10 Famous Startups Founded by Young College Entrepreneurs

You’ve heard about the extremely rich college dropouts who left school and went on to build businesses that left a huge impact on the world.

There are many popular and now successful businesses that were started by students who were still in college.

In fact, many colleges are helping their students build startups and manage businesses.

College is one of the best years to experience new things and explore possibilities. It’s not all about the Greek life or studying to death.

College can be an exciting time for finding what you want to do in life and making it happen.

Entrepreneur Magazine says that college is the perfect time and place to start a business.

Many college students who went on to establish companies didn’t even have business or finance degrees. But they did have time and resources.

Expert advice is everywhere in college – professors and visiting experts or leaders lend their help and expertise, mostly for free!

College is when you still have your whole life ahead of you! It’s the perfect time to experiment, fail, learn, and try again.

According to College Raptor, there was a rise in entrepreneur-related degrees from 1995 to 2013. And the growth of internet-based businesses is rapid! (In just two years, Instagram grew to 10 million users)

College Raptor Young Entrepreneur Degrees Statistics


Image source: collegeraptor.com

As you can see from the graph above there has been a steady rise in entrepreneur related degrees and certificates, and at the same time the launch of some of the biggest tech companies in the world over the same time period.

From 2006 to 2011 over a six year span there were 5 major successful startups that emerged.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Groupon
  • Snapchat
  • Instagram

Interest is trending up especially with the success of these billion dollar companies.

There is a lot more interest in business among college students now, and it’s only going to grow, as there are more startups currently being created in colleges with support of classes and degrees for interest in being an entrepreneur.

Before new startups grabbed the media’s attention, here’s some famous businesses that once started as college startups by young entrepreneurs.

Famous Startups by Young College Entrepreneurs

Facebook – Mark Zuckerberg


image source: Facebook

Facebook now has more than 1.71 billion members from across the globe, making FB the most popular social media networking site in the world.

You can see in the graph below the exponential growth of Facebook members over the years:


The site was so popular when it came out that a film, “Social Network”, was made based on the creation and evolution of Facebook.

Social Network trailer

Facebook creator, Mark Zuckerberg, was more than a little heartbroken over a breakup with his girlfriend that he made a program called “Facemash”, where people could rate how good-looking the girls in the photos were; he was still studying at Harvard University when he did this.

Because he had hacked into the school records to get the photos, Zuckerberg faced expulsion. Fortunately for him, the charges were dropped.

For an art history exam, though, he designed a social study tool where people could comment and reach to the photos he would upload. This would be one of the basis of his future startup, and the backbone of Facebook as we know it.

In 2004, Zuckerberg launched “Thefacebook” for Harvard students to connect with each other. However, it expanded to other colleges like Columbia, Yale, and Stanford.

The website officially became Facebook in 2005. And over the years, Facebook has had its share of scandals and lawsuits, but it is still one of the most popular sites visited by millions of users every day.

Also, you know that Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard, but it was no loss to him as he is now a billionaire.

Companies Acquired by Facebook

Facebook has also acquired many apps and startups since its development.

Some of the more notable companies Facebook has acquired up to August 2015 are listed below:





June 23rd 2008

31 million


August 2010

47.5 million


May 2010

4o million


April 2012

1 billion


June 2012

100 million


Feb 2014

19 billion

Oculus VR

March 2014

2 billion

Too many too list……

Total cost of Acquisitions Facebook has made= 22,624,700,00 (yes that’s over 22 billion dollars!)


Reddit – Steve Huffman & Alexis Ohanian


Image source: marketingland.com

Reddit has over 234 million unique users and 542 million visitors every month. Saying thats a lot would be an understatement.

Reddit is one of the internet’s most visited sites in the country.

The website provides a venue for the users to engage in sharing and commenting on posts, videos, and pictures like a social media network.

At the same time, it promotes itself as a social news aggregation, web content rating, and discussion website.

Reddit was created by Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, who both studied and roomed together at the University of Virginia.

They both had an idea for an app when they were still fledgling college students.

In fact, during their senior year, the two offered their idea to Y Combinator, a company that gives mentoring and financial support to startups – but guess what? They were rejected!

