‘Just keep going and don’t give up’: student business owners share experiences

This story was originally published in the April 8 newsmagazine.
Graduate student Gatara Townsend sells home-cooked meals and desserts from her kitchen. “Cooking brings me peace and joy,” Townsend said. “It gives me the time to reflect on happy memories I have created with my mom and my aunt. It makes me feel closer to God in many ways because I also take the time to just talk to him sometimes when I cook.” Photographed in her kitchen on March 30.
Graduate student Gatara Townsend sells home-cooked meals and desserts from her kitchen. “Cooking brings me peace and joy,” Townsend said. “It gives me the time to reflect on happy memories I have created with my mom and my aunt. It makes me feel closer to God in many ways because I also take the time to just talk to him sometimes when I cook.” Photographed in her kitchen on March 30.
Dominic Di Palermo

College students are no strangers to learning how to make a living and pay for expenses in creative ways. With the cost of attending a university rising, many have had to find new ways to keep themselves afloat.

For some, this is starting their own businesses, learning how to balance school work and keeping their business in line with competition.

Gatara Townsend, a WKU social work graduate student, has had a different approach to starting her own business by creating “Lavouss’ Cowgirl Kitchen,” selling home-cooked meals and desserts.

Townsend’s mom passed away in 2016. She said cooking has helped her to feel closer to her mother’s spirit, with the name of her business being her mother’s middle name.

Launching her business in 2020 helped her bring in a little bit of extra income.

“It has its challenges but I feel like I’ve started to find my balance,” Townsend said. “I had to manage my time correctly because I know this is something that I love to do.”

When business is slow, Townsend pushes herself to realize that all of the hard work is going to pay off.

“Do I get discouraged? Yes … but I know that what’s for me is for me and it’s going to thrive,” Townsend said.

Her advice to others looking to start their own business is to pray on it if you’re religious, be willing to go through the challenges of having no orders and be willing to start from nothing.

The most difficult part for Townsend, however, has been getting new customers on campus and finding new ways to put herself out there.

“When people order from me, I hope that they get the sense of love that I put into my food, the sense of home because I cook a lot of soul food … being able to have the opportunity to eat something and it bring back a good memory or create a good memory,” Townsend said.

Townsend’s menu changes every week, and prospective buyers can find her menu and order from her on Instagram @lavousscowgirlkitchen.

Similar to Townsend, freshman elementary education major Abigail Wurtman began her business with inspiration from family.

She was 13 when she started “Made with Grace,” selling T-shirts, car air fresheners, ornaments and small hand made gifts.

“I would say that my aunt was a big part [of starting my business] because she has a small business as well and I saw her really take off with that,” Wurtman said.

As Wurtman began making small gifts for family and friends and selling online, she realized she could begin to branch out and make a profit.

Her business has now made over 1,000 sales in the five years she has been a business owner. Wurtman has now begun to partner with other shops to have her items available straight off the rack.

“I’m in a shop in Munfordville, Kentucky, but I’m working on getting into more places around the area that I live in Hart County,” Wurtman said.

For Wurtman, the experience of running a business as a full-time student has not only been successful, but overwhelming.

“I would say the experience sometimes is very overwhelming, but it’s also relieving because it is one of my hobbies and it’s nice to come home and know that I’m not worrying about school work and I’m just focusing on making money and doing something I enjoy,” Wurtman said.

While running a small business can be rewarding and help students make a profit, business can sometimes become slow, making it difficult to maintain drive and focus.

“The thing that encouraged me most is my family members just telling me to keep going and then having a few followers on Facebook that stay liking my page and continue ordering,” Wurtman said.

The original startup of her business, however, was one of the most difficult parts of becoming a small business owner.

“You have to buy your vinyl or your blanks and all of that and those things can add up if you’re not getting paid upfront,” Wurtman said.

Wurtman’s best piece of advice to anyone looking to start a business is to just do it.

“If you have the will then you can get at least a few sales and if you push it out there enough then you’ll get more,” Wurtman said.

To order from “Made with Grace,” those interested can find her shop on Facebook @Made with Grace where she will also be posting updates about her upcoming website.

Freshman Andrew Garrett owns a clothing brand called “Criminally Influential.” “I started my brand a random day in April of 2023,” Garrett said. “…Because reselling sneakers and reselling as a whole was dying I decided to just make a random design and tried to make a T-shirt out of it.” Photographed at Remix Shoe Store in the Greenwood Mall on March 29. (Dominic Di Palermo)

Freshman strategic marketing major Andrew Garrett began his clothing business “Criminally Influential” in April 2023 when he was 17, but just like Wurtman, business has been a part of his life for a long time.

