CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Many college students spend four or five years slugging their way through college coursework to lay the groundwork for their future.
For University of Northern Iowa students Brandon Honeyman and Michael Caraway, the future is now.
The two have launched their own business, NEON (New Era, One Name) Apparel and Accessories LLC.
The pair are just getting their business going now, with the help of the student business incubator at UNI, which provides rent-free office space, consultation and access to the tools they’ll need to design shirts.
“It’s extremely helpful,” said Honeyman, 19, from Muscatine, who is technically classified as a junior by credits earned but, chronologically, would qualify as a sophomore. “There’s a lab where we do all of our designing on with all the top-level software that we’d ever need to make designs. We get our own computers and shelving, the things most companies would have to pay for right off the bat.”
The incubator also set the two up with legal consultation and helped them set up their Limited Liability Corporation, Honeyman said.
A $100 investment
Caraway estimated he and his business partner have had to invest no more than about $100 out of pocket in getting their enterprise going.
“We’re just being smart how we’re investing it; we’re pretty much ready to go,” Caraway said.
Honeyman and Caraway, 19, a freshman from Center Point, plan to start marketing t-shirts to organizations on the UNI campus as soon as next summer. There’s still some work to be done. The two are still building a company website, for example.
They’ll be successful, Honeyman said, because they’ll be able to undercut the competition.
“Stores are going to make $8-9 on a $6 shirt, so we figured, ‘Why not sell for less and sell more for the same quality?’” he said. “We’re young. This is a brand we can build for the next 60 years if we want to.”
With a bit of seasoning, the company may narrow its focus to the action-sports market, Honeyman said.
Laurie Watje, who manages the student business incubator and teaches business courses at UNI, describes her proteges with terms like “focused” and “very high energy.”
Watje said she urges students who get involved with the incubator to “take the dive,” or immerse themselves in entrepreneurship. Some are a bit reticent, Watje said. Honeyman and Caraway aren’t.
“I’d say those two have taken the dive; they are availing themselves to all the various programs here at the center,” Watje said.
The pair also joined as many business organizations on campus as they could, including UNI Entrepreneurs, and sales fraternity Sigma Pi Epsilon, both of which they fill leadership roles.
“All that is helping them gain valuable information so they’re going to have a successful launch,” Watje said. “You read any of the articles about entrepreneurship, and they say if you don’t have passion you won’t make it through the hard times. These guys have passion for business.”
NEON already has ginned up interest across campus, Honeyman said.
“We’re looking at, more than likely, in the next two months, 750-1,000 orders,” he said. “I’d say in our first month of starting sales, we’re going to be looking at $7,000 in sales revenue.”
More to come
That’s just the beginning, though. Honeyman and Caraway have much bigger entrepreneurial dreams.
“I have 11 different entrepreneurial ideas that I’m going to pursue the rest of my life,” Honeyman said. “Michael and I have talked about building, essentially, an entity to developing hotel and restaurant chains, bars. We both are mature enough to understand that you really need money to do that. So, you look ahead to a good-paying job after college and work from there.”
Both students have been burning with the entrepreneurial fever for some time.
In Caraway’s, case, he learned about the ups and downs of owning a business from his father, who has his own construction business in Center Point.
“I appreciate my dad so much,” Caraway said. “Ever since my junior year, he kind of saw a trait in me that was like himself -- that I’d be happier having my own business. He has seen me develop through the years and has told me since I was a junior, ‘you need to think about owning your own business.”
One Christmas, Caraway received a website domain from his father, with a paid-up year’s subscription.
“He wanted to see what I could do with it; that got me thinking about what I could do, and it’s really kicking in now.”
Honeyman. who said he caught the entrepreneurial bug when he met Redbox founder Gregg Kaplan at a conference, has devoted much of his recent life to gaining experience in the business world and juggling different ideas. In fact, last summer, he said, he worked five jobs, totalling about 100 hours a week.
As a dorm resident assistant at UNI last fall, he ran into Caraway, who lived on the same floor. The two quickly found a common vision for business success.
“We sat down for three, four hours one night and figured out the best route, good turnaround, what would be in demand, so we decided to do a clothing company.”
Now is the time to start
It’ better to start now, and get a jump on other students, who may be competitors in the future but, for now, are focused on the present, Honeyman said.
Michael and I wanted to get the experience now because, when you’re in college, you don’t have a whole lot to lose,” he said. “When you get out, it gets tough to make a successful business.”