Ohanian was told that he could join Y Combinator if he dumped his idea (then called My Mobile Menu), but he didn’t give up. Instead, he persevered.

When Ohanian graduated from the university, he kept at it, and soon he and Huffman were able to improve his idea and launch it in 2005 as Reddit.

It drew many users and was subsequently acquired by Wire Magazine the following year, after it got funding from Y Combinator for its much better idea and design.

In 2011, Reddit operated independently, and is currently being managed by Huffman, who is also managing the airfare search engine Hipmunk.

Ironically, Ohanian now works at Y Combinator, although he still serves as a consultant for Reddit and Hipmunk.

Ohanian credits the success of Reddit to the fact that Y Combinator rejected them during their first try when their idea wasn’t fully-developed.

Yahoo – Jerry Yang & David Filo


Image source: pcworld.com

Before the gift that was Google, there was Yahoo, the search engine that offered answers and provided you with an email account to connect with friends, sign up at MySpace and Friendster, and a lot more things you thought were cool back then.

In 1994, Jerry Yang and David Filo were electrical engineering students studying for their doctor’s degree at Stanford University.

Part of their course was to create a project on computer chips and computer-aided design.

The two were known procrastinators, and when their professor went to Italy, the duo decided to postpone their project.

Instead, they both did what regular students do when bored: waste their time on the internet. As you can imagine, there was no YouTube or Netflix, so Yang and Filo could only do so much exploring.

There were so many websites to visit, but they didn’t know how to choose and pick because there was no proper organization or directory of internet websites. And because they couldn’t find one, they decided to build one.

So Yang and Filo listed their favorite sites and categorized them according to topic. They created a website that would make use of a search box where people can find a list of websites by typing in keywords.

They called this “Jerry and David’s guide to the World Wide Web”. They shared it with their friends, who contributed to the list, which grew. The two creators added new sites and created sub-categories. When it became so popular, they renamed it “Yahoo!”, which became an official site in 1995.

Google – Larry Page & Sergey Brin


Image source: Google

The tech giant, Google, is everyone’s answer to every question imaginable. With just a tap of the keyboards and a click of the mouse, Google will give you all the relevant links to help you find what you’re looking for.

Google started with two PhD students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin from Stanford University. They weren’t bosom buddies, though. In fact, Page and Brin argued a lot.

Larry Page had always loved computers. He wanted to invent things and take apart old computers.

Page graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in computer engineering. He pursued a master’s degree in computer science from Stanford University, and was debating whether to earn a doctor’s degree at the same college. So in 1995, Larry Page joined a tour led by Sergey Brin.

Brin’s father was a mathematics professor at the University of Maryland.

When Brin was young, his father taught him computer programming. Later with the passion of computers introduced to him by his father, Brin attended the University of Maryland to study computer science and mathematics.

There he pursued a PhD at Stanford University, where he met Larry Page.

The two didn’t hit it off immediately. Instead, they argued, both of them later admitting to Wired Magazine that they were both stubborn and opinionated.

The two somehow paired together for a project after realizing that they were both intelligent and interested in the same things.

They investigated how websites linked back to each other, and created a search engine. And when they were ready, they decided to sell their project to Infoseek, AltaVista, and other popular companies back then – even Yahoo

Fortunately for the two, the companies declined, and Page and Brin continued to work on their project.

Soon after, they happened upon the word “googol”, which referred to a number with one hundred zeroes.

Page thought it would be better as “Google” since it was easy to remember and type. That started in 1997, and now Google is a billion dollar industry.

The two still haven’t finished their doctorate, but with their success, neither are in a hurry.

 WordPress – Matt Mullenweg & Mike Little


Image source: wordpress.org

If you’re a blogger, then you know WordPress. But for those who don’t, you should know that there are two kinds of WordPress: (dot) com and (dot) org.

The.org version is a free website where you can create your own blog like “yoursite.wordpress.com”.

The .com version allows you to create and host your own blog like “yoursite.com”. The first one is like renting an apartment, and the second one is like owning a house.

