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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Young entrepreneurs at USC juggle being a student and owning a business

Many college entrepreneurs are choosing to launch their startup companies right here on the USC campus


Balancing college classes with managing a business is all in a day’s work for several ambitious young students at USC who have chosen to start their own companies in their time on campus.

Alex Chang was a USC biology student who loved cooking for his friends. In his junior year, he decided to take his hobby one step further by opening an underground restaurant out of his kitchen.

“It’s a college apartment and it’s a restaurant run by two college students. People are like what? It doesn’t make sense,” said Chang.

He enlisted the help of his roommate and friend Bobby Kronfli to run the business end of his restaurant. The pair decided to call their secret supper club Paladar.

“Paladar in Cuban culture and Latin American culture is a restaurant run out of someone’s home, the government lets them run it as long as they support local farmers and cook local ingredients. And that’s kind of what we do, we go to the farmer’s market every week,” said Kronfli.

Word of Paladar spread quickly through the USC community. They now serve a pre-fixed three course meal to over 60 paying customers every Thursday night, and charge 15 dollars a person.

“Now it’s kind of starting to get crazy. We had like over a hundred people reserve in over two hours. A lot of restaurants in L.A. don’t get that,” said Chang.

Jake Medwell is another USC student who was able to turn his business idea into a successful college company. It all started when he and his friends tried to buy a newly popular type of bike called a “fixie.” They’re unique because the pedals are connected or “fixed” to the back wheel.

“We said hey we want one of these bikes and we went online and they cost seven or eight hundred dollars and we thought we could probably manufacture these overseas for half the price. So we thought hey, we could probably start a business off of this,” said Medwell.

His company, Sole Bicycles, was named one of this year’s “Coolest College Start-Ups” by Inc. Magazine.

“I knew it was going to blow up, but I didn’t know it was going to blow up this much,” said Medwell.

Someone who wasn’t surprised by Medwell’s success was his mentor Tommy Knapp, a professor at the Marshall School of Business.

“The energy on a college campus is like no other,” said Knapp. “Plus the synergy you get when you take all the different schools, certainly we’re here in the business school, but you take the engineering the communications and all the things, all those ideas resonate and then what’s really great is the students who are able to act on those ideas and turn them into businesses.”
While a college campus can be a great place to start a business, maintaining that business takes time, money, and hard work. And perhaps the biggest challenge facing these young entrepreneurs, is keeping their companies alive long after they’ve left the USC campus.

Rachel Geragos was one of those people who were able to do just that. She started an online company called Luxe Not Lust in her senior year at USC. The website auctions off designer handbags at discounted prices.

“It’s really a start-up. I used all my savings. This requires a lot of inventory, a lot of overhead, a lot of expenses,” said Geragos.

Since graduating last year Geragos has transformed her college startup into a full-time business venture.

“With jumping from college to real world, It’s a huge scary transition,” said Geragos. “You go to bed and you think about it, you wake up and you think about it, you’re on the phone at midnight with developers.”

Making this scary transition from the college environment is something that bike salesman Medwell is actually looking forward to.

“We want to take this company to markets that have not been tapped yet. Possibly even take it outside the U.S. to Amsterdam, possibly to Capetown.”

And as for restaurant partners Kronfli and Chang, their college business will end when they graduate this spring. But their experiences in the kitchen have prepared them both for successful careers in the restaurant industry.

“We have people working for us now, I know how to manage people, I know how to make food orders, I know how to cost food. We run at a 30% food cost, we run this like a real restaurant,” said Chang. 

Chang plans to go to Japan to hone his cooking skills and Kronfli plans to jump into the restaurant business with his older brother who owns Baccaro LA; but the two hope to reunite some day in the future to open up Paladar in a legitimate space.

“We’re awesome work partners and we’re really good friends too so yeah we’d love to work together some day,” said Kronfli.

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