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Made by students, for students

A national platform helps ASU students kick-start their personal brands


Made by students, for students

A national platform helps ASU students kick-start their personal brands

For most college students who spend their hours sitting in lecture halls, sifting through textbooks and cramming for exams, running a small business may seem like just a daydream to entertain during class. But for ASU students who've taken that dream and made it a reality, an online platform, Student-Made at ASU, has been making these business ventures a lot easier since last fall.

The platform is the ASU chapter of the program Student-Made, which was launched by college students to help aspiring student entrepreneurs start their own businesses. Business partners Lindsay Reeth and Ryan McElhinney, who graduated in 2019 from Elon University in North Carolina, started developing the program as juniors in 2017.

"The idea came about organically," Reeth said. "We started meeting students who were running businesses out of their dorm rooms, and we thought it was the coolest thing."

As Reeth grew curious about these student-run small businesses, she was surprised to learn that almost none of these entrepreneurs were business majors, nor were they targeting their products to customers on campus.

"On a customer base, we felt a campus community is even better than something like Etsy that's very diluted with all different kinds of creators," Reeth said. "We wanted to connect (students) with supporters that encourage their business because they go to the same campus or theyโ€™re connected to that campus."

In December of that year, Reeth and McElhinney debuted Student-Made with a pop-up-style event for the holidays featuring 15 student artist-entrepreneurs. The following year, Reeth said it became 10 times bigger.

After graduating and moving to another town in North Carolina near Appalachian State University, Reeth and McElhinney were inspired to launch Student-Made at a campus other than Elon University. 

Today, Student-Made has partnered with 13 campuses across the country, including ASU, Marquette University, Michigan State University and Benedict College. This upcoming fall, students at the University of Arizona are slated to launch their own Student-Made chapter, making it the second Arizona university to partner with the program.

Some of the partnerships Student-Made has forged have come after the program established connections with the universities first, according to Reeth. However, she said it's also common for students to contact the program about opening chapters on behalf of their schools.

"Sometimes, we'll reach out to a campus if we hear about them and say, 'We're really interested in launching on your campus,'" Reeth said. "Sometimes universities reach out to us, and sometimes students reach out to us and say, 'I want this program on my campus.'"

Students who decide to sell with Student-Made follow a business model Reeth calls the "long division way," in which the work of running a small business is divided among multiple student workers to take the burden of launching an operation off any one student.

"A huge part of our program is the value for the student managers that operate the platform," Reeth said. "For example, the student creator would submit products to be sold, and the website manager would upload the products to the website. Instead of you being the person to upload them yourself, you have someone who uploads them for you."

Each Student-Made chapter operates like a "mini-company" run by seven student managers, who direct tasks like campus engagement, social media outreach and finance, according to the program's website.

"I focus more on engagement," said Ashley Manalo, a freshman studying business with a focus in global politics and the community engagement manager at ASU's Student-Made chapter. "I reach out to individual creators, get information relayed in a centralized manner and plan community events."

As a first-year student, Manalo found she had enough time to start a part-time job because of her lighter workload. She first heard about Student-Made while scrolling through the University's student employment website, as she came across an open position for a student manager at the program's ASU chapter.

In her role, Manalo said she receives an hourly wage that is comparable to most student jobs at the University. In her position, she's limited to working 15 hours a week, according to Manalo. At ASU, student workers typically cannot work over 25 hours a week on average.

Manalo said Reeth's vision, which fosters connections between student customers and creators, is something she values in her managerial position.

"The nice thing about Student-Made is that it's very local," Manalo said. "As ASU students, we know what that workload is like, and being able to see other people who can have these businesses on top of all of that, ... it's just kind of cool."

Student entrepreneurs

Because Student-Made chapters are managed by students and sell students' products, Reeth said they operate as teaching models for budding entrepreneurs.

"We really pride ourselves on being an easy-access educational program for students of all kinds that want to try a business," she said.

