurity industry.
Startup ideas for engineering students
As an engineering student, you could put your skills to the test by launching a startup in robotics. Robotics is a cutting-edge field with a long list of potential applications. Everything from self driving cars, to medical equipment, to security, to industrial automation is being reimagined thanks to robotics. Just be sure you either have a thorough understanding of the industry you choose to target or work with a cofounder who does.
Sustainable material startup
You could also use your budding engineering expertise to develop alternative materials that will reduce human environmental impact. Common examples of this include startups that produce biodegradable alternatives to common harmful materials like plastic. There are other directions you can take the idea, though. For example, you could build simple items that everyone needs, like shoes or clothes, out of recycled materials. If you can hit on a formula that uses recycled materials to produce a higher quality product, you have a recipe for success.
Resources: The EPA provides some great information about sustainable materials.
3D printing service
3D printing is no longer just a novelty — it’s now a legitimate, rapidly growing industry. There are a wide variety of uses for 3D printing services. 3D printing is commonly used to build prototypes, manufacture furniture, fill custom orders for shoes and jewellery, create synthetic human tissue, and much more. While 3D printing is exploding in popularity, it’s challenging to do without training and not everyone has access to the necessary equipment. If you do, and you know how to use it, you could have a lucrative business opportunity on your hands.
Resources: This is a useful breakdown of the kinds of equipment and facilities you need to launch a 3D printing startup.
Startup ideas for law students
Freelance legal document preparation
Filing legal paperwork is part of running any kind of business. However, legal documents are famously complex. This creates a great opportunity for people with legal knowledge to make money preparing legal documents for business owners.
In Florida, California, Arizona, and North Carolina, you do not need to be a registered attorney to prepare legal paperwork for businesses. Each state has different guidelines regarding the requirements non-lawyer document preparers must meet. As a law student, you may be able to register as a document preparer and help other business owners prepare their legal documents. Attorney fees can be very steep, so you’ll likely find many small businesses willing to partner with you for a lower cost.
Resources: This resource outlines some of the requirements for starting a document preparation business.
Every industry has legal regulations companies must adhere to. But, much like legal documentation, these regulations can be extremely complicated. Many businesses are willing to pay for a legal consultant to help them decipher regulations and navigate the compliance process. You’ll need to have completed some law education already and have prior experience with compliance management, but compliance consulting could be a great way to put your skills to the test after you’ve progressed past your bachelor-level legal studies.
Resources: This article contains more information about what compliance consulting entails.
Every industry leans on technology to one degree or another. One corner of technology that’s gaining momentum is legaltech. There are countless ways to improve or simplify legal tasks with innovative software tools. For example, existing legaltech startups have created applications to track and manage compliance or to automate legal document preparation. There’s plenty more room for innovation, however. Combining your legal knowledge with a co-founder’s coding expertise could yield a successful tech startup in the legal space.
Resources: If you’re not sure where to find a co-founder, you can talk with a startup mentor about how to approach startup formation.
Startup ideas for MBA students
Résumé/CV review service
Putting together the perfect résumé or CV is extremely challenging. Nearly everyone needs help improving theirs from time to time, and even those who find it easy know the importance of getting a second opinion. College is the perfect place to start a résumé review service because you’re surrounded by fellow students, many of whom are likely working on their professional CVs for the first time. There’s plenty of opportunity for you to use your business management expertise to help these students craft better résumés.
Resources: Here’s a helpful guide to starting a résumé review service.
Market research consulting service
Businesses of all kinds are in continuous need of new ways to gain customers. If you have a knack for marketing and you’re working on a business degree, you could be well positioned to offer your services to local businesses. A great place to start building a reputation is to partner with other student businesses that don’t have large marketing budgets. You could also scout out new local businesses and offer to create marketing strategies for them. If you have experience with a specific kind of marketing like social media marketing or PR, you should lean into that niche.
Resources: A marketing mentor can help you solidify your marketing knowledge and navigate the industry.
Start a management service for local musicians/artists
There’s likely no shortage of struggling bands or other performance artists in your area (especially fellow students). You could find success seeking them out and offering to manage the business aspects of their operations — things like marketing, merchandising, negotiating with local venues, and other tasks that might require an MBA student like yourself. You might find someone looking to take their career to the next level who would appreciate your services, especially if you’re charging a reasonable fee. This is also a great way to get some real world management experience before you even finish your degree.
Resources: Even though your general marketing knowledge will take you far in this role, you should also seek some business advice specific to the music industry (or whichever corner of the entertainment industry is applicable to your client).
