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20 of the Coolest College Start-ups Ever

From Google and Microsoft, to companies based out of dorm rooms that you have not even heard of yet, start-ups continue to revolutionize the world.

Elizabeth Hoyt

September 24, 2015

20 of the Coolest College Start-ups Ever
If you’ve ever had a great idea but didn't do a thing about it, read on for inspiration. The following 20 companies were started by college students - often out of dorm rooms with little-to-no-capital at the start. The only things these companies have in common? A vision they believed in and, of course, the fact that they were college students at the time. From Google and Microsoft, to companies based out of dorm rooms that you have not even heard of yet, start-ups continue to revolutionize the world.
These 20 companies range from international empires to up-and-comings of the future. They all began with a simple vision and college roots. Plus, they’re 20 of the coolest companies in existence today.

1. 3dim

Founder(s): Andrea Colaço & Ahmed Kirmani
College: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Year Founded: 2013
The premise of 3dim is that it completely changes daily interactions with smart devices for everyday users through a 3D gesture sensor. That way, you no longer need to touch – just gesture. It works under all lighting considers, under any amount of power and on all smart devices – including home appliances. The technology is based on software algorithms, which can be integrated into smart devices.

2. A Small Orange

Founder(s): Douglas Hanna
College: Duke University
Year Founded: 2003 A Small Orange is a web hosting company which serving websites with a strong customer service focus. The company began with the goal of purchasing web hosting companies that were not performing to their maximum potential and developing them. From there, the company determines whether to sell or retain the business to leaser servers to customers for their own websites.

3. EnvoyNow

Founder(s): Chad Massura, Anthony Zhang, Gabriel Quintela and Nick Wang
College: University of Southern California
Year Founded: 2014 Have you ever been in the mood for a food on campus but want it delivered? Enter EnvoyNow. What’s basically a way to get whatever food you want when you want it, "Envoys (delivery people) enable restaurants around campus to offer delivery, taking away the nightmare of providing delivery away from the restaurant." Basically, they help restaurants with delivery services so that the service is provided - and college students get what they want to eat quickly.

4. AthleteTrax

Founder(s): Jon Halpern, Brian Gross, Rey Coriano
College: George Washington University
Year Founded: 2012 An all-in-one for athletes, AthleteTrax is a team member’s dream. Through AthleteTrax, players, parents, coaches and administrators can remain on the same page in scheduling, communicating and fundraising. It allows a member to create or import a list of contacts and, through a share function, effectively communicate with your entire team (or select members) as necessary. It streamlines the process of changes practice times, scheduling competitions and events. Additionally, tools allow payments to be processed via credit card with a small fee (along with tracking), which means that the hub facilitates collecting payments from team members in addition to fundraising from broad audiences. Teams also receive exclusive deals on travel, equipment and apparel purchases as well.

5. Dell

Founder(s): Michael Dell
College: University of Texas at Austin
Year Founded:1984 You know the name, but do you know the story of Dell? As a freshman majoring in pre-mad at the University of Texas at Austin, 19-year-old Michael Dell founded a computer company then named PC’s Limited with only $1,000. His revolutionary idea was to sell personal computers directly to consumers – something that really hadn’t been done before. He threw his focus into the idea that providing custom PCs to anyone and everyone was the way of the future and, well, the rest is history.

6. Dropbox

Founder(s): Arash Ferdowski & Drew Houston
College: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Year Founded: 2007 MIT students, Arash Ferdowski and Drew Houston became tired of email’s inability to send and receive large files. They decided the system needed a solution and, as a result, they founded Dropbox. Dropbox is a file sharing service, which allows users to store and send large files. The company has quickly risen the ranks to become the leader in file sharing and what began as a small, simple idea has significantly grown to allow team collaboration, onboarding/offboarding, secure file sharing and more. Millions of individuals use Dropbox throughout the globe to send and share files and many simply utilize the service to store documents for safekeeping.

7. EarTop Technologies

Founder(s): Ketan Rahangdale & Jaiyu Ni
College: University of Miami
Year Founded: 2011 As a DJ who spent his nights tangled in wires setting up equipment before spinning in clubs, Ketan Rahangdale was never a fan of wires. He wanted to find a better way. EarTop Technologies creates wireless, audio and video technologies. The company focuses on wireless adapters and wireless devices, ultimately striving to make wires obsolete. The company’s first and most recent product, Flow, plugs into the cable jack on headphones or other audio equipment and uses Bluetooth technology transforming them into wireless devices without sacrificing the sound qualify. Their high quality products range from wireless speakers and headphones to other wireless technology adaptors, many of which rival popular Bluetooth products.

