February 7, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 25°F

Life & Culture

Students build businesses out of personal passions

Before sophomore Luna McCulloch came to Ithaca College to study film, she said art was already a huge part of her life. She learned how to paint and make sculptures out of wood at a young age from her parents, who are both artists. Her most recent artistic venture of painting hats was a spontaneous hobby that she turned into a business.

“My roommate and I were looking for something to do one night and she was like ‘Let’s go to Walmart and get a bunch of paint,’” McCulloch said. “I didn’t really feel like painting on a canvas, so I bought a couple of white hats as my medium. They came out really well, and I really enjoyed painting them, so I figured why not run with it?”

McCulloch is just one student who has started a business out of a personal hobby. McCulloch said that she only started painting and selling hats at the beginning of Fall 2019 but that she has previous business experience from selling some of her art on the popular craft website Etsy. McCulloch buys hats and paint at Walmart and sells her customized hats for $40 each to the general public and at a discount of $30 for Ithaca College students and staff. McCulloch’s business is commission-based, meaning she paints and sells hats based on requests submitted to her by customers. 

“I think by making the hats myself instead of buying a premade graphic online, more people are willing to spend a little money on something that was created just for them,” McCulloch said. “Plus, it’s been fun playing with different designs and figure out what people would actually wear and what people would want to see.”

Luna McCulloch said she had the idea for her business when she and her roommate painted hats for fun.

Freshman Massaran Cisse also started her own business this semester. Her brand, Belle Gloss, specializes in selling vegan, gluten-free and cruelty-free lip glosses at affordable prices. Cisse uses Instagram to promote her products and offers an array of lip glosses in different, fruity scents. Cisse sells her products for $6 a tube or $10 for two tubes. She said she was inspired to create her own lip glosses because she struggled to find a brand-name lip gloss that worked for her.

“Most of the time, I can’t find a lip gloss that’s longlasting, doesn’t have any animal products in it and looks really good when you wear it,” Cisse said. “There are some products that claim to be vegan and gluten-free, but it only applies to their base and not the glitter in the gloss. At that point, I decided to take matters into my own hands, do the research and start making glosses myself.”

As it turns out, homemade lip gloss is not an easy item to make. Cisse said she spent over a year researching different tools and methods to make lip gloss and spent approximately four hours in the laboratories at the Center for Health Sciences mixing the right amount of gloss base, scented oils, Vitamin E oil and glitter to create her lip gloss shades. She said she spent $134 on the supplies for her first batch of lip gloss. So far, she has sold over 25 lip glosses in three different shades. Her shades are called MC, a clear and lemon-scented gloss; Bubbly Vibes, which has light pink glitter and is peach scented; and Purple Reign, which is a pomegranate-scented option with purple glitter. 

To promote her business and products, Cisse presented her brand at the business model competition Park Tank on Oct. 11. Park Tank is an event in the Roy H. Park School of Communications that replicates the television show “Shark Tank” in which people with sales ideas compete for endorsement and recognition. Cisse won the audience favorite award at the event. 

“I had all of the judges try my glosses, and they said they loved it,” Cisse said. “I also had the crowd laughing, and they just really liked my personality. Seeing everyone have a fun time definitely made me feel a lot less nervous when I was presenting.”

With every business comes its challenges, and businesses run by students are no exception to this. Dawn Kline, assistant dean of the School of Business, said the main challenge that she often sees with student-driven businesses is the constant struggle to balance between school and work.

“There is literally always more work to do,” Kline said. “It can be hard to find the balance between growing a business and taking care of schoolwork, but the ideas and the products we see from these students show that they can certainly make it work.”

For others who are thinking about starting their own business but are not sure where to start, McCulloch said that they should create their business out of something they are truly passionate about and enjoy.

“I don’t think it’s worth the thought process and the planning of a business if you don’t enjoy what you’re creating or what you’re offering,” McCulloch said. “If you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

Hannah Fitzpatrick can be reached at hfitzpatrick@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @HannahFitzpatr7