eMerge Americas

5 college students who chose business plans over partying


Moving beyond Mark Zuckerberg's dorm room

A group of students meet on the lawn outside Webster Hall on the campus of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Cheryl Senter | Bloomberg | Getty Images

For these students, the college experience is no four-year party. These start-up founders are focused on their future, raising capital for companies revolutionizing the business landscape.

To find these emerging start-ups, PrivCo sifted through its enormous database of private companies to pinpoint some of today's most promising young entrepreneurs and their trailblazing ideas, each hatched on a college campus near you.

"It's been a focus for colleges to really get behind their entrepreneurs" through entrepreneurship clubs and incubators, said Evan Danckwerth, PrivCo senior financial analyst, in an interview with CNBC.

"That's the big difference between now and 10 years ago, when it was more people like Mark Zuckerberg working on businesses in a dorm room," he said.

Click ahead to find out more about some of the most promising start-ups founded by current undergraduate and graduate students.

By CNBC's Katie Little
Published 19 April 2016


Fernando Rojo, PATOS founder
Source: PATOS

Founder: Fernando Rojo is currently a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. He's also a first-generation American of Argentine descent.

The gist: Focusing strongly on social impact, PATOS sells shoes handmade by Latin American artisans.

Funding to date: So far, the company has not accepted venture capital. Instead, it's been funded by Rojo's prior entrepreneurial ventures and $2,500 in grants from his college.

The inspiration behind the idea: While visiting Argentina, Rojo visited an artisans fair, where tourists were raving about the shoes made by a local vendor named Rafael, saying they couldn't buy something similar in their home countries.

"His story inspired me to found PATOS, a high-quality shoe brand that would provide lasting economic opportunity for artisans like Rafael," Rojo said.

Photo: Fernando Rojo, PATOS founder

WindiGo Turbines

WindiGo CEO Greg Donworth, left, and COO Asher Breverman.
Source: WindiGo

Founders: Drexel University seniors Greg Donworth and Asher Breverman; and Jeff Boman, a 2014 Drexel graduate who currently works at Cisco.

The gist: Founded just this year, WindiGo Turbines aims to integrate commercial wind turbine systems into existing infrastructure to expedite the return-on-investment period.

Funding to date: $12,000, including money from the Department of Energy and Drexel start-up competitions

The inspiration behind the idea: [We] have always been passionate about renewable energy. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we wanted to make it more accessible to those who could not afford to utilize existing renewable-energy systems. Wind is the most abundant and affordable source of renewable energy, but it was missing the integration tool that made it more viable for the average business owner," Breverman wrote CNBC in an email.

Photo: (L-R) Co-founders Greg Donworth, CEO; and Asher Breverman, COO


CubeForme Co-Founders Kyle Pham and Nick Nguyen
Source: CubeForme

Founders: Sophomores Kyle Pham, of the University of Southern California; and Nick Nguyen, of the University of California, Irvine

The gist: CubeForme describes itself as the first monthly subscription service to feature 3-D-printed products — think Birchbox for 3-D-printed swag. "Each month features a different 3-D designer, whose work is used to curate a themed box. CubeForme hopes to cultivate a broader appreciation of 3-D-printed innovation and bring light to the designers behind it all," Pham writes.

Funding to date: The company has been entirely self-funded to date.

The inspiration behind the idea: The pair initially tossed around the idea of a business with T-shirts and graphic designs, before ultimately deciding the space was too crowded. They then looked to 3-D printing, where they realized they could make an impact.

Photo: (L-R) Co-founders Kyle Pham and Nick Nguyen

Slice Capital

Rohan Shah, Slice Capital
Source: Slice Capital

Founders: Co-founder Rohan Shah, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, handles the business side of the start-up; co-founder Krish Dholakiya heads the tech side.

The gist: This FinTech company is a crowdfunding investment platform for buying and selling equity in private businesses. Using the app, people can buy and sell shares in start-ups in increments as low as $500 on their smartphone.

Funding to date: $60K, all of which has come from equity-free grants from Penn accelerator programs.

The inspiration behind the idea: "After I learned that the SEC would be altering regulations regarding these investment limitations, I immediately began to get started on Slice to not only allow the average investor to get involved in crowdfunding but educate the masses on the next big start-ups, one dollar at a time," Shah wrote.

Photo: Co-founder Rohan Shah


Versafit co-founders Julian Clarke & Alton Chislom
Source: Versafit

Founders: Julian Clarke is an MBA student at University of California, Irvine, expected to graduate this spring, Alton Chislom earned his MBA from UCI last year.

The gist: Ever want to work out but don't have anyone to go with? Versafit does what Tinder did for online dating. People can find workout partners anytime, anywhere for any activity on the app.

Funding to date: The pair has bootstrapped this business from personal funds in the amount of $60k so far.

Inspiration for the idea: The idea for the Versafit app came from two problems people face when looking to get fit: a lack of motivation and difficulty in connecting quickly with a workout buddy. "Typically, you have a couple of friends that are dedicated to the gym, and when they are unavailable or work different schedules, it is hard to stay consistent with working out when you don't have that support system in place," said Clarke.

Photo: Co-founders Julian Clarke and Alton Chislom