Some might say, "Don't start a business in college, you'll lack money and you'll lack sleep."
To that we say, "Duh! We're college students. We're lacking sleep anyway."
When I got to Emerson College three years ago, I quickly became aware of how much creativity surrounded me. My Orientation Leader Sara and I decided to showcase Emerson's diversity and started the "Humans of Emerson" page. We photographed students around campus in Boston, collected their stories and later expanded to Emerson's Netherland and Los Angeles campuses.
To my amazement, the creativity didn't stop at Emerson; it was flowing throughout Boston! Though I am not the most musical person myself, I was infatuated by the live music scene and found myself connecting to Berklee College of Music students, which set up some amazing opportunities. I started shooting their press kits, and the referrals lead to more freelance work. Next thing I knew I was getting paid to go to awesome concerts, hang out with inspiring people, and gain more experience doing what I loved.
Meanwhile, I learned that many of my friends and classmates were not having the same feeling about the work they were doing. They felt pigeonholed to various odd jobs in retail or the restaurant industry. Though a lot of them were extremely creative and had immense artistic talent, they struggled to align their creativity and passions with paying opportunities to do those things.
This made me wonder how I was able to find meaningful and educational paying gigs, while others were feeling trapped "in the box" of traditional and unfulfilling labor-type work that most college students take to get by. I wanted to find a way for college students to think outside the box, break these stereotypes and get paid for something they enjoyed, and to prove that all of this was possible before entering "the real world," after graduation.
A fresh perspective to bridge the gap
Being raised between the Middle East, Europe and both coasts of the U.S. has led me to always take a fresh perspective when looking at problems or complex situations. By breaking down barriers and moving past preconceived notions, I use creative thinking not only to understand change, but also to make it work for me.
Upon realizing there was no platform to bridge the gap between creative college freelancers and employers seeking flexible talent, bistara was born. Our mission – to empower college students to be their own boss through creative means and freelancing, while connecting them to employers in their field. With our help, students would now be able to expand their network, build a portfolio and get paid experience before graduation.
Now that I've graduated, I look back and smile at my sleepless nights. The resources in college are endless: Free access to otherwise expensive software (Adobe creative suite, anyone?), unlimited access to coaches, teachers and mentors, free meeting rooms and office space, and perhaps even free funding. The list goes on.
Being a college student also gives you a wealth of personal benefits. You're in a time in your life where you can take risks and pursue your dreams, with little to no consequences if it doesn't quite pan out. You've still got your whole life ahead of you, and the learning and growth you'll experience makes it a win no matter what.
Through building bistara, I've learned an infinite amount about myself and the life I want to lead. Since graduating, I've been working, traveling (competed in BDL Accelerate in Beirut, mentored a student retreat in Costa Rica, worked with schools in Los Angeles., etc.) and still fangirling at my friends' shows.
I believe in doing what you love. Don't waste time doing something that doesn't make you feel fulfilled. Entrepreneurship is not just on a professional level. Entrepreneurship is taking ownership of your life and standing up for what you believe will make an impact in your life and the lives of others.
About the author: Maya Rafie is the founder of bistara, the marketplace to hire creative college freelancers. She's 21, Lebanese and was raised between Paris and San Francisco. Follow bistara on Facebook and Instagram.
Edited for brevity and clarity by Nicole Fallon.