When Ray DeRosa graduated from Temple University’s Fox School of Business this past May he didn’t send hundreds of resumes out in hopes of securing a job – he created one. DeRosa started Lion Tea, a medicinal tea made from dandelions and natural fruit juices. Armed with $7,500 in start-up money from a business plan competition at Temple and some additional funding from family and friends, the 22-year-old has been tirelessly working to turn his undergraduate business school idea from “a recipe in a kitchen to a commercially viable product.”
Last year, DeRosa was diagnosed with a rare eye condition and was put on a diet of dandelion tea, a concoction that his mother had been making since she was a kid. It’s important to note that the tea’s taste is not considered one of its selling points.
“I would plug my nose and just try to force it all down because I knew it was good for me,” says DeRosa, but he claims that the therapeutic benefits of the tea were partly responsible for his full-recovery. DeRosa started to do some more research into consuming dandelions and discovered other potential benefits, including assisting in weight loss and clearing up skin complexion. It was then that he struck on the idea that he could market Lion Tea commercially.
DeRosa entered the “Be Your Own Boss Bowl” at Temple, a competition organized by Temple’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute (IEI), and ended up winning first place earlier this year. With the start-up money and the thought that at such a young age the level of risk was relatively low, he took the plunge.
“At my age I can always just take a shot and if things don’t work out I can always go back and get a regular job,” said DeRosa. In fact, to work on Lion Tea full-time, DeRosa even turned down full-time job offers.
“I’ve always wanted to work for myself” says DeRosa, and taking a regular job would have just been a stepping stone to get to that position. “I’d rather be on the other side of that whole situation. I want to set up a company that gives people jobs and looks for young talent.”
Rachel Brown, Director of Career Services at Temple, says DeRosa is not alone. “Self-employment – entrepreneurship – registered on the radar screen as one of the top three types of employment” in Temple’s most recent survey of graduating students.
According to Brown, the down economy may be spurring more students to take the risk of starting their own business. “The necessity to take risks and think more broadly can be viewed as an opportunity… there’s less to lose.”
It’s a sentiment that’s echoed by Jaine Lucas, Executive Director of Temple’s IEI. “When you’re an undergrad or graduating senior you really have nothing to lose. What do you have to risk?”
The interdisciplinary IEI serves students, faculty, staff and alumni from all 17 colleges and schools of Temple University and they have seen a large increase in number of people seeking support in new business ventures.
“They are coming back here in droves,” says Lucas. “As the workforce is consolidating and constricting a lot of people are out of work so they’re seeing that ‘I have no choice; I have to be self-sustaining.’”
Nationally, however, this has not yet borne itself out as a trend. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), which tracks information about the employment of college grads, has not detected an increase in students reporting entrepreneurship as a career after graduation. In fact, although interest has never been very high, new grad interest in entrepreneurship has actually declined nationally since the economy took a hit.
“Our research shows students are more interested in security – especially financial security,” says Mimi Schwartz, Director of Communications for NACE.
At Temple, however, Jaine Lucas sees learning entrepreneurial skills as a necessity in this new economy. “If you believe what you read, you’re going to lose at least three jobs over the course of your lifetime. This is a life skill. It’s like learning to swim. You’ve got to be able to keep your head above water if the unexpected or the worst happens.”
It was the desire to learn these skills and the undergraduate entrepreneurship program in particular that drew Tim Nesmith to Temple University when transferred from a smaller college as a sophomore. Almost immediately he hit the ground running, resurrecting a silk-screening and apparel merchandizing business that his father ran part-time when he was a student in the mid-’80s. Since graduating from Temple this past May, Nesmith has been running PhillyScreen full-time and working to expand the business.
And so far it’s been working – his revenues are up three fold from last year when he was running the business as a student. Nesmith has also networked furiously, meeting and working with a business manager for Kanye West and Lil’ Wayne, and looking to expand into lucrative world of music merchandizing.
For Nesmith, running his own business was a more desirable option than settling down and getting a job. “There’s really no cap on how much money I can make.”
Ray DeRosa is starting to see Lion Tea become a reality less than six months after graduation. Product development is complete and he’s living in Los Angeles working with a wholesaler and expects to have Lion Tea in some stores around Los Angeles in the next couple weeks.
“I’m going to start off out in Los Angeles and then come back to the east coast and start working Philadelphia and New York,” says DeRosa. Like Nesmith, DeRosa doesn’t see any limit to how much the business may grow. “Six months from now I would like to have one million bottles sold.”