8. Facebook

Founder(s): Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz, Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum & Chris Hughes
College: Harvard University
Year Founded: 2004 If you don’t know the story of Facebook, you may have been living under a rock. However, to omit Facebook from a list of college startups would be unheard of. Just in case you haven’t heard, here’s the story in a nutshell: Genius Mark Zuckerberg creates a social network while attending Harvard, drops out to focus on the website full-time which actually turns out to be a great decision because he’s now one of the most successful innovators of modern day. Zuckerberg’s estimated net worth at the ripe old age of 30 years is currently $34.4 billion (let’s just note that’s more billions than years).

9. Google

Founder(s): Larry Page & Sergey Brin
College: Stanford University
Year Founded: 1998 It all began on that first campus tour at Stanford, where Larry Page and Sergey Brin met for the first time. Little did they know they would go on to create a world-revolutionizing website – but that’s exactly what happened. The pair became friends and later went on to develop the idea for the world’s most powerful and effective search engine while they were PhD students working together on the Stanford Digital Library Project. Google’s original domain name was “” The name “google” is a play on the mathematics term “googol,” which describes a number that’s a one followed by one-hundred zeros. Google’s success quickly followed when users began to find that the search results were extremely relevant and that’s what the site quickly became known for. The company continues to grow to epic proportions. Although it’s cause for question - how much larger can you get?

10. iCracked

Founder(s): AJ Forsythe, Anthony Martin
College: California Polytechnic State University
Year Founded: 2010 According to a CNBC survey conducted in 2012, half of all U.S. households own at least one Apply product. With numbers like that, it’s no wonder that iCracked’s founders saw the demand for service repair. They were right. iCracked is now one of the largest iPhone, iPod and iPad repair companies with more than 687 certified iTechs in the United States – that’s not including the 11 additional countries worldwide. iCracked is now known as the world’s largest on-demand repair and trade-in network for iOS devices.

11. HourlyNerd

Founder(s): Rob Biederman, Peter Maglathlin, Patrick Petitti & Joe Miller
College: Harvard University
Year Founded: 2013 What began as a class project by three Harvard MBA students, HourlyNerd quickly rose the ranks with investment after investment to supply business consulting services and expertise to the masses. The company pairs talented MBA students with small businesses seeking help with projects, like mergers and acquisitions, strategies and marketing – all projects that don’t warrant a permanent hire for a small business. The start-up quickly rose to stardom when customers began to include big names like General Electric Company, Microsoft Corporate’s small and medium business program, American Apparel Inc., Coca-Cola Company. HourlyNerd consultant candidates began as MBA students but now tend to be MBA grads looking for flexible hours – often parents looking for family-friendly hours. Hourly rates for consultants range from $25 to $150, depending on expertise levels, with HourlyNerd taking 15% plus a 3% transaction fee.

12. Insomnia Cookies

Founder(s): Seth Berkowitz
College: University of Pennsylvania
Year Founded: 2003 When University of Pennsylvania junior Seth Berkowitz had a hankering for cookies during late night cram sessions, he decided to take action. Word spread quickly of Berkowitz’s baked goods and the business of late night baked goods was born. Insomnia Cookies is mainly campus-based and specializes in delivering warm, fresh-baked treats. With more than 50 locations, Insomnia cookies offers cookies, brownies, cookie cakes and cold milk to wash it all down. Most locations serve and deliver ice cream a well.

13. Kinko’s

Founder(s): Paul Orfalea
College: University of Southern California
Year Founded: 1970 The Kinko’s story began when Paul Orfalea, a student at the University of Southern California (USC), happened to noticed a copy machine in the library and felt that more people should have access to the then-new technology. Orfalea rented a 100-square foot space with a $5,000 loan in 1970 near campus, which would later be known as the first Kinko’s. The space featured a single copier (2.5 cent copies), an offset press, film processing and a small section of school supply products. Kinko’s is named after Orfalea’s college nickname, “Kinko,” after his curly hair. After only five years, Kinko’s had 24 locations throughout California, which tripled four years after that. In 2004, Kinko’s was acquired by FedEx and was rebranded as FedEx Kinko’s Office and Print services throughout its more than 1,500 locations worldwide.

14. Microsoft

Founder(s): Bill Gates & Paul Allen
College: Harvard University
Year Founded: 1975 Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft shortly after leaving Harvard to pursue the computer software company full time. Today, the software company is now an empire that paved the way for modern day technology and innovation. Currently, Gates’ net worth is $81.3 billion making him the second richest man in the world (beating out fierce competitors like Warren Buffett) according to Forbes. Gates has been the richest man in the world for 15 out of the last 20 years. Not too shabby for a college drop out. Then again, he did reshape the way the world sees computers and technology.

