Side by Side

Student entrepreneurs champion the side hustle
Elle Domann, Tate Berry and Olivia Gray

In 2022, Americans started 400,000 new businesses every month, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Of those, nearly 300,000 were side hustles.

Between 40 and 45 percent of Americans have a side hustle or “moonlight” at another job, and those numbers have increased significantly during the past five years. Financial gain, creative expression, autonomy and altruism are some of the many goals and objectives that motivate these entrepreneurial ventures.

“The economy, COVID-19, ownership over one’s career and individual creativity has made more people pursue side hustles,” says Alex Krause Matlack, director, Entrepreneurship Scholars (E-Scholars), assistant teaching professor and assistant director assistant director for UMKC’s Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “Some studies indicate that by the end of this decade, nearly half of individuals will be entrepreneurs because of the type of portfolio careers emerging from the gig economy industry.”

The entrepreneurial spirit that has propelled this “golden age of the side hustle” flourishes at UMKC.

UMKC Launches a Side Hustle Challenge

In 2022, the Henry W. Bloch School of Management and Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation introduced the first Side Hustle Challenge for UMKC students. The challenge was initiated, in part, as a response to this thriving national trend.

“We learned, through a cross-campus survey, that while only a small percentage of students were interested in being entrepreneurs, many already have side hustles,” says Matlack. “Sometimes it’s hard to self-identify as an entrepreneur, but that’s exactly what these students are doing. We wanted to find a new way to connect with students who might not think of themselves as entrepreneurs but who are doing something very entrepreneurial.”

The Side Hustle Challenge, which mirrors real-world side hustle development, both differs and dovetails with existing Bloch School and Regnier Institute programs.

“This is the first of our programs specifically targeting side hustles, or smaller businesses, students may be launching on the side,” says Matlack. “The challenge also connects to the E-Scholars program where students can launch their projects over the course of a semester.”

The challenge is an opportunity for students to pursue their entrepreneurial initiatives at a scale that allows them to continue with school. They gain knowledge and skills to develop their ideas and connect with audience wants and needs.

“Getting to know customers as a path to growth rather than riskier forms of entrepreneurship are benefits of side hustles,” Matlack says. “A venture funded by the growth of customers, rather than venture capital, is a great way to know you’ve reached product-market fit and have product customers are excited to pay for.”

Student Entrepreneurs Embrace the Side Hustle Challenge

Elle Domann, Tate Berry and Olivia Gray explored those strategies and were the inaugural Side Hustle Challenge winners.

Domann placed first in the Side Hustle Challenge with her project, Studio L, a rentable studio and coworking space for photographers and creative businesses.

“After moving to Kansas City to attend UMKC, I’ve been able to further my photography career immensely,” says Domann, who will graduate this spring with a degree in business administration, with a double emphasis in entrepreneurship and innovation and finance.

“In my hometown of Springfield, there wasn’t access to affordable resources for creative businesses like in Kansas City. Last year, I made it my mission to develop a space in Springfield where creators can work without the costs of typical studios.”

After extensive work on the space, Domann launched Studio L last October.

“I had no experience owning a brick-and-mortar store,” she adds. “It came with a lot more challenges and learning opportunities than a service-based business, like photography. The space needed renovations which was a challenge, as I had no carpenter experience. I wanted to save money, so this meant doing the work myself.”

“My favorite part of this experience is that I learn something every day. It’s a continual process of problem-solving and making changes.”

Like Domann, Berry also developed a business focused on creative professionals. His project, Musician Value Elevation, is an online platform for music business and entrepreneurship.

“Music Value Elevation is an alternative to paying thousands of dollars for music school but not acquiring the skills needed to survive,” said Berry, who will graduate this spring with a double degree in jazz studies and business marketing. “Musicians will learn how to make their ideas sustainable and provide value to others.”

Berry began developing his idea in Fall 2021 during the Bloch School Entrepreneurship Class. He refined his
plans during the 2022 New Product Development course.

“The idea brought my music and business interests together,” said Berry, the 2022 UMKC Bloch School Student Entrepreneur of the Year. “My entrepreneurship classes were creative incubators that made it easier to determine my goals and find resources.”

“I learned to use design thinking in my approach and interviewed musicians and educators about music school and what they wish they’d learned. I also researched the overall value of the music industry and its untapped potential.”

After he graduates, Berry will continue to develop Musician Value Elevation and his other business ventures, including Tate’s Burnin’ Big Band.

“I need to get the capital and develop the materials and website,” he said. “Then, I’ll prototype the product so I can launch.”

In early 2022, Gray acquired her real estate license, so she could enter the challenge.

“I had no experience in real estate but taught myself the ins and outs of the industry over Christmas Break and passed the tests before Spring Semester,” recalls Gray, who will graduate with an accounting degree in 2025. “I launched this side hustle because I didn’t want to be a broke college student. Real estate seemed like a good way to make money while also being flexible, so I could still focus on my studies.”

The Side Hustle: A World of Opportunity and Discovery

In contrast to the challenge promoted by Bloch and the Regnier Institute, entrepreneurial initiatives are not always encouraged in the workplace. Until recent years, employees with side hustles, or those who “moonlight,” have been compelled to keep their pursuits under wraps. However, this mindset has seen a shift. Many organizations have recognized employee side hustles are positive for the work environment and boost employee well-being. New terms, such as “daylighting” instead of moonlighting, reflect this change.

“Some company policies still don’t allow employees to take on outside work,” Matlack notes. “However, research from Adam Grant [a nationally known organizational psychologist] supports that side hustles make employees more productive and creative.”

At UMKC, entrepreneurial explorers bring their ventures to life, and they learn about themselves in the process. As these discoveries unfold, their initial vision may transform.

“Initially, my side hustle goal was just to make money, but that has changed,” reflects Gray. “I’m now finding ways I can use my side hustle to help other people and plan to implement those within the next couple of years. My plans include renovating and selling affordable houses to people who may not have adequate funds.”

Top Stories