Student Entrepreneurs
Passion to Business

Getting Crafty

Artist, Ali Birnbaum, has taken her talent for both lettering and painting and created her own self-run business. Influenced by her friends and family, Birnbaum has developed a way to generate revenue doing what she loves, using all recycled materials and working on her orders in between her full course load as a third-year Cal Poly student working towards a degree in Kinesiology. In order to create a profit she sells her designs on Etsy and receives a lot of traffic on her site by word of mouth. She also promotes her work on social platforms such as Instagram and Facebook.

Ali Birnbaum is a third-year Kinesiology student at Cal Poly, aspiring to be a physical therapist, but she has a passion for more than just the study of the mechanics of body movement. “I’ve always painted but since being a Kinesiology major I haven’t really been able to use my creative mind very often throughout the school day. In class I would find myself doodling in a notebook and then would bring home my sketches and paint them,” said Birnbaum. Before the idea of selling her work was a possibility, she would spend her free time using acrylics and watercolors on what ever scraps of paper she could find. She noticed that art supplies were not cheap and didn’t fit in her college budget. She began to start receiving art supplies as gifts. Ellen Vogel, Birnbaum’s aunt and a high school art teacher, was particularly confident in her work. “I recognized her talent from a young age and encouraged her to take her work to wood,” said Vogel. Birnbaum’s father gave her plywood laying around house and assisted her in cutting them into pieces and staining them. With the cut and stained wood, she uses small brushes and acrylic paints, generally white, to create her work. She began with making simple letters for her friends to decorate their rooms with. Quickly after, she started receiving positive feedback and her friends started to suggest that she should sell her work. She was given the idea to open an Etsy store online where she could showcase her work. “Through my website I was able to make money while creating paintings I was passionate about,” Birnbaum said.” She started to take to personalized orders as her business began to boom. “I love the simplicity of her work. When it comes to decorating I like to keep things very simple. I asked Ali to make me something to hang my jewelry on and she made this and the sign above it,” said Elaina Pelfini, third-year Graphic Communications student at Cal Poly. Birnbaum strives to continue to progress and improve and has started taking a class in downtown San Luis Obispo, Intro to Hand Lettering, in order to better her skills. Class time includes learning new techniques as well as practicing. “Hopefully one day I make enough money so I can afford my own studio that’s just a little bigger than my box supplies that I try to squeeze into a closet shared with four other girls,” said Birnbaum as she laughed and grabbed her “portable studio.”

Doodles to Dollars

Using a multitude of mediums, including printing her work on coffee mugs and canvases, Danika Schultz uses her talents of watercoloring, graphic design and lettering as a source of income. Schultz has trademarked the brand name “Artwork by Danika” and has sold hundreds of dollars worth of products. Her background as a journalism student has led her to success as she has created a systematic strategy to her business that pays attention to her targeted audience, monitors site traffic and places a high value on customer service.

Innovative Ideas

While not everyone has the ability to create artwork using paint, students such as Meghan Stark, Rebecca Hext and Kylie Carlson have found unique ways to channel their creativity and handy work in order to accumulate cash. These three talented, Cal Poly students applied their self-taught arts and crafts skills to making jewelry, swimwear and home decor. Hover over each small, white circle placed in the left hand corner of each photo to hear what these students have to say about their business.

Finding Your Passion

We are all passionate about something, but not all of us have found a way to utiluze that skill or talent in a way that makes us money. As students progress throughout their education, curriculum begins to focus less and less on creativity. However, there are many ways to channel these talents and passions in a productive way.

Six Quick Steps

Becoming a student entrepreneur may be easier than you think. Some would argue that is it indeed a much smarter way to generate a source of income than searching for a part-time, minimum wage job on a college campus. Follow the quick six step list below and hover over each white circle to receive a more in depth description of what each of the steps entails.

"If you work on stuff that you like and you're passionate about, you don't have to have a master plan with how things will play out." -Mark Zuckerburg