15. Modcloth

Founder(s): Susan Gregg Koger & Eric Koger
College: Carnegie Mellon University
Year Founded: 2002 When Susan Gregg started dating Eric Koger, it was a match made in fashion website history. Both at Carnegie Mellon, he was a tech whiz and she into fashion. While shopping around, Susan found fabulous items at vintage sales and together they had the idea to use Eric’s expertise to create an ecommerce site to sell the items she acquired. They had tried eBay but it wasn’t as effective in getting across the fashion-forward focus that the two were looking to achieve, so the two decided designing a unique site was the way to go. Originally, the two planned to use the money from the sales to help pay for college textbooks and living expenses. It worked – and then some. The site took off and by 2005, ModCloth was receiving up to 70,000 unique shoppers daily. With the site’s success, the two knew they had a full-time career on their hands, but vintage picks weren’t cutting it. Vintage items are only offered in one size and don’t cater to the masses. They scaled the business model to trendy, indie picks with vintage inspiration. ModCloth continues to grow 40% annually and grew to more than 450 employees in 2013.

16. Napster

Founder(s): Shawn Fanning, Sean Parker & John Fanning
College: Northeastern University
Year Founded: 1999 It’s not the same as it once was but, at its peak, Napster served up to 80 million users. That’s pretty impressive. Not to mention it changed culture and the way the world downloads music through the peer-to-peer network platform, where friends could share music. If you weren’t around at the time to witness it, record companies and artists alike were brought to their knees when Napster unleashed its software for free MP3 downloads. Eventually, all good things come to an end (yes, it was illegal but it wasn’t so crystal clear at the time) and the company was sued to the ends of the earth for pirating, copyright infringement, etc. But, it was great while it lasted. Now we know the laws. Thanks, Napster. And Metallica.

17. Reddit

Founder(s): Steve Huffman & Alexis Ohanian
College: University of Virginia
Year Founded: 2005 Founded as an information sharing website, Reddit was conceived of by two University of Virginia students. There’s one simple thing that distinguishes Reddit from other information sharing websites: users have the ability to vote on the content. Now known as the “upvote” system, users have an influence on what appears at the top of the site, which obviously gains the most exposure. The site is now among the most popular in the world, going from startup to receiving more than a billion page views monthly. As of 2006, Reddit was purchased by and became a subsidiary of Condé Nast.

18. Snapchat

Founder(s): Evan Spiegel & Robert Murphy
College: Stanford University
Year Founded: 2011 It all started with a bad decision to send a photo. When a frat brother entered Spiegel’s room to chat about a photo he regretted sending, the two discussed how it would be easier if the photo magically disappeared once the recipient viewed it. If you haven’t heard about Snapchat, it’s an app where users are able to take photos or record videos and add on text or draw. Then, you send the photo or video to a recipient(s) with the app (and has accepted you on Snapchat). Additionally, users are able to determine the length of the time the recipient(s) can view the “Snap” (photo or video) – anywhere from one to ten seconds. If a recipient decides to take a screenshot of the photo you sent via Snapchat, you will be notified – thus safeguarding users against the distribution of any embarrassing or unsavory photos. Originally titled “Picaboo,” it launched to less than stellar download numbers. Later changed to Snapchat - something began to happen and, suddenly, it took off. According to Yahoo Finance News, “Last fall Spiegel reportedly turned down as much as $3 billion from Facebook (FB) and $4 billion from Google (GOOG).” As of May 2014, “the app's users were sending 700 million photos and videos per day, while Snapchat Stories content was being viewed 500 million times per day,” according to Wikipedia.

19. WordPress

Founder(s): Matt Mullenweg & Mike Little
College: University of Houston
Year Founded: 2003 It’s the free blogging site – no, platform – that changed it all. As an Open Source project, WordPress can be can be freely used, changed, and shared (in modified or unmodified form) by anyone. It’s no secret that ideas are spread and shared with the help of blogs but, without the help of free platforms like Wordpress, that capability wouldn’t exist. It transformed the way websites were created, making it possible for everyday people to have them, too. Simply put, it changed the way everyday people access the internet from looking at it, to shaping it. Blogging may have exploded in the early 2000s, but there’s no sign it’s slowing down just yet. According to the site, WordPress is currently the most popular online publishing platform – powering over 20% of the web. That’s a network of more than 409 million people who view more than 15.5 billion pages monthly. WordPress users publish 41.7 million new posts monthly, with blogs written in over 120 languages. All of that, started by a college freshman. Impressive, no?

20. Yahoo!

Founder(s): Jerry Yang & David Filo
College: Stanford University
Year Founded: 1994 Founded by a pair of PhD candidates at Stanford University in 1994, what is now known as Yahoo! was originally a simple list of the two student’s favorite web sites named “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web.” The website grew popularity and the two saw potential in a legitimate business venture – choosing the word “yahoo.” Reports on reasons on why the word was chosen vary – some say they like the unsophisticated connotation of the word, others believe it’s an acronym – but the exclamation point was added because the name “Yahoo” was already trademarked. Ultimately, Yang and Filo created the first search engine that allowed the public to readily seek information. At one point, Yahoo! was the Internet search engine. And, while it still has a major presence on the web, it’s not Google. But it was at one point and that’s important to remember.

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