I had a creative outlet in college motivated by the need for tuition money: making banana splits and sundaes with generous gloppings of gooey toppings and silky whipped cream, and crafting ice cream pies and cakes.
It was at the no-longer-there Baskin-Robbins store on College Avenue in State College, across from the campus of Pennsylvania State University. I was an assistant manager, making a pittance.
Then there are such students as Brady Acton. As is becoming the norm on college campuses, he's already an entrepreneur with one product on the market, soon to be followed by another, and he's only in his sophomore year at Villanova University.
Which partly explains why he has spent a fair amount of time in the health center since returning from the Christmas break.
"I don't sleep," said the 20-year-old double major in business and philosophy, who also plays third base on Villanova's baseball team and was just named to the Big East All-Academic Team.
Not that his mother sounds in any way like the hard-driving, internationally known "Tiger Mom," but in a telephone interview from the family's home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Tracy Acton said that she and husband Kipp, a former professional hockey player who is now a sales executive at Victorinox Swiss Army, had urged their oldest son to get the most out of his college experience - or, as she put it, "Don't sleep it away."
So Brady Acton is also a kid who listens to his parents!
His entrepreneurial immersion began last year as so many do: on the back of an envelope. He was on a plane traveling between school and home, where troubling medical news involving three relatives and a friend had Acton searching for something other than that and his studies to occupy his mind.
"As an escape or distraction, I created this app," he said. "I had no intention of doing this. It was just the thing I did that took me away from reality."
With two serial-entrepreneur friends from Florida as partners, Acton formed Aegis Tech L.L.C., which launched the Fish Feast 3-D phone app in late October, going "viral" with 1,000 downloads in two to three days, Acton said. Users - generally age 12 to 22, an equal split of males and females - describe it as a highly addictive game that, like Candy Crush, hooks players with the lure of advancing to the next level . . . then the next and the next.
Fish Feast is following the "freemium" business model, where the game itself is free, but there are charges, about $1 to $4, for character upgrades, to unlock hints, or to skip to another level. Acton said those charges are expected to provide 80 percent of the income from Fish Feast; the rest will come from advertising. He's hoping to raise $15,000 from area investors to help with marketing, which up to now has been mostly through social media, such as Villanova's Facebook page.
Aegis (Greek for shield) has used about 20 contractors, mostly in China, India, and the United Kingdom, to help with marketing and product development.
Acton said he's already turned down some investment offers because the equity demand was too high.
As executive director of the Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship Institute at Villanova, II (pronounced Two) Luscri said he sees "no shortage of app ideas" but called it "rare when I say to my family and friends, 'You've got to check out this app,' " as he did with Fish Feast.
Luscri is equally effusive about Acton.
"He's one of those students who came to campus and lit the place up," Luscri said. "Guys like Brady have lots of ideas in the hopper. Fish Feast was a big step forward for him."
The next one, by many estimations, is expected to be even bigger.
Acton is chief marketing officer and holds an equity stake in TriviaNote, a platform that turns notes into games and other study tools. Founded early last year by Villanova graduate Paul Santolla, 22, of Barnegat, N.J., it is scheduled for a Villanova-focused pilot launch March 7 at TriviaNote.com. Santolla's best friend since middle school, Evan Megill, 22, a senior at St. Joseph's University, is CFO and the other equity investor.
"I love TriviaNote," Luscri said. "I think they have an opportunity to fundamentally change the way students learn and study."
Exactly the sort of impact Acton wants to make in business.
"I just kind of want to make a difference," said the Harvard Business School aspirant - after he graduates from Villanova, slated for 2018.
"I might graduate late," Acton added, "because it would be very difficult for me to take the required credits when I'm the head of a multinational company and playing Division I sports."