UF students use down time to create commerce
University of Florida students are getting down to business.
With little to do when the world seemingly closed down in mid-March, some students turned their boredom into creativity and started social media businesses.
Tomi Adesogan, a 20-year-old health education behavior and health disparities student, found herself too busy during a regular semester to make her dreams a reality. But when UF transitioned to online courses in March, Adesogan found she had more time for her hobby of making earrings — almost too much time.
“I felt discouraged and distressed reading news articles about the path and impact of this deadly virus, so I tried to occupy myself in any way I could to take my mind off of everything,” Adesogan said. “One of these ways was starting my business.”
She said she donated a portion of the profits she earned from Earrings by Tomi to racial justice organizations, mutual aid funds and bail funds across the country.
“By using my business and my voice to bring awareness to these issues occurring around us, I was also able to encourage others to reflect and learn as they read about where their proceeds were going,” Adesogan said.
Adesogan said she makes safety a priority by taking extra precautions, such as contactless deliveries. She said self-quarantine has been a time of reflection, learning and growth.
She offers color and size customization of earrings to cater to her customers’ visions. Her earrings can be found on Instagram at @EarringsByTomi.
“Supporting a business created by a student was really empowering,” said Camryn Lewis, a UF student and one of Tomi’s customers.
Another UF student who has taken to creating her own business is 21-year-old Alexis Sobel.
When Sobel was abruptly sent home from her study abroad program in Madrid, she found herself with unwanted free time. Sobel and her mother turned their knack for creativity into a business, From L&L With Love.
The Weston-based business makes and sells custom clothing and accessories to people of all ages. Their wares range from sweatshirts, crewneck T-shirts, cropped tank tops, customized water bottles, tumblers and shadow boxes.
Sobel said her family owns a Silhouette Cameo machine, which electronically cuts a variety of materials, and a heat press, and are always up for a challenge, “so we decided to start experimenting with it.”
“It has been really exciting and rewarding getting feedback from our friends and family, and even strangers,” Sobel said. “We have loved doing this and creating special things for people.”
The Sobels have created an enjoyable bonding experience for their entire family. “Even my little brother gets into it,” Sobel said.
From L & L With Love has had about 50 customers since May.
Jamie Kraft, the administrative director of the University of Florida’s Entrepreneurship Program, was not surprised to hear that students are using this time to create businesses. Creativity can stem from necessity, by economic strain, for example, or from sheer boredom, such as that brought on by the pandemic.
“Typically, the first thing we tell everybody is that you want to look for opportunity, where there are unmet needs and gaps in offerings,” Kraft said. “This is where entrepreneurs can move into the market with a solution in the form of a product or service.”
Kraft said he is aware that the college students are well-versed in digital marketing and social media.
“They’re comfortable with it. They have time now to potentially learn more of the ins, outs, ups and downs.”
Cheyenne Keating, a 19-year-old marketing student, has certainly learned the ins and outs of social media businesses.
Keating started illustrating as a hobby. When requests from her peers kept flowing in, she realized she could turn it into a business.
While self-quarantining in St. Augustine, she created @IllustrationsbyChey on Instagram and used the platform to reach an audience seeking an artistic flair for their photos.
She said she believes her business is successful because the process of delivering the product to the customer doesn’t require contact.
Keating said because of the pandemic, new content to post on social media is limited and that her illustrations “are cool, different content that one can spice up their feed with during this time.”
This story originally published to gainesville.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.