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Early Success: 7 Entrepreneurs Who Got Rich During or After College



Not all entrepreneurs wait until they have years of experience to start out on their own. Many have the confidence in their abilities and ideas to get an early start. The seven entrepreneurs below did just that. They either dropped out of school and found success quickly, or did so shortly after graduation.

1. Matt Mullenweg – WordPress

In 2003 Matt Mullenweg was a 19 year old freshman at the University of Houston. This was also the year he co founded WordPress. He’s also the cofounder of the Global Multimedia Protocols Group. That’s only the beginning. He also spent time at C-Net.

Thanks to these and other ventures, Mullenweg is now worth over 40 million dollars. He supports several charitable foundations including The Innocence Project and efforts to provide clean and safe drinking water to emerging nations.

2. Jen Rubio And Steph Korey – Away

Steph Korey was busy working on her advanced degree at Columbia university when her friend Jen Rubio approached her with an idea for a travel business. Rubio had been traveling when her suitcase failed in the middle of a Zurich airport. She reached out to friends via social media for recommendations on replacements. What she found was that nobody really had any. Apparently there simply weren’t suitcases that millennials found to be functional and affordable.

Jen got Steph on board and they launched Away, a luggage company dedicated to selling suitcases and other items directly to consumers. Since it was formed in 2015, they’ve raised 31 million dollars in capital and hired 66 employees. According to Rubio, “We were very lucky. My background is in branding and creative. Steph’s background is in product and supply chain and operations. Between us, we had a lot of things covered. We didn’t have to go outside for a lot of those things for a long time.”

3. Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook

Likely the most well known name on this list, Zuckerberg is still worth mentioning as an example of someone who decided to stop procrastinating and pursue their goals. Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in 2004 while he was a student at Harvard. He and his friends created the social media platform to help other Harvard students connect with one another. Then, they began distributing the platform to other colleges and universities.

Zuckerberg left Harvard as a sophomore to continue building his enterprise. By the time he was 22, he became a millionaire. Since then, in spite of having many challengers, Facebook remains the premier social media platform. That, along with other platforms also owned by Facebook, including Instagram, show no sign of slowed growth.

 “Don’t let anyone tell you to change who you are.” – Mark Zuckerberg

4. Isa Watson – Envested

Isa Watson was working at Pfizer and well-entrenched in an MBA program at MIT Sloan when her father was tragically killed in a car accident. When she returned to her home city of Chapel Hill, her life began to take a definitive turn. Instead of following her dreams to head to Silicon Valley, she decided to stay in Chapel Hill and start a business with the goal of getting millennials to invest in local charitable initiatives.

To accomplish her goal, Watson along with other collaborators created Envested. This is, in essence a platform for local charities. Not for profits post profiles,  hold fundraising challenges, and tell their stories. At the same time, givers can sign up, learn more about local charities, and donate. Envested has even gamified charitable giving a bit with friends being able to see what one another is donating. Envested has raised 760K in funding.

5. Kyle Smitley – Barley And Birch

Kyle Smitley founded Barley and Birch in 2008. By 2009, the company had $400K in projected revenue. Her business, which produces an organic clothing line for children, quickly became popular with celebrities. In fact, both Jessica Alba and Sheryl Crow dressed their children in Barley And Birch. In addition to earning a sizeable profit early on, Smitley also committed to charitable giving.

After covering payroll and paying down a business loan, over half of Barley And Birch’s profits went to charity. What may be most impressive of all is that she launched this successful clothing company while she was a full time law student.

6. Lisa Q Fetterman – Nomiku

Fetterman graduated from journalism school at NYU, and immediately started a series of jobs in fine dining restaurants. She also worked as a journalist for several publications. However, it was a trend she witnessed in fine dining that would inspire her to start her own business. Fetterman noticed that several restaurants were using sous vide, a technique involving cooking meat and vegetables in a relatively low temperature water bath while vacuum sealed with herbs and marinades. Customers loved the result.

She and her future husband built a home sous vide unit on their first date. Then, they began assembling DIY kits for friends. This eventually grew into a business. Lisa Fetterman was only 26 when her business launched. Eventually, they raised $600K to launch Nomiku. The company now produces smart units that can be monitored and controlled via app. Their venture was also funded even further when Fetterman made an appearance on the show ‘Shark Tank’.

“When you’re ready to quit, you are closer than you think.” – Bob Parsons

7. Ryan Williams – Cadre

Williams entrepreneurial drive became clear when he was still a student at Harvard. There, he created technology that could track foreclosures. He and other students then used the information they mined to purchase and flip homes. After graduation, he spent time at Goldman Sachs then Blackstone. However, by the time  he was 26 he was ready to strike out on his own again. This time he founded Cadre. This is a platform that allows buyers and sellers to trade in nontraditional assets like they would stocks. He believes that this will create accessibility in areas such as real estate, oil, and energy where it did not previously exist. Currently, real estate is the primary focus of Cadre. Ryan William’s firm has currently earned north of $68 million in funding.


There are so many business ideas that started in college dorm rooms, or emerged shortly after. The entrepreneurs listed here are just a few examples of young people having great ideas and then putting those ideas into action. There are so many more, especially considering that a young entrepreneur can be successful without creating six or seven figures worth of revenue.

What did you learn from the stories of these entrepreneurs? Comment below!

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