Many famous websites use the WordPress.org platform: TechCrunch, The New Yorker, MTV News, Fortune, Google Ventures, The Mozilla Blog, The Walking Dead, and Reuters Blogs.

But how did WordPress come to be?

The primary creator of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, was only 19 years old when he came up with the idea of what would soon become the blogging platform that would take the world by storm.

Matt Mullenweg had always been a computer nerd.

In middle school, his computer project was to program music on an ancient Macintosh. He started computer clubs, and even he studied jazz and saxophone at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston.

Mullenweg’s first love had always been computers.

When he was 19 years old and his first year at the University of Houston, he pursued political science.

But while he didn’t take computer classes, he devoted his time to fiddling with codes. One of the platforms he had been using in 2001 was b2/cafelog.

Unfortunately, b2/cafelog stopped releasing updates, so Mullenweg decided to create a newer version.

Mike Little found Mullenweg’s Cafelog post and volunteered to help him with his project.

Mullenweg, despite having interest in computers and the web, never took computer classes.

While studying at Houston, he and Little continued to work on WordPress, which they launched in 2003.

He eventually decided to drop out of college after 2 years to work at CNET Network.

Eventually, WordPress became a big hit when many people started using it, and now Mullenweg is one of the most influential people in the world.

Snapchat – Evan Spiegel, Robert Murphy, & Reggie Brown


Image source: thekissagency.com

Evan Spiegel loved design and the Internet.

He studied at an arts and sciences high school, then took design classes at the Otis College of Art and Design and Art Center College of Design – all this while he was still in high school!

For his official college education, he went to Stanford University to study product design.

Spiegel met future co-founder Reggie Brown when he joined the Kappa Sigma fraternity at Stanford. This was also where they met Robert Murphy, who was pursuing a degree in computational science.

Spiegel and Murphy hit it off and the two began Future Freshmen LLC for high school students, during Spiegel’s second year and Murphy’s fourth year in college. Their business didn’t pan out, though.

During Spiegel and Brown’s third year in Stanford, Brown had an idea about disappearing photos.

Their classmates thought it was hilarious to create an app to generate short-lived photos, but the two thought it would be a million-dollar idea. They roped in Murphy to write the codes, and it soon became “Pictaboo”.

There were only a few users, and during their last year in college, Spiegel and Brown fought over the order of names and equity splits.

Like in a soap opera, Brown was kicked out of the group, and the Spiegel and Murphy renamed the app “Snapchat”.

Because the app offered instant imaging and photo-sharing services rolled into one app, many teenagers flocked to it. And in 2013, Spiegel and Murphy had just turned down Facebook’s offer to buy Snapchat for $3 billion!

In fact, when their business had grown, Spiegel reportedly walked out of class, never to come back to college.

ModCloth – Susan Gregg Koger & Eric Koger


Image source: lifelistened.com

ModCloth.com has grown considerably since its founding in 2002 by two college sweethearts (now married) in a college dorm in Carnegie Mellon University.

Then Susan Gregg had always loved vintage clothing and fashion. Her then boyfriend Eric Kroger was developing a web development business while they were still in Carnegie Mellon University.

Carnegie Mellon University is one of the most expensive colleges in the country.

Its cost of attendance can be more than $65,000 a year, so, to help with the costs for their textbooks and materials, the two high school sweethearts decided to sell some of the vintage clothing that Susan had bought from sales or bargain shops.

They started by selling them on eBay, but not many bought their clothes. The two decided to go down a different road and started their own e-commerce website to sell vintage clothing so that Susan could build her own brand.

They started selling in 2000, stocking their items in Susan’s dorm room. But when ModCloth gained attention – getting around 70,000 shoppers a day! – they realized that this could be a full-time job.

The couple took a week off from their classes, went to a major fashion trade show in Las Vegas, and put together ModCloth’s first collection from indie designers.

Unlike many of the other startup founders who dropped out of college, the two finished their studies before making ModCloth their full-time job after graduation.

Now, the company has 350 employees spread over 3 offices in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco.

While it may not yet be worth a billion dollars, but for a business started in college, it has come a long way.

Kinko’s – Paul Orfalea


Fedex acquired Kinkos in 2004 – Image source: en.wikipedia.org

Do you know why it’s called “Kinko’s?”

