UCSD paves the way for student entrepreneurs

UCSD paves the way for student entrepreneurs
Photo by Millie Root/ UCSD Guardian

The stereotype of the broke college student is one that has remained ingrained in the college experience for decades: Almost all college students are looking to make a quick buck one way or another. However, some students have subverted this stereotype by using their entrepreneurial skills to start businesses that fetch them more than just the bare minimum, while simultaneously aiming to serve the UC San Diego community. 

One of the most common questions to ask when meeting someone new in college is, “Hey, what’s your major?” At UCSD, more often than not, the answer will be a STEM field. As an institution that focuses on the natural sciences, UCSD’s phenomenal resources might be overlooked by those looking to pursue business or entrepreneurship. 

The Rady School of Management is nestled in between Eleanor Roosevelt College and Seventh College on the north end of campus, functioning as an independent entity. Within this hub of innovation and entrepreneurship, many ideas have been born in the 23 years since its founding. 

Earl Warren College senior Mikael Punja, a student at Rady, emphasized the importance of entrepreneurship and risk taking, especially while in college. During his time at UCSD, he noticed a need for a more streamlined version of academic advising services. He believed that the services could be strengthened by using generative artificial intelligence technology, and is attempting to build a platform where students can readily access this new form of advising. 

Punja was originally an engineering major, but switched into Rady to pursue his entrepreneurial passions. 

“I think that when I became a business student, I was exposed more to the business side of UCSD and I think Rady and the Basement and the Design and Innovation Building offer a lot of resources,” he said. 

Punja’s journey from engineering to business exemplifies the diverse paths students can take at UCSD. The university’s ecosystem fosters collaboration and encourages students to explore beyond the boundaries of their chosen majors. While initially pursuing engineering, Punja discovered his passion for entrepreneurship and recognized the untapped potential within the university. With the support of resources like Rady and the DIB, Punja made the bold decision to switch majors and dive headfirst into the world of business.

For Punja, the allure of entrepreneurship lies in its inherent risks and rewards. He understands that failure is a natural part of the entrepreneurial process, but he embraces it as an opportunity for growth and learning. 

By charting their own paths, students like Punja are not only shaping their own futures but also giving back to the university community with their creativity and vision.

The entrepreneurial spirit at UCSD extends beyond the confines of Rady. Across campus, student-run startups are thriving, fueled by the innovative energy that is a fundamental part of the university.

One such example is Jaida Day, who graduated in 2022 as a Math-Computer Science major in Revelle College. Day founded a website called Black Beauty Near You in 2019 during her junior year at UCSD. As someone who grew up in a neighborhood where beauty products were readily accessible, she felt the dearth of stores and salons that cater to the African-American community in La Jolla. 

Driven by her passion for empowering her community and inspired by her own experiences, Day created Black Beauty Near You as a platform to connect people of color with beauty professionals who specialize in their unique hair and skincare needs. The website features a directory of salons, stylists, and estheticians in the San Diego area, with reviews and recommendations from users who have firsthand experience with their services.

As a student at UCSD, Day recognized the lack of representation and accessibility in the beauty industry, particularly for people of color. She embarked on a mission to bridge this gap and create a platform where everyone feels seen and valued.

Day’s venture quickly gained traction among UCSD students and residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. Through strategic marketing efforts and word-of-mouth referrals, Black Beauty Near You became the go-to resource for people seeking inclusive and culturally competent beauty services.

“I’m just so grateful to have been able to share those experiences with all those people who were in those orgs and those clubs and learn from them. Because yeah, they really helped keep me afloat during my four years,” Day mused, reflecting upon the support she received from student organizations she was a part of during her time at UCSD. 

Today, Black Beauty Near You continues to thrive, serving as a beacon of representation and inclusivity in the beauty industry. Day’s story exemplifies the impact that student entrepreneurship can have — not only on individuals, but also on communities.

Photo by Millie Root

Building upon the spirit of entrepreneurship at UCSD, another notable success story has left a mark on the campus community: Fan Fan, a beloved restaurant specializing in authentic East Asian cuisine while also catering to a wider audience. Founded by Lijun Liu, who was born in the Hunan province of China, Fan Fan has become a culinary hotspot for students, faculty, and locals alike.

Liu’s journey to entrepreneurship began when he arrived in the United States seeking new opportunities. He initially founded Taste of Hunan, a restaurant that specializes in serving food native to his hometown. After enrolling at Rady to pursue his MBA, Liu recognized a gap in the local dining scene, and saw that East Asian students at UCSD did not have a feasible means of eating the food that they were accustomed to. 

Despite facing challenges as a newcomer to the restaurant industry, as well as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Liu’s perseverance and dedication paid off. Word quickly spread, drawing crowds of hungry diners eager to savor every mouthful. With its warm hospitality and authentic flavors, Fan Fan soon became a popular gathering place for the UCSD community, fostering connections and creating lasting memories for students and locals alike.

Reflecting on his entrepreneurial journey, Liu attributed much of his success to the support and resources available at UCSD, particularly within Rady. 

“In the investments I’ve made in myself in my life,” Liu said, “ Rady was one of the best ones.”

As UCSD continues to nurture and celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit within its student body, stories like those of Punja, Day, and Liu serve as reminders of the entrepreneurial potential that exists within each student. By using the resources that UCSD provides, students are not just shaping their own futures, but are also impacting the UCSD community and beyond.

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About the Contributor
Millie Root, Photo Editor
Millie loves the way light reflects off bus windows, artisenal teas, and community co-ops. Join Millie on the journey of a lifetime to tell important stories with amazing photographs.
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