Tamiya Williams, her mother and sisters move around long tables in the family living room in Rio Linda most Sundays preparing, testing and packaging body scrubs, body butters, lip gloss and lash shampoos for her online business — Sydnis Serenity.
Williams’ products have calming scents like baby powder, honey almond and lavender, and names like Love, Peace and Serenity. She started her beauty business, first called Yours Truly T&Bee, during the Covid-19 pandemic as a way to stay busy and beat anxiety during school closures. Williams decided to sell the beauty products she had been making for herself, to help others relax.
The rest of the week Williams, 19, is either taking courses at American River College in Sacramento toward becoming a nurse or working her part-time job at an elementary after-school program.
She isn’t unusual. An Intelligent.com survey of college graduates last year found 17% already had their own businesses and 27% are considering it.
“Honestly, I’d say it’s really common,” Williams said of college entrepreneurs. “Every day through social media, everyone wants to start a business. It helps pay for things we need for school. I feel I go to my parents less now that I have my own money.”
Students are developing apps, upcycling clothes, creating knitted and crocheted items and offering marketing support to small businesses, among other things, said Cameron Law, executive director of the Carlsen Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at California State University, Sacramento.
“There is definitely a growing interest in that space,” Law said.
Students are particularly interested in side businesses that have a positive environmental impact and apps that help people to be more productive, he said.
Entrepreneurship among the university’s students has become so popular that the annual Stinger Expo, which started with 20 student vendors last year has now doubled in size, Law said. The event, organized by The Hive, an entrepreneurship club, has already been held five times.
Students learning about entrepreneurship on social media
There are many reasons for this growing interest in entrepreneurship among young people, including more exposure to the concept on social media and in high school, Law said.
“In the past you had to take a class, but now they have TikTock and Instagram and there is that constant exposure to people who are doing it and offering tips and tricks to get businesses off the ground,” Law said.
Students also could be responding to a growing national movement to foster more entrepreneurship opportunities to increase the number of new business start-ups, which have been at an all-time low over the last 20 years, he said.
When the Covid pandemic forced everyone to stay home, entrepreneurship ramped up.
“A lot of people lost their jobs, so they turned to their skill sets and things in the realm of their control,” Law said. “You started to see people started to file for business startups out of necessity.”
Others took advantage of the time they saved working from home without a commute to start side businesses.
Young adults are disillusioned with the jobs available to them
Kayla Merkel, 18, runs Kayla Snapped It Photography from a laptop on a desk in the corner of the room she shares with her fiancé, Sam, in his family’s Elk Grove home.
“I specialize in lifestyle photography and events,” Merkel said. “I especially like to take portraits of children and families.”
Many of Merkel’s friends, including Sam, have their own businesses. She said young people are being driven out of the workforce because they are disillusioned with the jobs being offered to people their age. Most of these jobs offer little training and appreciation, she said.
“It’s also wanting to work for themselves and set their own schedules,” Merkel said of her small circle of “ambitious friends.”
Merkel has been an amateur photographer since she was 12. When schools closed in 2020 she used the time to practice and sharpen her photography skills. She also started a business selling cosmetics online during that time, but closed it last December to focus on her photography business.
She opened her photography business after she graduated from Elk Grove High and enrolled in nearby Cosumnes River College, where she plans to earn an associate of arts degree in photography.
Merkel has a 10-year goal for her business, which includes opening a photography studio, and dabbling in real estate photography. She uses social media, word of mouth and business cards to spread the word about Kayla Snapped It. The business has grown enough to allow Merkel to invest in new equipment so that she can take studio portraits.
Students want multiple streams of income
Zaccary Espinoza, 19, and a group of six like-minded young men hold regular “war room meetings” to discuss potential entrepreneurial opportunities and bolster each other’s efforts. They pass out each other’s business cards and earn finders’ fees if they bring a friend a customer.
“We want to stand out,” Espinoza said. “We don’t want to be average. We want to be the wolf in the room.”
Espinoza works at Gold River Sports Club in Sacramento County while taking classes to earn his emergency medical technician credential from American River College. But he makes time for side hustles – teaching children to swim, offering handyman services and whatever opportunity comes his way.
Espinoza, who admits to big aspirations and goals, says he takes on the extra jobs to make money, but also to network. Although he will earn his license to be an EMT in May and is considering a bachelor’s degree, he still plans to explore opportunities in the real estate market and other money-making ventures.
None of the students interviewed for this story plan to close their businesses when they finish college. Merkel hopes her degree will help improve her business, while Espinoza and Williams are looking for multiple streams of income and financial independence.
“I don’t want to work for someone forever,” Williams said.
Covid experience prompted some to help others
Not every student with the entrepreneurial spirit is trying to make money. During the pandemic school closures Tatiana Torres, 18, created the website calm-4-you after watching a 5-year-old neighbor struggle with confusion and guilt over not being able to be with her friends and classmates.
“She thought it was her fault,” Torres said. “I overheard that conversation, and it hurt a lot. I felt I wasn’t able to make her feel better. I realized a lot of kids were dealing with this, but kids can’t speak up for themselves. We can all think about a time when we were a child that we wanted to speak up for ourselves, but we didn’t know how.”
The website, which also is illustrated by Torres, offers information about mental health and coping skills for children. She expanded her message to Instagram in her senior year in high school so that she could reach teenagers.
Torres, who says she was an anxious child, knows the impact of trauma on students’ mental health. She spent a few years studying from home after an accident in middle school left her with persistent headaches and sensitivity to light. She had just returned to in-person instruction at Heritage High School in Brentwood when the pandemic closed schools.
“I was scared to talk about my feelings for such a long time, even when I was younger,” she said. “I wouldn’t acknowledge that I was sad or frustrated. Something traumatic happened in my life, and I was afraid to talk about it.”
She calls calm-4-you her therapy.
“If I feel anxious I make a post about anxiety, or sometimes I repost stories people will benefit from,” said Torres, who is a political science major at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg.
Although Torres is sometimes asked to give talks on juvenile mental health, she doesn’t plan to be a therapist or counselor in the future. Instead, she wants a career that will allow her to impact state or federal policy on mental health. She is happy that the pandemic has made the topic normal to discuss.
“I’m glad that people are more open-minded, but that still needs to improve,” she said. “Schools are the first place, in my opinion, that should have that support. I wish I had that support in school.”
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Charlene Phipps 2 months ago2 months ago
Quite an inspirational story! It gives me a senior age 66, that our youth are not giving up. Unfortunately, they need to learn that our current government does not want small business to thrive as it is the largest employer in our country. Why did so many people lose their business during covid? Yet large corps stayed open. They need to learn geopolitics and vote for less government, the constitution, and … Read More
Quite an inspirational story! It gives me a senior age 66, that our youth are not giving up. Unfortunately, they need to learn that our current government does not want small business to thrive as it is the largest employer in our country. Why did so many people lose their business during covid? Yet large corps stayed open. They need to learn geopolitics and vote for less government, the constitution, and knowledge that people of this great country are in charge not the government.