Student entrepreneurs balance business and coursework

By Douglas McCulloch | Oct 26, 2017
Photo by: Douglas McCulloch Toni Chambers highlights her illustration work.

While on break from college over the summer, Gifty Larbi worked toward her dream: opening a restaurant.

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth student celebrated the grand opening of Worcester’s Accra Girls Restaurant in September. Named for the capital of Larbi's native Ghana, it’s been the goal of her culinary family to open a restaurant since moving to the United States in 2003.

After moving to the United States, her family ran a catering company out of their home. Cooking of traditional African dishes was all done in-house, which was a challenge to manage in a home kitchen. That’s what led to the decision to open a restaurant, and Larbi took the lead in making it a reality.

“I had to do everything myself because my mother and brother were working,” Labri said. That included appearing before the Worcester City Council for a license to operate, and dealing with a last-minute building crisis that led to a delay in opening.

Larbi was one of about 20 student entrepreneurs showing off their businesses at a student business expo on October 26, sponsored by the university's National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Charlton Student Entrepreneur and Startup Club.

Club President Semirah Dolan said she modeled the event after a similar expo she attended at Harvard University, hoping to introduce the campus community to fellow students balancing their academics with running their own businesses.

“We want to show students it really is possible to do,” Dolan said.

Dr. Anthony Baird, a business professor who serves as advisor to the club, noted the expo provided a perfect venue for student entrepreneurs - especially students of color - to bring awareness to the growing entrepreneurial spirit at UMass Dartmouth.

“Many are interested in business but they’re in all different disciplines,” Baird noted.

Students are taking their passions and turning it into a profitable business. Lei Busby tapped into his major and passion of graphic design to start MassaDripp Clothing, a “raw and trendy” clothing line.

“I love fashion shows, and I always thought I should have my own clothing line,” Busby said.

Josh Casseus is also a clothing aficionado, and runs D.O.A.D.L.S. - Dope on All Different Levels - with lifelong friends Alain Pierre, Leroy Brown, Moise Banford, Jhary Mesidor, and Calwyn Morris.

Although it is a clothing company with expansion in mind - a new website and new clothing line is set to drop next year - Casseus said the company takes its roots from the group’s vision to open up a business among friends to highlight their individual skills and talents.

“Yes, it’s a clothing company, but that’s not all we are,” Casseus said. “We’re mathematicians, engineers, psychologists… we’re a group of friends trying to show our talents.”

Toni Chambers runs her illustration business on Etsy and creates artwork on commission. She stuck with drawing from a young age, and now produces primarily computer-based graphic images and illustrations.

“It’s about the story aspect of it,” Chambers said. “For every piece of art I create there’s a story behind it.”

Mia Ma set up a makeshift makeup workspace to promote her YouTube channel, and brought along her friend Jackie Sabilla to demonstrate her skills on. She started her channel two months ago, and hopes to gain enough viewers to begin expanding into sponsorships and promotions with major beauty companies.

Always a fan of make-up, she started her channel to spread her expertise to women who might not be as familiar with the latest trends and styles - although the competition is fierce.

“There’s already so many beauty bloggers out there, so I do know it’s going to be hard,” Ma said.

Mia Ma hosts a makeup demonstration. (Photo by: Douglas McCulloch)
Gifty Larbi. (Photo by: Douglas McCulloch)
Lei Busby shows off the style of his clothing collection. (Photo by: Douglas McCulloch)
Josh Casseus holds one of his personal favorite designs from his clothing line. (Photo by: Douglas McCulloch)
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