In a tough job market, students launch startups


Law school might not fetch an immediate job in a law firm these days, but for IIT-Kent College of Law student Richard Komaiko, it has yielded a technology business.

Richard Komaiko

Komaiko and his three business partners recognized the soft legal market was hurting not only recent law school graduates who can’t find jobs, but also solo practitioners and small legal firms challenged to find paying clients.

The result is, launched  this year  to help consumers in need of legal help find attorneys. Already the site has drawn thousands of  visitors and has signed up more than  100 lawyers, who pay $30 to when a user   requests the lawyer’s name and contact information. “We’re trying to provide a marketplace,” Komaiko said, so lawyers don’t have to spend as much time looking for clients, which ultimately pushes up their fees.

By using sweat equity and tapping the dean of the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College   of Law as well as the head of IIT’s entrepreneurship center for advice, Komaiko and his partners have perfected their business presentation, avoided some rookie errors and kept costs low.   “There’s a case to be made for starting a business while you’re in school,” said Nik Rokop, managing director of the Knapp Enterpreneurship Center at IIT.   “The university can provide resources that students on their own don’t always have available.”

These days, all kinds of students are choosing entrepreneurial paths, as high unemployment and the lack of long-term job security has convinced many that they’re better off building their own businesses. “The job market is tough. Where it would be, `Go get a job,’ students don’t have as many options these days,” said April Lane, associate director at the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center at DePaul University, which has worked with 100 student entrepreneurs so far this year.

Not only are students creating jobs for themselves, but often their businesses employ others as well.   Braintree Payment Solutions,   an online payment provider that Bryan Johnson started in 2007 while a student in the executive MBA program at the University of Chicago, now employs 20 workers. By participating in the university’s New Venture Challenge competition, he worked with professors and mentors for months. “They helped me refine my thought process,” he said. Since then, Braintree’s revenues have grown 500 percent annually, Johnson said.

At Northwestern University, Mike Casper took a leave of absence last spring from the university’s Kellogg School of Business when demand accelerated for his company’s consumer electronics display technology. FLEx Lighting uses LED technology and thin plastic film to provide lighting for e-books and edgeless televisions, Casper said. “There’s a huge opportunity to reduce the thickness and cost of LED television, which we’re able to do,” he said. FLEx Lighting is working with manufacturers on products to be released in 2011.