Getting down to business

In the midst of a volatile economy, many students dream of starting their own business rather than entering the work force for an existing company. A May survey conducted by the New York Times revealed that only 56 percent of college graduates in the class of 2010 found jobs by this spring.

Yet even the best business plan won’t get off the ground without finances. That’s why a nationwide contest aims to provide a $25,000 startup fund for college students who have the next “hot” idea.

MtvU and the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) teamed up to launch the third-annual “Movers & Changers” competition last week. The contest is open to 16-to-28-year -old individuals or groups of up to three who have an original business proposal, but lack the seed money to get their idea off the ground.

Apart from the startup fund, grand prize winners will also earn the opportunity to ring the Opening Bell at the New York Stock Exchange during Global Entrepreneurship Week in November.

Managing Director of NYSE Euronext Global Marketing and Branding Beth Oporto said the competition provides a rare opportunity for young and ambitious entrepreneurs to make their business aspirations a reality.

“These contestants get to learn about starting a business from other successful entrepreneurs,” she said. “That is something you can’t get from a textbook.”

Last year, Aeron Glover and Kaliv Parker of the University of Tennessee came away with the grand prize for their website idea. The two students pitched their idea for – a website that allows students to post reviews about their residence hall, apartment or host family to make the housing search simpler for other students.

Carlo DiMarco, senior vice president of mtvU University Relations, said he believes “Movers & Changers” uses the potential of an untapped group of people.

“There are no shortage of entrepreneurs on college campuses – we just find great ideas and shine a light on them,” he said. “In order to succeed in this competition, not only do the ideas have to be unique and fit a certain need, the contestants must also showcase their personalities. They have to be good (spokespersons).”

But winning a contest isn’t the only way to start a business. USF Entrepreneurial Scholar in Residence Thomas Zimmerer said that, with enough research, entrepreneurs can make their businesses thrive.

“Startup money is never a problem when you can demonstrate to investors, through your business plan, a rate of return on your business,” Zimmerer said. “Money is always searching for opportunities.”

Zimmerer said he doesn’t believe in “bad economic times” when it comes to starting a business as long as ideas receive maximum effort.

“Achieving success as an entrepreneur requires a personal commitment to the entrepreneurial life, and a great deal of lengthy analysis,” he said. “The entrepreneur must know the target market in depth, the customer’s real need, have a product or service which meets or exceeds those needs and that can be sold at a price the consumer is willing and able to pay.”

USF student Stephano Vargas and graduate Nishant Gogna know the dedication he refers to.

Creators of the WhosSingle bracelet and, the business partners faced many challenges while trying to get their idea up and running.

“We put every dime we have into this business, and we had to begin the company with a full course load and no outside investments,” said Vargas, a senior majoring in biomedical sciences.

The bracelets come in assorted colors and sizes and display an “S” for “single,” a “T” for “taken” and an “R” for “random play” – those who are single but not looking for a serious relationship.

“We came up with the idea when we realized how hard it was to approach someone without knowing their relationship status,” said Gogna, who got his master’s from USF in medical microbiology and cellular immunology. “It’s unnerving enough approaching a woman or man you don’t know. We think the bands make the process easier.”

The business duo has already sold hundreds of units across the U.S. and has secured celebrity endorsements from Heather Marter and Dustin Zito of “Real World: Las Vegas.”

Though the two admit that beginning a business is an uphill battle, they said they have no regrets. Gogna said he couldn’t imagine giving up on WhosSingle.

“The idea of working some dull 9 to 5 keeps getting less and less appealing,” he said.