Student entrepreneurs: their motivation and drive

For a college student, life moves faster than the eye can see. There are endless deadlines, homework assignments, tests, group projects and so much more. The pressure gets heavier and heavier as we figure out what we want to do, how to get involved and what comes next.  

Stephen Rider and Liah Vaartjes, have cracked the code on staying motivated while chasing their goals. He is a full-time environmental science major and she studies recreational therapy but there is one thing that sets them apart from fellow students – they own two businesses together.  

Rider and Vaartjes founded their first business, Invective, in 2021 within one of their apartments. Invective, LLC makes custom merchandise like clothing, glass wear, logos, and more. From their website, Rider’s vision for this company was “creating accessible branding for small businesses to utilize while trying to survive the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.” 

Now, these two college students have bought High Point Decals from a friend with a focus on decals for businesses, projects, vehicles, or just personal use. Together, they create the merch and run the two companies. 

“Business is one of those things that never stops so I could be in the middle of hanging out with friends and we get an order that comes through that needs to take priority. It is kind of constantly in the background; managing a business, at least to me, doesn’t have a defined stop or start to your day,” said Rider when asked about his life at WCU. He doesn’t have much time for other things. His priorities lie in the businesses, but he is also writing a novel and is a part of Kappa Sigma Fraternity. 

Resources for students and start-ups 

Rider highlighted how he used the program Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) that is in the Forsyth Building at WCU. The center helped with tips on how to run a business and how to manage it.  

Elena Gupta, regional center director at SBTDC, talked with The Carolinian about resources and services through the center.  

Gupta provided this from the SBTDC website: 

“The Business Launch initiative is a specialized service of the SBTDC that helps entrepreneurs evaluate an idea, form the idea into a business model, and launch the viable idea into a new North Carolina business. The SBTDC established this initiative in 2019 to help early-stage innovators, particularly those around university ecosystems, move forward with forming a business and to keep our state on the forefront of tech business creation.”  

After continuing with the center, Gupta suggested checking out the website’s “services” section which says counselors will guide entrepreneurs through “organizational strategies to business operations or marketing, helping businesses propel forward faster,” depending on the type of business. 

Along with the SBTDC, Vaartjes said the two used their on-campus resources, particularly business and entrepreneur professors. 

Motivation and drive  

The Carolinian talked to Vaartjes and Rider about what their motivations are and what advice they would give to students who may be stuck wondering what to do next.  

“After I’m done with classes and everything, I focus on the business side of things,” said Vaartjes when asked about her schedule. 

Vaartjes said this balance helps her manage her time and avoid stress. 

Questions turned to Rider, who talked about the opportunities at hand and wanting to experience life to the fullest. 

“It felt like there was so much time to seek opportunities… that’s kind of where the original motivation came from… to me it’s a desperation of I really don’t want to spend the next 40-50 years of my life working for someone else and having to go to this job. I think that there’s so much more experiences to have as a human and so I’d like to try to make money now and make money passively so that I can enjoy the rest of my life,” said Rider. 

Rider stressed that you just should try doing the things you imagine, whether that be a start-up, filming a movie, writing a book, etc. He sees it as pushing yourself to make your dreams a reality.