BAND TOGETHER: Stephanie Olsen, a senior at the University of Rhode Island, was inspired to start her company, S.O. Glam Headbands, after receiving a compliment on an item she crafted herself. While R.I. institutions aren’t considered among the best for entrepreneurship, there’s a steady supply of young people trying their luck at business.
PBN PHOTO/DAVID LEVESQUE
HEAD START: Stephanie Olsen pitched her headband line to cosmetic store company AVEYOU, which now carries her works.
So when Stephanie Olsen received one on her headband, while having a coffee in a New York City café last winter, she was elated. Her delight was heightened by the fact that Olsen had made the headband herself, fashioning a lace flower atop a simple cotton headband in a last-minute moment of inspiration before she left the house that day.
“I decided it could be something and started making them for my friends,” Olsen, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Rhode Island said. “I love fashion, jewelry and accessories. I’m so into that.”
What she’s into now, while finishing up her studies in marketing, is making a go of it with S.O. Glam Headbands. She’s the latest entrant in the league of Rhode Island student entrepreneurs who have found success in imagining, developing and selling their products before they’ve earned a college degree.
The examples are, if not countless, at least numerous enough to take notice of despite mixed reviews among college-ranking lists.
No Rhode Island schools make an appearance on either Princeton Review’s or Entrepreneur Magazine’s top 25 lists of undergraduate and graduate programs for entrepreneurship. However, Brown University ranked No. 13 this year on Forbes’ list of most entrepreneurial colleges, citing alum Stephen Rattner, co-founder of the Quadrangle Group, a global private investment firm in New York and Hong Kong.
Brown boasts several successful entrepreneur alums, including Julie Sygiel, CEO of Dear Kate [originally named Sexy Period], a line of leak-proof underwear she first co-developed in 2008 while an undergraduate at Brown University.
“A lot of this is serendipity,” said Danny Warshay, who has taught, as an adjunct professor, a class in entrepreneurship at Brown since 2006 and who is the CEO of G-Form LLC, maker of “extreme” athletic and electronic, protective equipment. “I’m amazed and marveled at what my students are able to [produce]. In many cases, they’re really smart and don’t have enough concrete experience to know what they can’t do, so they go out and do it anyway.”
That points to the entrepreneurial nature of Generation Y, to which Warshay’s students and business starters like Olsen belong and who report, in numerous surveys, that they seek meaningful work and a flexible lifestyle over structure and a regular, large paycheck.