Undergrad Entrepreneurs Start Businesses with Unique Benefits

Undergrad Entrepreneurs Start Businesses with Unique Benefits

Several SESP undergrads are catching the entrepreneurial spirit, applying their skills to start innovative nonprofits or for-profits that benefit the people around them. Sophomores Josephine Lee, David Harris and Jenna Pugrant and junior Aria Fiat are four of these enterprising students. 

Lee was involved in launching an online marketplace called Bodega, designed for campus use. On the Northwestern site, NU Bodega, students can buy and sell goods and services from tickets and books to tutoring and jobs.

Through a Northwestern entrepreneur program, Harris and Pugrant launched Project Cookie, a business that delivers cookies and milk at all hours all over campus.

In the nonprofit realm, Fiat co-founded Supplies for Dreams, a charitable organization that provides needy Chicago students with school supplies

Josephine Lee: Bodega

Jo Lee

Lee is CEO of Bodega, which is working to expand by selling licenses to other universities. With Bodega and other projects, she needs to see a purpose behind her work. “I’m interested in building things, interested in communities. Whatever I do, I’d like to think that it’s impacting communities — bettering people’s lives,” she says.

Lee appreciates the learning experience that Bodega has provided. “We learned the lesson of what it means to grow your own baby – by putting in the hours, examining what you’re doing, studying the competitors,” she says. “The atmosphere of growth is something you really only get from entrepreneurship.”

Bodega began over a year ago as a project for Kellogg School of Management, called Kellogg Marketplace, with two of Lee’s friends developing the coding. Now the business is in a building stage, according to Lee, as a team of five tries to interest other universities in the website. The group is determining its future, looking for “how to provide a service differently and … how to do it better,” Lee says. “In the process, you’re finding out what matters to you and what matters to a community.”

Lee identifies with the mission of her learning and organizational change (LOC) major. “LOC teaches you a lot about what it means to understand the soul of an organization. LOC teaches you to appreciate individuals around you, that they offer you something,” she says. In LOC she also feels she can apply her people skills.

Overall, Lee wants to work on something she believes in, and she sees value in Bodega. “Those who have used it … find it to be a great service,” she says. Compared to sites like Craigslist, with Bodega “everything’s close to home – everything’s local.” Also, a benefit she didn’t anticipate is the community building aspect of Bodega, since students meet up and get to know each other.

Harris and Pugrant: Project Cookie

Two other learning and organizational change students, Harris and Pugrant head up Project Cookie, a homemade and warm cookie delivery service at Northwestern. “Delivering cookies across campus between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 1 a.m., we provide a convenient and truly delicious late-night option for students. In addition, we fulfill catering needs for a variety of student and faculty organizations,” says Harris. 

Project Cookie is a subsidiary of Northwestern Student Holdings, Northwestern's student-run entrepreneurship group. Although the business is not currently in operation, Harris and Pugrant are working to relaunch it sometime this quarter. Recently North by Northwestern featured an article on the business.

Aria Fiat: Supplies for Dreams

Aria Fiat

When she was still in high school, Fiat had a dream of expanding opportunities for low-income students, which led her to co-found Supplies for Dreams. Providing school supplies to Chicago students in need has been her mission ever since.

Fiat and co-founder and executive director Hiro Kawashima, who are both passionate about education, started Supplies for Dreams in 2008 to make a difference in their community. “We decided to channel our efforts towards helping students in the Chicago Public Schools, who, like us, had dreams for their future but who did not necessarily have the financial or physical resources to achieve those dreams. Our plan was simple: provide students from low-income backgrounds with backpacks and basic school supplies — necessities, yet items that many students lacked,” she says. By January of 2009, Supplies for Dreams was recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

Today Supplies for Dreams continues to support Chicago Public Schools students by providing needed resources, ranging from basic school supplies to mentoring services. Supplies for Dreams also awards school field trips to support learning enrichment activities.

“When we began Supplies for Dreams, little did I know it would become such a large-scale initiative,” says Fiat, who serves as human resources director. Today the organization is operated by a team of 20 Northwestern undergraduates. They have served more than 2,200 students from seven schools, providing them with backpacks and school supplies, books, tutoring, mentoring, academic enrichment workshops and field trips.

“I think that for college students, working for Supplies for Dreams offers a unique and rewarding educational experience; they get to learn about the nonprofit sector while knowing that every hour they dedicate is directly benefiting others,” says Fiat, a human development and psychological services major.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 2/16/12