College Entrepreneurs: The Most Famous Student Startups

Hrvoje Š.
9 Min Read

College campuses will always be learning and teaching institutions, but they’re also some of the best places for innovation and entrepreneurship in the world. Many famous startups originated in college. A startup is basically a young company of forward-thinking go-getters. It’s innovative and ready to introduce something different to the market. Today, many of the companies that will have the biggest impact on our lives started as dorm room projects, final papers, or cool ideas between classes. Here’s just a short list of five well-known startups that originated at the creative hands of innovative college students. As it turns out, you don’t have to wait until you graduate to make a world-changing difference, and we’re here for it!

Google: Organizing the World’s Information

Google started with a graduate student project by Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Stanford University. Their classic vision statement was to ‘organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’. From a campus lab, Google quickly ballooned into the most widely used search engine on the internet and one of the fundamental ways in which people access data and do business online. Can you imagine the internet without Google? It almost beggars belief that it started when two students wondered if they could find a better way to sort search results. You’d probably agree though that finding what you need online can sometimes be challenging. Students looking for good personal statement writer UK often need to sift through tons of offers to find a legitimate service. If you want to forgo this process entirely, go straight to UKWriting. They offer great academic aid at student-friendly prices.

Facebook: The Social Network Revolution

Having started in a Harvard dorm room with a small group of Mark Zuckerberg’s college friends, Facebook is now the world’s largest social media network – and has burgeoned beyond a campus network to one connecting people of all ages everywhere. Beginning with connecting Harvard students and then a kind of ‘domino effect’ with other universities, today’s Facebook is a global phenomenon with over three billion users. While it may have started as a college project – an intensely inward-looking group where the shy and the isolated were able to use computers to finally communicate – the Facebook story bears out the potential of a business idea that may seem far-fetched at first but then morphs into a global communications platform. This startup wasn’t just about changing how we socialize online, but it also has arguably altered the face of internet marketing and global communication forever. 

Reddit: The Front Page of the Internet

Born out of an idea from two students at the University of Virginia, Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, Reddit was an internet bulletin board where people could go to discuss anything and everything. Funded by a startup incubator called Y Combinator, Reddit has grown into a massive community where millions of people can partake in a variety of activities.

  • Post content. Share links, images, videos, or thoughts.
  • Comment and discuss. Participate in discussions on various posts, offering insights or opinions.
  • Vote. Upvote or downvote posts and comments to influence what content becomes more visible.
  • Join communities. Become a member of specific subreddits that align with your personal interests.
  • Ask questions. Use subreddits like r/AskReddit to seek answers from the community.
  • Follow interests. Keep up with topics ranging from science to sports.
  • Send messages. Privately message other users.
  • Create subreddits. Start new communities around specific topics or interests.

Reddit represents the unfettered, democratic spirit of the internet, where everyone has a voice and communities can come together around shared interests.

Snapchat: Ephemeral Messaging’s Pioneer

What began as a classmate’s goofy project – Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown while they were students at Stanford University in California – Snapchat eventually introduced the possibility that ‘photos and messages sent with the Snapchat app could be deleted with no chance of recovery after their intended recipient had seen them’. Its invention of this paradox of ephemeral messaging codified a disappearing act that was already tacitly understood to encourage spontaneity and privacy among younger online users. Snapchat’s filters and stories are part of the cultural lexicon of digital interactions – from how we manifestity to spotting memes out in the wild (the Composite art by the author drawn from contemporary social media). Among the many technological tools that users can employ to modify and control their imagery, facial filters (aka effects) have become widespread features on social media platforms around the world. For example, a filter that can give the user cat ears like those worn by Grumpy Cat was posted on Tumblr in May 2022.

Microsoft: From BASIC to Business Empire

Though Bill Gates and Paul Allen weren’t the stereotypical college-dorm startup founders, they did meet as students at the exclusive preparatory Lakeside School in Seattle. They eventually took their collaboration to Harvard University, where they went through a lengthy process of perfecting their idea. 

Here’s how it all went down:

1975FoundingBill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft, initially focusing on developing software for the Altair 8800 microcomputer.
1980Partnership with IBMMicrosoft signed a deal with IBM to provide an operating system for their first personal computer, leading to the development of MS-DOS.
1985Windows LaunchMicrosoft launched Windows, a graphical extension for MS-DOS, which became highly popular due to its user-friendly interface.
1995Internet FocusThe company released Windows 95, a major upgrade that fully integrated Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, marking Microsoft’s serious push into the Internet domain.
2001Xbox IntroductionMicrosoft entered the gaming market with the Xbox, expanding its business into video gaming and directly competing with industry giants like Sony and Nintendo.
2007Cloud ExpansionMicrosoft introduced cloud computing services with the launch of Azure, providing a range of cloud services for online computing and storage.
2016LinkedIn AcquisitionMicrosoft acquired LinkedIn for $26.2 billion, significantly expanding its business networking and social media footprint.
2020Teams GrowthAmidst the global pandemic, Microsoft Teams became crucial for remote work, significantly increasing its user base and solidifying its position as a communication and collaboration tool.

And just like that, Microsoft has ballooned into one of the most profitable and expansive tech companies in the world. Microsoft supplies nearly every facet of the modern digital experience, from software to hardware to world-spanning cloud infrastructure.

Lessons from the Dorm Room

The stories of these startups are less about business triumph and more about the kind of inspiration that university campuses breed: students who turn humble ideas into real-world solutions. Linking people or ideas, processing information, or communicating with others – these companies began life with students with one problem. Their new websites or apps presented the solution. Next time you lean over and talk to the person sitting next to you in class or during lunch, remember that maybe there’s something more than homework brewing next door, and maybe you are the one who can launch a new groundbreaking idea. Think big, wherever you are!

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