Universities that partner with Student-Made pay the program to have it operate on their campuses, Reeth said. In turn, student entrepreneurs who work with Student-Made are paid through direct deposit every two weeks, but they must pay a mandatory $60 fee each semester they work with the program, she added. The program is particularly unique in that it does not take any of its sellersโ€™ profits, according to Reeth.

Student creators who work with Student-Made at ASU, like Jenna Serag, a freshman studying computer science, have said a small fee is deducted from each sale. However, Reeth said this is a processing fee taken by Stripe, the online sales platform the company uses.

Because Student-Made has such a niche market on the campus of each college with which it's partnered, Reeth said larger multinational corporations that also host small businesses, like Etsy and Depop, simply cannot offer the same shopping experience.

"If you're an (alum) of ASU, instead of going to Etsy, (you) can say, 'I'm going to go to Student-Made and find a cool student business and support someone who was in my shoes 20 years ago,'" she said. "There's something special about that."

While the COVID-19 pandemic paused many college students' bustling lives, Kyerra Williams saw an opportunity to launch a small business. "I know I eventually wanted to start my own boutique, and because the whole world shut down, I thought, 'why not?'" the junior studying food and nutrition entrepreneurship said.

"I always knew I wanted to sell clothes that I would wear, not just stuff that I knew would be popular."

One year later, she opened Ashanti Ave Boutique. At first, Williams operated her business using Shopify, another online store company. Then, she stumbled upon Student-Made at ASU while registering for classes, eventually becoming a student creator on the platform.

"I kept seeing it everywhere," Williams said. "I just reached out, and that's how I found out about it."

Williams said her pieces tend to cost between $28 and $30. When setting costs, the student creator factors in the price of materials and production time. She charges double the cost of materials for boutique-style clothing while the prices of her graphic tees are closer to the cost of supplies, she said.

Student-Made has helped Ashanti Ave Boutique receive significant exposure, which has helped Williams' business break even, she said.

Even though she is studying food and nutrition entrepreneurship, Williams dreams of one day opening and operating her own brick-and-mortar store.

"I work full time right now with school," Williams said. "I just know there's no way I could operate (a business) the way I want. So my plan after graduation is to open a storefront."

Because Williams aims for the items sold by Ashanti Ave Boutique to be trendy, she said her small business has steep competition with fast-fashion stores, like Forever 21 and H&M.

Although she knows the importance of supporting independent brands firsthand, the student creator said she understands why younger people are still buying items from large corporations instead.

"I used to be a broke high school student who only made $7.25 an hour, so I was always looking for cheaper stuff," Williams said. "But I would prefer people to shop small just because I know what goes behind it."

Like Williams, Serag also launched her small business, Dulcet Jewels, during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"It (started) as a COVID hobby, but Iโ€™ve always been artistic," Serag said. "I used to sell drawings and paintings before that. ... Student-Made at ASU gave me my own site, so that helps put me out there."

Serag said Student-Made contacted her, offering an opportunity to sell items on the platform, which kick-started her DIY jewelry business.

"Honestly, I feel like computer science and making jewelry have a few things in common," Serag said, referring to her major. "Putting in the hard work and seeing it pay off when you get your final product (is similar to) creating a website, you know, coding it and designing it. ... It's like my imagination turns into reality. It's the same thing with jewelry."

Serag said she spends anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours creating her jewelry pieces, which range from delicate cherry beaded earrings to vivid turquoise necklaces.

As far as Serag's target audience, she believes anyone can find something at her shop.

"I (also) make custom (orders), so if you want something, I can definitely create it for you," Serag said. "We can work together and make your vision come true."

While Serag works to meet the expectations of her customers in a timely manner, she said she does feel the pressure of operating a small business as a college student with a heavy workload.

"Small businesses are usually a one-man show," Serag said. "We're the ones who are creating the item. We're shipping, and we're advertising it to you. We're doing everything, and so I definitely feel like people should be more patient because there's so much effort that's put into it."

Edited by Camila Pedrosa, Savannah Dagupion and Madeline Nguyen.

This story is part of The Development Issue, which was released on April 3, 2024. See the entire publication here.

Reach the reporter at and follow @leahmesquitaa on X.

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