(Corrects school affiliation for Justin Delaney)
Full-time MBA students head back to business school, aware that—barring access to a healthy trust fund—they’ll have to live as if they’re broke. This can provide great motivation for outside-the-box thinking: Beer and pizza aren’t cheap. Here are a few creative money-making ventures that have been tried, with some success, by cash-strapped MBA students:
In the 1980s, Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business received lots of mail addressed to the Truck School. Playing off that common error, Bill Cunningham, then an MBA student, created a T-shirt that featured the image of a big rig and read: “The Amos Truck School of Business—Learn to Drive the Big Rigs.” It featured the admissions office’s phone number. Cunningham did the screening while a friend did the artwork, and then he set up shop without ever asking the school’s permission in a popular common area. Cunningham would buy the shirts for $2 and sell them for $4. He made $400, which he used to go skiing.
Since Cunningham graduated in 1982, the school has created a formal business to sell Tuck paraphernalia. It recently re-introduced Cunningham’s “Amos Truck School” T-shirt—which sold for $20 this time. As for the man himself, Cunningham is the founder and chief executive officer of Kentucky-based OneMorePallet.com, which happens to be a trucking business.
To test her dream business of being a big-time pastry chef while subsidizing her living expenses, Alexandra Lynn Whisnant, a 2011 graduate of Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, turned her apartment into a chocolate factory. Having already worked in pastries, she organized a business called Truffle Monkey, trained 20 of her student peers as interns, and charged from $10 to $40 for boxes of her chocolates. Today, Whisnant has expanded her business into a full-time enterprise in Paris and changed its name to Gâté comme des filles.
Every year at Thanksgiving, Walker Mathews Jr., a second-year student at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, fries turkeys with Cajun spices for the first 15 people in the neighborhood who sign up to buy them. (He doesn’t have the refrigerator space or frying equipment to cook more than that.) Mathews charges $100 per turkey and uses the money to help with expenses. “It started four years ago, after someone at work told me how quick and easy it is to fry a turkey,” Mathews writes in an e-mail. “It only takes about 45 minutes to cook a 13-pound turkey and they turn out amazing.”
Nowadays, Bernard Lee is a professional poker player and media personality. When he was an MBA student at Babson College’s Olin Graduate School of Business in the late 1990s, Lee played poker both for pleasure and to make extra cash. “It was a way to blow off steam,” he says. Lee, whose wife was a medical student while he studied business, says there wasn’t much time to spend the money on anything fun, though occasionally, his hobby enabled them to go out for a nice meal. In 2005, he finished 13th and made $400,000 at the World Series of Poker Main Event, launching his career. In 2007, Lee quit his day job in marketing and began to focus full-time on playing poker and covering the world of poker for national media outlets.
Justin of All Trades
The Renaissance man of business school, Justin Delaney, is a second-year student at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. Delaney has made extra money by writing about his travels for the Huffington Post, selling French glass lampshades from a website he created, and trading options. Delaney is presently taking a break from writing as he recovers from an appendectomy and from the options trading. (He lost more than $3,000, which upset his wife.) But he still sells lampshades, an interest since his family had a French glass business, then uses the money to pursue his passion for travel. Since Delaney will be working in commercial strategy for Delta Air Lines (DAL) after graduation, he won’t have to pay for flights. Still, he eventually plans to return to travel writing and options trading because, he says, they’re calling his name.