Anteater Entrepreneurs

Work. School. Family. In this day and age, college students have many obligations to juggle. When you add on a startup company, it can get even more complicated. Here are just some of the UCI students and alumni who found time to create businesses that allow them to help others, be creative, and make some money as well.

Dan Le, a fourth-year political science major, began fixing computers in 2009 for professors on campus and at various sites in Newport Beach. What started as a side job to help pay for tuition and books blossomed into a full-time endeavor. Le, along with partner Jeff Liu, who graduated in the summer of 2009 with a B.A. in English and political science, have moved from working part-time in Liu’s house in Newport Beach to an office in Santa Ana.

Le and Liu, who both previously worked at the UCI Computer Store, have expanded their small business to include three other technicians and an IT staff member. Their company, Red Cup IT, recently began to offer business internships to college students and Le believes that, by building the company off of other young people, the IT solutions provided will always be fresh and up to date.

Over the past year, Le has taken on different roles in the company. Every day he has something new to tackle; from accounting to Web site design to answering e-mails and calling customers, the tasks for building a startup run the gamut. From his experience, he said, “Starting a business is about bringing different people together to a common goal, especially for a startup. There’s a need for different skill sets to all work together on common goal and you learn how to motivate people.”

Stephanie Kuoch, a 2008 UCI alum with a major in sociology and a minor in management, is a designer/artist and entrepreneur whose business includes a clothing line, paper goods and accessories. Going by the nickname of “Steppie,” Kuoch’s company, which has the same namesake, has participated in a number of local events such as the campus vendor fairs and Unique Los Angeles, an independent design show where designers and artists are hand-selected to show their designs.

Kuoch believes that the opportunities on campus and the support of the UCI community have helped her company progress since she started it in summer 2008.

“You don’t realize this as much until you graduate, but UCI provides us with so much outside of education. The people you meet, the experiences you have … these are all things that will help and support you when you take a risk like starting your own business,” commented Kuoch. “Everyone that’s helped me up to this point are all people I’ve met in Irvine. Surprisingly, it’s a huge community of entrepreneurs and people pursuing their own passions … and being around that energy can only help you.”

Another student, Belinda Vong, mentioned the importance of the support of the UCI community in her own startup. Vong, a 2008 graduate in sociology and studio srt, met Kuoch through campus affiliation Chinese Association and was inspired to sell her own artwork as well. In Vong’s first craft fair, she sold her own crafts beside Kuoch and from then on has participated in a number of craft fairs. Her company, bybelinda, specializes in hand-embroidered greeting cards and has become a creative outlet for her. Like Kuoch, Vong utilizes the Web site Etsy as an online store.

Most recently, Vong was commissioned to create greeting cards for a bookstore and artisan gallery in Virginia. However, the accomplishment has not come without its share of sacrifice. Vong believes that it can be an obstacle to balance the duties of a startup but that it is possible. For students who are interested in beginning a new business venture, she said “It is a learning process, so don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Take the time to do your research; it can save you a lot of time and trouble. Also, don’t be afraid to seek advice that can also save you a lot of time and trouble. Finally, take baby steps if you need to, and go at a pace that is right for you.”

Most, if not all, the student entrepreneurs credit the internet for their success. Each one has a personalized Web site along with a blog that has important updates and news for their customers. Many sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have allowed them to market their businesses and create an Internet presence.

“The Internet and all its networking possibilities really open up a platform for us to experiment and try anything we have a passion for,” remarked Kuoch. “At the end of the day, though, it’s all up to you. You’re responsible for making things happen; dreaming big and doing something about it. But it’s also about being flexible, and being open to learn what works for you and what doesn’t.”