Like most entrepreneurs, Jenna Wagner started with an idea -- an idea about how to improve her community in a small way with a big impact.
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Wagner, and her business partner, St. Olaf student body president Wade Hauser, both 21-year-old students at St. Olaf College, came up with the idea to sell reusable lunch bags in the St. Olaf cafeteria. Their goal is to replace the thousands of paper bags previously used and thrown away by St. Olaf students at the cafeteria daily.
"It's about making your world sustainable," Wagner said. "Every person can do something better for the environment and that starts with your daily lifestyle choices."
College students starting businesses to change their communities' everyday addiction is a trend that is booming across the country.
"The time is now to act, and students need to know that it's really not that difficult to start a business that will help your schoolmates and the environment," Wagner said. After conducting surveys of their potential market of St. Olaf students, and researching the amount of environmental impact the current paper bags make, they pitched the idea to St. Olaf's entrepreneurial center.
The students were awarded a $3,000 grant to start their business, something other college entrepreneurs should look into at their schools.
"We reached out to St. Olaf's bookstore, which is not owned by the college, to see if they would sell the bags," Hauser said. "Another student helped us design the logo. It's about using the resources in your community the best you can, especially if you don't have much money to start out."
Wagner and Hauser's bags run for $5 each.
"We make a marginally small commission on each bag, and it has the potential to be very profitable over the next couple years," Wagner said. "Minnesota's junior US Senator, Amy Klobuchar, came to St. Olaf and bought a bag recently."
Called "A Tree Free Lunch," they are registering to become incorporated by the state of Minnesota.
Proving that busy, full-time college students can be entrepreneurs too, Hauser said he wants his idea to be an inspiration for other students.
"When we started out, we had no idea how it would actually turn out," Hauser said. "We've been very fortunate to have support from St. Olaf and other students need to know, it's simple things like this at their schools that make a difference towards a sustainable lifestyle."
It's about finding the problem and the market for the solution in your community.