Success 101: balancing books and business

By on December 15, 2004

Donald Trump holds nationwide searches for enterprising young talent to head his million-dollar companies and often heralds prospective candidates hungry for their chance in the spotlight.

They tend to include the latest crop of college students and graduates who think they have it all. Mr. Trump would certainly be surprised if he came to Quinnipiac’s campus, because some students here already have a leg up on their business-world counterparts and currently own their own businesses.

Forget Trump’s “Apprentice” reality TV series,-these college students are living the reality of “Success 101: Balancing Books and Business.”

Two of this fictional course’s top students are Sarah Thomas and Mike Cassella, students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees while concurrently owning their own businesses.

Fifth-year physical therapy student Thomas, in addition to being an off-campus Resident Assistant, subcontracts her own massage work.

The Camden, Maine native came to Quinnipiac after studying athletic training, but left her previous school because the program was not accredited.

Shortly thereafter, Thomas received her cosmetology license and worked as a hair dresser for two years to supplement her studies at a massage therapy school.

Subcontracting, as Thomas explains, allows the graduate student to devote approximately 12 hours a week to her massage work, while a larger company handles the business details, including the bookkeeping and accounting.

Although the number of clients Thomas deals with varies, her primarily North Haven-based business gives her the chance to be her own boss.

“I had tried to work in the area on my own and it was just very difficult to handle the marketing end of it,” Thomas said.

“I work for a bigger business that handles marketing and appointments and they distribute the work to a number of massage therapists.”

Another Quinnipiac self-starter is Web site designer Mike Cassella, of New Britain, Conn. The senior Village Resident Assistant may appear to be a normal Interactive Digital Design major, but Cassella does nationwide business designing Web sites for companies like BMW and MTV “TRL” VJ Damien Fahey.

Like Thomas, Cassella enjoys working independently without the daily grind typical of an office setting.

“The best thing about it is that you don’t have to be at an office. You can be at a computer connected to the Internet and as long as I have my software I can do anything,” he said.

Hosting his portfolio page,, under QU junior Yusef Qasim’s company Digital Effex, Cassella says he does not advertise on campus, but is able to make a substantial income by word of mouth alone.

He credits Qasim as a mentor, and is thankful for their working relationship.

“He’s been one of my main contact points to get any help or anything I need,” Cassella said.

Cassella says that it was this type of peer assistance that helped get his company off the ground, not the skills he learned in QU’s IDD courses.

“I don’t think the point of college is to go to class,” he said. “I see it as more of a self-return. [As far as learning in classes] I’ve read books, I’ve talked to people, I’ve pushed myself harder in the classes to [do] more than expected to keep myself interested in the classes.”

Professor Jonathan Blake, Chairperson of the Computer Science/Interactive Digital Design department at QU, disagrees with Cassella, and stands by his faculty members and the lessons they teach.

“We are very excited about the Interactive Digital Design program and the faculty and courses we have. It is our goal to concentrate on the design education of the students, while acknowledging the importance of training in the software tools necessary for success in the field,” Blake said.

Regardless of the method Cassella used to obtain his web knowledge, he has seen his Web site revenue flourish in the stock market. Many other Web site entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are not as lucky.

Mark Thompson, Dean of QU’s School of Business, cautions students to make certain their venture is distinctive, or it may not get off the ground.

“A lot of students think the Web site is the way to go to do something that they think is unique. But the problem with most Web sites is that they’re easily duplicatable and someone could come along and essentially duplicate what they’re doing and (you could) immediately see your profits go away because of significant competition,” Thompson said.

To explore their options, QU students have many resources at their disposal on campus and in the Hamden community.

Dean Thompson explains that the School of Business tends to support students close to the end of their QU studies, since many students find it difficult to balance books and a business.

For those like Thomas and Cassella, who are currently involved in a small independent business venture, Thompson suggests having a chat with QU’s entrepreneur in residence, or exploring possibilities available at the Entrepreneurship Institute, a four-year-old program that Thompson says is being continually tailored to the student business owners’ needs.

The skills gained at the Entrepreneurship Institute, or learned as part of an entrepreneurship degree from the School of Business, help students become more marketable to potential employers.

In addition to resources available at QU, students are also encouraged to take advantage of the university’s partnerships with the Hamden and Greater New Haven Chambers of Commerce.

“The nice thing about the entrepreneurship degree is you got a student coming out who’s got all these skills and characteristics that are of value to growing a small to medium-size business– they’re creative, they recognize opportunities, they communicate well. They understand how to take on calculated risk,” Thompson said.

“They’re in a very good position to be of service to a small to medium-sized business.”

Although he is not a student of the School of Business, Cassella is thankful for the skills he gained through his business venture, and is able to relate his business philosophy to his studies.

“[The business world] makes you grow up real quick. You don’t really have the option to sit down and breathe. You really have to stay on your toes….I’ve applied that to my classes,” Cassella said.

On the other hand, Thomas does credit the business program at QU because it allowed her to take marketing and entrepreneurship classes in addition to her PT studies.

Lindsay Franke, a junior from Naugatuck, Conn., teamed with fellow business students to create the year-old Quinnipiac University Entrepreneurial Success Team (QUEST), in order to foster the growth of students’ business ventures.

As club president, Franke has worked to improve membership and interest as the club plans to open a student-run business on campus in the near future.

“[QUEST] help[s] student entrepreneurs in starting their own business by giving them the tools to know what to do,” Franke said.

“[I would advise] students who want to start a new business to find a mentor who will be able to coach you along the way.” While getting involved in a proposed business field can help a great deal, it can also allow students to improve their study habits,” Cassella said, comparing his business and schoolwork ethic.

“I think of my classes like a job: someone wants something done, they expect it done; if you don’t have it done, there’s a penalty. Except in the business world there could be a legal penalty, which is worse than getting an ‘F’ in a class or something like that,” Cassella said.

“It’s those kind of [professional practices] that have made me more [aware] and kept me on my feet.”


About Allison Corneau