He began by selling various gaming accounts, sports cards and reselling shoes, but “Criminally Influential” was a way to express his love for clothing, creating the slogan “for those who want to take the next step.”

Since Garrett began his business during his senior year of high school, it gave him experience dealing with stress, but moving to college created a different sort of challenge.

“Balancing that and school has been hard but at the same time it feels very rewarding because it gives me a scapegoat,” Garrett said.

His business allows Garrett to always make some kind of money, but growing online has been difficult for him.

“The problem is, growing online is extremely hard. I think combined on all accounts there’s maybe 500, 600 followers… it’s not easy, but I think I upload a decent amount,” Garrett said.

Luckily for him, he was able to make a connection to a local store to help get his products and name out.

“I made a connection back in December of 2022 when I was selling shoes that was with Remix BG and that’s Remix Shoe Store in the Greenwood Mall … when I first started it, I remember I did a local drop, I went in there and showed it to him and I asked what they thought and they said the quality needed to be upped,” Garrett said.

After making a few changes to his product, he signed a contract with Remix which allowed him to have his clothing in a well-known shop.

“Growing a brand or anything like a business is a process,” Garrett said. “It’s a big process and that’s what I’ve told myself and everyone’s told me, it’s a process and processes aren’t quick usually.”

Garrett’s advice to others starting a business is to keep going because it isn’t going to be easy.

“Plenty of people have done it without a retail store to put their stuff in,” Garrett said. “So it’s definitely possible, keep grinding to make good stuff and post everywhere. Any type of exposure you can get whether it be Reddit, X, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok or even a flea market, try to sell stuff.”

To order from “Criminally Influential,” those interested can go to criminallyinfluential.com

In contrast to that, sophomore mechanical engineering major Micah Poole has used their business to combat a specific need on WKU’s campus.

Poole began their business “Salon de Micah” to provide protective hairstyles and hair services to individuals in the Black community.

“I know me personally when it comes to my hair, it’s so easy for me to change it because I do hair by myself,” Poole said.

“I know at least on a college campus, especially within a PWI [predominately white institution], we don’t have that at least in our space of people that know how to take care of our hair.”

Poole wanted to be there for the WKU community, take care of all types of hairstyles, textures, and choices and create a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community.

Being a member of the WKU Forensics team has allowed Poole to learn to balance their own schedule. This gave them a way to learn to set up a schedule in a very specific way.

“A lot of my clients are part of the LGBTQ+ community, and I guess just being that safe space for them, because I like to call my dorm the ‘safe space,’ and just wanting to be there for people… Just being that space for them really helps me to continue to do hair,” Poole said.

The most difficult part for Poole has been making sure that their time is respected and knows that if their time is respected, they will respect others.

To learn more about “Salon de Micah” or to make an appointment those interested can go to @micah.part2 or message them on Snapchat @micah_poole1.

Similarly to Poole, many other small business owners have worked to combat prices, sales and environments of large businesses.

Freshman Brittiny Sadler does nails out of her dorm room as a way to make extra money. “I enjoy doing nails because I love seeing how I can create art from start to finish and literally making something out of nothing,” Sadler said. “I love the bonds I create with my clients. Being home based allows a more intimate experience and I just love welcoming people into a comfortable space filled with good vibes.” Photographed in her dorm room on March 30. (Dominic Di Palermo)

Brittiny Sadler, freshman forensic psychology major, created her business “Nailed by Britt” in December 2021 after being tired of the high prices of nail shops.

Sadler has enjoyed the experience of being a business owner as a full-time college student but admitted that it can be difficult with people who don’t like the business and competition.

“I try to uplift everyone because I’m not the only person who does nails, but we can work together as a team … I’ve also enjoyed how I’m able to have my own schedule,” Sadler said. “I’m my own boss, got my own uniform and have time to meet people around campus just by doing their nails.”

When business is slow for Sadler, she is encouraged by looking at her page and seeing how she has improved from the beginning of her business.

However, doing nails requires a large amount of chemicals which has allowed complaints to arise for Sadler.

“I just try my best to eliminate the smell,” Sadler said. “I even change my products, making sure that it’s still healthy for my client but I’m trying to satisfy everyone.”

To book appointments with “Nailed by Britt” those interested can text Sadler’s personal number 502- 716-9005 or through her Instagram nail page @nailedbybritt_

“Don’t let anyone stop you and perfect your craft,” Sadler said. “Just keep going and don’t give up because if you give up then you just have to keep starting fresh.”

News Reporter Kaylee Hawkins can be reached at [email protected].