It’s because the founder, Paul Orfalea was called “Kinko” because of his curly red hair. The nickname is cute, but the 2.4 billion dollars Orfalea got in 2004 when he sold it to FedEx wasn’t cute in the slightest.

Kinko’s started in 1970 when Orfalea was just a senior student at the University of Southern California.

But Orfalea’s education wasn’t smooth sailing. He flunked two grades and was expelled from several schools because of his struggle with his dyslexia and ADHD.

He enrolled at the University of Southern California after taking classes from a community college with a goal to someday run a business, as his family ran several clothing stores.

Despite the struggles he faced, Orfalea didn’t give up. His parents supported him, and during his senior year, he had an idea for a business.

It started when Orfalea and his classmates did a project. He offered to do the legwork, and in doing so, realized there was a lack of copying services shops around the college.

His first store sold school and office supplies, and photocopying services to students from UC Santa Barbara.

Soon, his business expanded to film processing and traditional printing. His business was so popular that he was able to build a second store in the third year of its operation.

Orfalea soon sold his business to FedEx in 2004, and he now spends most of his time managing a foundation and giving to people.

In fact, in 2001, he had given $15 million to the California Polytechnic State University’s College of Business, which was later re-named Orfalea College of Business in his honor.

Big Fish Presentations – Kenny Nguyen & Gus Murillo

Big Fish

Image source: blog.waveapps.com

Big Fish Presentations is a new company. It was founded in 2011 by college students Kenny Nguyen and Gus Murillo from the Louisiana State University.

Gus Murillo had always been an industrious student. In fact, he graduated with honors from high school. He went to Louisiana State University to study biological science.

There, he met Kenny Nguyen, who was more interested in finance and business.

The two of them were looking forward to a lecture by an executive from a Fortune 500 company.

Unfortunately, during the lecture session, the two found themselves bored. The presentation consisted of nothing but text-filled slides, where the executive read the text instead of engaging the audience.

The two friends thought they could do better and started a business idea about helping people make better presentations.

The company “turns presentations in experiences”. The basic package starts at $2,500, which includes copywriting, design, video, workshops, training, and conferences.

According to Nguyen, they started their company with only $1,000, while the two were still in college.

Nguyen also founded the I Am Entrepreneur, an organization for college students aiming to build a business.

Murillo continued his studies, while working with Big Fish Presentations, but Nguyen left college in 2012 to run their business full-time, saying that the most important things they can offer and assure their clients are: passion and focus.

With only 10 employees, the company was able to earn $225,000 in 2012. And now, it’s one of the biggest new startups with the potential to become the next phenomenon like PowerPoint or Prenzi.

Microsoft – Bill Gates & Paul Allen


Image source: pcworld.com

Almost everyone in the English-speaking world knows Microsoft and its rock star founder, Bill Gates, who isn’t just famous for creating this computer brand, but also for having dropped out of college to establish a billion-dollar empire.

The company was started by Paul Allen and Bill Gates.

William Henry Gates III grew up in a competitive household.

Gates had a healthy interest in computers, and in high school, he was often excused from his mathematics classes so that he could study programming the General Electric computer system in BASIC.

In fact, he and other classmates of his – including long-time friend Paul Allen – were banned from using their school computers because they were trying to get more computer time (by fiddling with the bugs in the software).

Fortunately, the school authorities didn’t hold a grudge, and Gates and his friends were able to graduate from high school.

Gates passed with flying colors, and was a National Merit Scholar. He went on to study at Harvard.

While Gates was studying there, Paul Allen had gone to Washington State University, but he dropped out after only two years so he could work as a programmer for Honeywell International, Inc. in Boston

Incidentally, Gates had visited Honeywell one summer, reunited with Paul Allen, and was convinced by Allen to drop out of college.

It sounds like bad advice from a similar dropout, but fortunately for the two of them and Gates’ family approval, it led to a successful outcome.

Gates was able to focus on developing his business, and both Gates and Allen are now among the richest people in the world.


Rob Clark

SchoolCampus.org admin staff managing editor

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