Students start own businesses while still studying full time


Photo courtesy of Bazile Panek

STARTING YOUNG – Bazile Panek wins the written business plan and business plan presentation sections for NMU’s New Business Venture competition with his business Niim. Niim creates socks with traditional designs by Indigenous artists that combine Western and Indigenous professionalism.

Joshua La Gorio, Contributing writer

As students try to work their way through college to reach their goals, or to make money and pay their way through, some take on the role of entrepreneur and start their own businesses alongside going to class.

Dhruv Patel, senior majoring in organizational theory, a major he created through the individualized studies program, started his business HIVE LLC in late March with the help of Invent@NMU. Invent@NMU is a program that helps entrepreneurs with their business ideas and provides students with a mentor who is an experienced entrepreneur and part of the team.

Patel’s company, HIVE, acts as a consultant for other businesses to plan out their future goals.

“What strategies are most optimal? Are you taking in the resources that are available? Are you taking in the right information? We help clients navigate that,” Patel said.

His motivation to start HIVE began when he had finally had enough of working at Menards, he said. He was sick of being told what to do and giving recommendations to his higher ups on things like distribution, but getting ignored.

“It was a mix of being tired of working for somebody else. I wanted to make my own rules and I wanted to be able to pursue ideas that I found exciting,” Patel said. “I’ve always wanted to start something since I was like 15.”

The hardest part of starting HIVE was just jumping in and starting it, said Patel. The idea of being responsible for his own clients without any professor or upper management behind him was daunting, he said, but worth the experience. 

“I love the college of business, they’re amazing. They offer amazing programs and classes,” Patel said. “But truthfully, I think I’ve learned more starting my own business than any one class has taught me.”

The experience he has gained from working with clients, securing deals, doing taxes and the entire learning curve has been really beneficial, said Patel.

Another fellow entrepreneur, and one of Patel’s clients, is senior Bazile Panek, who is majoring in Native American Studies and minoring in sustainability and entrepreneurship. Panek’s business is Niim, a company that will sell socks with traditional designs created by Indigenous artists.

Coming from an American Indian reservation affiliated with the Ojibwe people, he was not used to wearing the standard business clothing of the suit and tie, Panek said. He was more used to traditional business-like clothing from his people. He started to wear beaded medallions and dress socks with Native-inspired designs on them, and that’s when the idea was truly born. He felt more confident while wearing the designs and thought that it would be a good idea to spread it around.

“I realized that socks could not only be the way for Indigenous people to do this, but socks could also act as a medium for non-Indigenous people to appreciate, and not appropriate, Indigenous art,” Panek said.

In April, Panek participated in NMU’s New Business Venture competition that pits students against each other with their ideas for new businesses. Panek won the written business plan and business plan presentation sections. The process was difficult, but the experience alone was worth it, said Panek.

“I have learned that starting a business is challenging but so rewarding. Even just the experience is rewarding,” Panek said. “If I had to give advice to other students wanting to start a business, I would say just start. I have tossed around business ideas in my head for years and experienced paralysis by analysis. Don’t be afraid to start.”

One of the benefits of starting a business as a student is being able to seek out advice from business professors, who have a wealth of knowledge to supply, said Panek. He thanks Professor Corinne Bodeman and Professor Kathleen Isleib for helping him with his business, particularly during the competition. 

Currently, Panek is working with a manufacturer to make samples, and while he has been busy, which is causing things to go slower than he would like, he said he would like to expand into working with other Indigenous artists in other countries and expand out internationally. Meanwhile, HIVE is going strong with several clients and consistent work, Patel said. 

“That hustle-grind culture that our generation kind of feeds into; as a child I fell into that,” Patel said. “Be your own boss, be your own person, take charge, stop listening to what other people say and start creating your own workflow – that’s what I did.”