Startup ideas for medical students
Design a wellness app
There are many different kinds of wellness apps available, from weight loss apps, to mediation apps, to sleep cycle tracking apps, and much more. There will always be people looking for new ways to improve their health or to make managing it easier. You could try your hand at designing an app like one of these using what you’re learning about health and wellness in your medical program (this might require finding a co-founder with the technical skill to build the app for you). Once you have a prototype, consider showing your app to student athletes at your university and collecting their feedback.
Resources: Here are some examples of innovative health and wellness apps to get the ideas flowing.
Be a health and wellness coach
If you want to help people improve their health without delving so far into the world of tech startups, you could also try becoming a personal wellness coach. Being a personal wellness coach doesn’t require formal medical training, but your status as a medical student will certainly give your credibility a boost. You could focus on one specific niche or offer more general wellness coaching. This could be as simple as giving advice about nutrition, exercise, or stress management. You can probably find your first clients fairly easily on your campus and then expand from there. You also have the freedom to take on as many or as few clients as you wish, which gives you the flexibility to balance the amount of time you’re spending on work and school.
Resources: Before you start advertising your services, consider talking with a successful wellness coach who can show you the tips and tricks you’ll need to succeed.
Medical transcription service
Medical transcription services transcribe dictated medical information like patient notes or reports so they can be documented in writing. This job doesn’t require extensive medical expertise, but it does require a solid knowledge of medical terminology. You’ll also benefit from completing some medical transcription training and becoming certified as a medical transcriptionist. Even though there are a few extra steps involved, medical students will find it relatively easy to leverage their medical knowledge to launch a transcription service.
Resources: Here’s some more information about medical transcription certification.
Startup ideas for commerce students
As a dropshipper, you would act as a middleman between manufacturers and customers. Rather than keep a regular stock like a typical store, dropshippers purchase inventory one item at a time as orders come in and send them to the customers. This allows you to avoid getting into debt up front to purchase inventory. It also means you don’t actually have to have your own product to sell — it’s all about how you market yourself. This could be an easy, low-cost way to get some real world experience in e-commerce.
Resources: Shopify has a very detailed explanation of dropshipping that answers some common questions.
Sell something online that you make or grow
This idea is one of the simplest, but it’s too fundamental not to mention. There’s never been a better time to sell products independently online. If you have something you’re good at making, growing, baking, or otherwise creating, you could set up an online shop and start building a brand around your product. Some common choices are homemade treats like cupcakes, or a handcrafted artistic piece like jewelry or pottery. Whatever unique skill you have, you can likely leverage it for a profit. You could also sell your creations in-person to other students or at local farmers markets. If you have some skill at product positioning, you’ll likely be able to find a niche market for whatever kind of unique items you have for sale.
Resources: Getting advice from an experienced mentor is a great way to learn how to grow your small business and hone your brand.
Local marketplace app for your university
Services like Ebay, Craigslist, and Facebook marketplace have proven there’s a huge need for online consumer trading centers. While it would be very tough to compete with big names like those, consider creating an item swap app exclusively for students at your university. Since students are constantly cycling through, you have a prime opportunity; There are plenty of outgoing students looking to offload unneeded items, and just as many incoming students looking for new items to furnish dorms or apartments. You could always expand the app after college if it proves successful.
Resources: This is a practical guide with extensive information about starting an online marketplace — though some of it may go into more detail than you need for an app targeted mainly at students on your campus.
Startup ideas for pharmacy students
Prescription management app
For people who don’t have many prescriptions, setting a simple reminder on your phone might be enough to keep track of your medication schedule. However, for those with multiple prescriptions to keep track of, the typical reminder tools can become burdensome. Medication tracking apps help people remember to take their medication on a regular schedule, but you could expand the idea even further. Consider how you could use your pharmaceutical knowledge to provide a more comprehensive prescription management experience. Or you could combine this idea with a broader health-management app to widen your audience.
Resources: You might find this comprehensive guide to designing a prescription tracking app helpful.
Pharmaceutical waste management
The pharmaceutical industry is necessary for providing essential care to people with chronic illnesses, but it’s not without its negative aspects. Medication that expires needs to be disposed of properly, otherwise it can introduce hazardous chemicals into the environment, including nearby groundwater. There are government regulations in place for responsible disposal of pharmaceutical waste, but there are also many innovators in the pharmaceutical industry who are creating alternative, safer methods of disposal. You could apply what you’re learning about the pharmaceutical field to develop a better waste disposal method, or even a way to recycle the waste.
Resources: A complex startup like a pharmaceutical waste management company will likely require funding to get off the ground. Talk with a venture capitalist who can show you exactly how to impress investors.
Vitamin/supplement kit business
While you can’t actually sell medication until you’ve completed your pharmaceutical training, launching a vitamin kit business could be a great way to put your studies to good use in the meantime. You can use what you’re learning to assemble vitamin kits for different purposes — for example, you could offer pre-made kits designed specifically for different age groups or lifestyles. You could also offer customizable kits or a “build your own kit from scratch” option.
