University students try their hand at entrepreneurship


Lily Katz

ByteBros founders (Freshmen) from left to right: Erik Beütil, Pranay Prakash, Tom Fischer, and Victor Niu at the Siebel Center on Feb. 29, 2016.

By Jay Bensal

A typical student’s schedule is already a chaotic jumble between classes, exams, social events, Registered Student Organizations and that group presentation for class next week. Unfazed, a number of students across campus are adding something else to the mix: their own business. 

Students are trying their hands at business in hopes of gaining valuable skills, creating organizations and products they want to exist, and executing on needs they’ve identified in the marketplace.

For Pranay Prakash, freshman in Engineering, that’s exactly what inspired him to start ByteBros. 

After Prakash received a high number of inbound requests for freelance software work, he decided to create ByteBros. The business is a freelance software company that tackles a variety of tasks for clients, who are anything from trading firms to RSOs who need websites or algorithms written for them.

But Prakash admits that balancing the tasks for running a business and schoolwork can be tough at times. 

“There was a period for a week and a half earlier this semester where I would leave Siebel at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. to go home because I had so much to do,” he said.

Prakash said the key for him is to maintain an equilibrium between school and work. 

“If any single thing (schoolwork or ByteBros) piles up, I find that splitting my time can become hard, but otherwise switching back and forth just feels normal to me,” Prakash said.

Prakash said it helps that his three other teammates are enrolled in the same classes, which allows them to combine working sessions for both classes and ByteBros.

Though it can be difficult to manage time, Jed Taylor, director of operations at the Technology Entrepreneur Center, said college is often the most fruitful time for young people to experiment and start a business. College is a time for experimentation and self-discovery, so Taylor said there is a low opportunity cost for students’ time and lack of consequences associated with failure. 

“There is no better way to learn than to start a business while in school and actually apply what you are learning in the classroom and put it into action,” Taylor said. “(As a student, you) have the opportunity to leverage the resources available to you while at school, and when you graduate, you have the benefit of a degree from the University.”

Brendan Hsu, University alumnus, was inspired to start a business after he left the classroom. Hsu is the founder and director of technical services for FYXIT, a tech repair and services company that operates out of a storefront on Second and Green streets. 

Brendan said that when he graduated, he knew he wanted to start his own venture. But, it can be daunting for new graduates to start their own business, especially when they are faced with pressure from other people, including their parents.

The idea for FYXIT came to him in 2013, after working in the telecommunications industry for a year. Hsu started FYXIT out of his own house before transitioning to a storefront in early 2014 when he found a business partner.

He is still connected to student ventures on campus and relates what they’re doing to his own experience. 

“In order to be successful as a student founder, you have to be willing to treat your business like a full-time job and spend 20-30 hours a week on it,” Hsu said. “If something doesn’t work the first time, you have to be willing to try again.”

Navigating the challenges that arise with balancing a business and school can help teach valuable skills for after graduation, too. 

Amy Fruehling, director of Engineering Career Services, agrees. 

“Employers will be impressed by students who have started their own businesses. These students can typically demonstrate some very well-developed skill sets needed in the workplace – everything from innovation, commitment, communication, problem solving, time management, application of business and engineering principles, financial management and many more.”

While not always an easy feat, Hsu firmly believes that every student is capable of starting his or her own business. 

“The most important thing is to just start, to believe in yourself and have the willingness and the desire to persevere.” 

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