Student Start-Ups

By Elizabeth Rudd
Lewiston Tribune, Idaho.

Starting a new business is never easy — throw in college and it’s even more difficult.

But university students across the Palouse are taking to the entrepreneurial world and starting their own businesses while juggling classes, homework and other jobs.

And they’re seeing some success.

Another late-night bite

University of Idaho student Amos Rothstein, 22, and his business partners Samantha Hansen, 21, and Max Cowan, 20, are the latest addition to late-night food options in Moscow, with their taco stand Sauced. The taco and fry stand opened for business Nov. 11, selling out before they were scheduled to close on their first day.

“People would eat the food and then get back in line,” Rothstein said, “so it was exactly what we’d hoped for.”

Sauced, located on the corner of Jackson and Sixth streets, serves a variety of tacos, burritos, rice bowls and homemade fries. The idea for the taco stand came from a late-night, post-drinking craving for Taco Bell, Rothstein said.

From there, Rothstein said he and Hansen brought on Cowan, developed a business plan, found a location, and then opened about four months later.

“We saved, we planned and we signed a lease,” Rothstein said.

By mid-December, Sauced had nearly recovered its start-up costs, Rothstein said. The initial funding was a combination of personal money and savings, donations and investment offers made from people who wanted to support college entrepreneurs.

“It’s not impossible to do this,” Rothstein said of being a college student with a business.

As the name suggests, Sauced offers a number of culturally different sauces for its customers to try. Berbere — “kind of like a chili pepper-based creamy Ethiopian mole” — has been one of the more popular choices, Rothstein said.

“I’d say our sauces are kind of the key difference to us and a normal taco stand,” he said.
That, and their hand-cut, homemade fries.

Each order of fries is cut fresh and fried, giving them a texture unlike frozen fries, Cowan said. The fresh-cut fries will have a crunchy outside and soft inside, and each batch is different.

“They’re way better,” Rothstein said.

Giving back,giving rides

Zane Larsen was trying to open a car dealership when he discovered how easy it would be to start a limousine service company instead.

Larsen, a 26-year-old Washington State University student, and his friend Rob Broden started talking about renting out a party bus as a result.

The two opened the Palouse Touring Co. in February, and a month later realized the Palouse needed a cab service, so they started College Cabs LLC.

“We’re staying pretty busy. It’s doing really well,” Larsen said.

The two businesses started out with a combined six cabs, a limousine and a party bus, Larsen said. They now have six cabs, three limos, two shuttle buses, two party buses and a town car. The companies have also obtained different customer accounts and contracts since opening, and are considering expanding into Lewiston.

“It’s been really well received by the students,” he said.

But it hasn’t been easy.

One of the first hurdles they had to overcome was hiring, Larsen said. When he and Broden started looking for employees, they wanted to focus on clean-cut people who were going to college and needed a job.

“We wanted to give back to the group that supports us,” he said.

Larsen said they also had to make sure the companies were adequately insured, had proper licensing to operate across state lines and had compliant vehicles.

“So that’s what’s hard,” he said, “just constantly trying to put out fires and get other things done and build things. It’s just not as easy as it looks.”

Despite the challenges, Larsen said College Cabs’ phones are constantly ringing.

“It’s a pretty fun job, though,” he said, “and it’s pretty fun to see something so big that we’ve created and it’s blown up in less than a year.”

Conveniently located anywhere

Jonathan Erber has always had an interest in mechanics and music, and said his dream job would be to do both part of the time.

And that’s what he is doing.

Erber, 25, is an applied vocal performance student at UI, music teacher at Logos Elementary School and the owner of On-site Auto, a mobile oil changing company. Erber opened On-site Auto a year ago, but had the idea since before moving to Moscow.

“It’s really fun. It’s a lot of work but way better than just being stuck in studies and working a job on the side,” he said.

Erber said he first had the idea for a mobile mechanics business while living in Chicago, but felt that travel time in a big city would hinder the idea’s success. When he moved to Moscow, he decided to give it a try since it’s smaller and easier to quickly get from one place to the next. He has since expanded from simple oil changes to repairing clutches, brakes, fuel pumps and water pumps.

“What your average shop would do if you took your car in, except that we’ll do it on site,” Erber said.
While Moscow is conducive to local businesses, Erber said he also felt that as a young college student there would be a lower risk if his idea was not successful.

“If the business doesn’t make it, you don’t have as far to fall as later on (in life),” he said.

Another aspect that helps with On-site Auto, Erber said, is once the business is going, the expenses are limited to per job and while the initial start-up was an investment, he is now making a profit.

“It just keeps growing. The main thing is people keep coming back,” Erber said.

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