Resources: Here’s a great example of a leading innovator in the vitamin kit startup space.
Startup ideas for finance students
Every business needs a bookkeeper to help them organize their finances. As a finance student, you’re perfectly positioned to make some extra money helping local businesses with their bookkeeping. You could set up a small bookkeeping business and take on as many or as few clients as you like. You don’t actually need a background in finance — a bookkeeping training course is all you really need. However, your status as a student of finance will be a great asset when marketing yourself.
Resources: This is a great step by step guide to launching a bookkeeping service.
One of the most lucrative opportunities in the finance industry is the combination of technology and financial solutions. As a finance major, you can provide the financial expertise — all you need is a co-founder who can provide the technical skill set. Apps that teach you how to manage your finances responsibly usually do well among college students and young adults who need help navigating the first major financial decisions of their lives. Student debt and real estate are two other areas where fintech is currently doing very well.
Resources: Consider seeking advice from an expert in fintech app development
Become a financial advisor for fellow students
If you don’t have the time, money, or technical know-how to launch a full-fledged financial advice app, you could simplify the idea by offering in-person financial consulting to fellow students. This would allow you to tap into the same audience of young adults who are likely still developing their understanding of personal finance. There are many different directions you could take a startup like this, depending on what area of finance is your strongest suit. You could offer on-demand or scheduled consulting sessions, help clients put together personalized financial strategies, provide advice for navigating student debt, and more.
Resources: This article contains some more information about what it takes to be a financial advisor.
Easy startup business ideas for college students
Textbook exchange service
Any college student can tell you that textbooks cost an arm and a leg. Yet, most of them are useless to you by the end of the year. There are services that will buy your textbooks back from you, but they don’t accept every book, and you rarely get as much money for them as you paid in the first place.
Since every student is in this same situation, college is a perfect time to start a textbook exchange service. This would be a local service for your university that connects students who are looking for textbooks with students who are trying to get rid of the same textbook. There are plenty of services like this that already exist, but you may be able to corner the market at your school, specifically. Your school may even be interested in partnering with you and providing support if they don’t already have a similar textbook exchange program in place.
Resources: This is a perfect example of what’s possible with a student-founded textbook exchange startup.
Food delivery service
College students are some of the most frequent users of food delivery services like Doordash or Postmates. However, these services may not extend to every restaurant in your area. If you can find local restaurants that aren’t listed on popular food delivery platforms, you could make great money taking orders from other students and delivering their food. If you can undercut the bigger platforms’ prices, you might even be able to get some orders for the same restaurants they deliver. You would likely have no shortage of potential employees as well. Food delivery is a popular part time job for college students, and many food delivery workers are currently unhappy with how they’re treated by Doordash and similar big food delivery services.
Resources: For additional inspiration, check out these creative variations of food delivery services founded by college students.
Local tutoring platform
Obviously, a university campus is ripe with opportunities for tutoring services. While there are likely already tutors on your campus or in your area, there might be a need in your area for a more efficient way to connect tutors and students. You could create a service like this (ideally an app) to streamline the process of finding a tutor for specific subjects, or even for specific classes and professors. This would benefit everyone — it enables tutors to find clients on campus without going to the trouble of doing their own advertising, and it enables students to connect with specific tutors within a single, convenient hub.
Resources: If you’re planning to launch an app, start by talking with a mentor about how to navigate the early stages of a startup.
Note taking and/or digitization service
Taking notes is one of those tedious tasks that most students hate, even though it’s necessary for everyone. If you’re good at taking notes, you could offer to sell copies of your notes to other students in your classes. This could be especially helpful for students who are out sick so they don’t fall behind. Just be sure you’re clear about your school’s policy on sharing notes.
If you don’t want to (or aren't allowed to) take notes for other students, you could also offer to type up and organize their notes for a fee. When it comes time to cram for finals, there are likely many students who would appreciate having a more legible copy of their notes available.
Resources: you might want to practice your note taking skills a bit before you start advertising them to other students. Here are some useful tips for taking better notes.
If the only thing standing between you and pursuing a startup launch is graduation, you don’t need to keep putting it off. Becoming an entrepreneur while you’re still a student will certainly come with challenges, but it’s far from impossible, and the good your head start will do for your career development is well worth the challenge. If you’re still searching for the perfect idea, hopefully this list has given you some inspiration. If you already have your idea — what are you waiting for?
Building a startup is hard. Building your first startup is even harder. Get reputable advice from successful entrepreneurs who have already conquered the goals you’re seeking to achieve.