Brent Pennington, a 21-year-old Texan from Burleson, is a senior at Baylor University and the social chairman of his fraternity. But to "break up the monotony of the books and bring in some spare change," Pennington runs two businesses in his free time.
One of his companies makes and sells his own invention -- the Safe-T-Stat, an electronic safety device that automatically shuts down heating and air-conditioning systems in a fire to prevent the spread of smoke and flames. A patent is pending on the gadget, which he puts together at his father's electrical contracting business warehouse, and the company has so far taken in about $8,000 in sales.
Pennington, an entrepreneurial studies and accounting major, combines his social activities with his second business -- he runs a gift and party favor distributorship at Baylor called the United Specialty Co. Showing catalogs and samples, Pennington orders wholesale over 1,000 items -- ranging from custom T-shirts to decorator coasters and laundry bags -- for fraternities and clubs.
"I'm always going to be pushing myself," he admits. "And I'll probably be an entrepreneur all my life. If you have a job that you do every day it can become too routine. I want to be challenged."
It all began after a summer of tarring driveways back in 1978.
Twenty-year-old sophomore Brett Johnson of Minneapolis, Minn., returned that September to Harvard with a large measure of entrepreneurial drive and a liking for the lightweight painter's caps he'd worn all summer. Three years later, the 23-year-old economics major has a booming cap distributorship called Crowd Caps that last year pulled in close to $500,000 in sales.
Johnson has done for caps what others have done for T-shirts -- turned them into promotional vehicles. Johnson originally used contractors to silk-screen the requested logos and messages onto the caps. Now he takes orders from clients and does all the manufacturing himself.
Johnson's first big seller was a cap emblazoned with a crimson H that he successfully hawked to 500 fans at the 1978 Harvard-Yale football game. Since then, Pepsi-Cola, singer Barry Manilow, and the Army Reserves have all used Crowd Caps for promotional campaigns.
While he plans to carry on with his cap business after graduation, he'd like to promote other products as well. "There are a lot of inventors out there in garages," Johnson says, "just looking for someone to help them get their products out to the market."
When Cornell University students get tired of the dorm cafeteria fare, they can head downtown for some "Hot Wings," Stromboli pizza, pita sandwiches, and a variety of other food cooked by two of their classmates.
Debbie Laster and Chris Fontana, seniors at Cornell majoring in hotel and restaurant management, started the business a year ago with $10,000 borrowed from their families. Today the restaurant, called Munchies, attracts customers in the college town of Ithaca, N.Y., 18 hours a day. "It's bewildering," says 21-year-old Fontana. "We still see ourselves as students just struggling through school."
The restaurant bakes its own cookies and cakes in addition to meals and snacks and does on-campus deliveries as well. "We make everything ourselves," says 22-year-old Laster, "right down to hand-rolling the meatballs and packing the sausages." Munchies takes in about $250 a day and is "essentially breaking even," according to the owners, each of whom works about 30 hours a week.
After graduation, the two hope to sell Munchies and then look for "someone who wants to use our talent to open a restaurant or bar, but will finance the venture himself," says Laster.