Middlebury

Student entrepreneur combines academics with business success

February 12, 2007

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. - Waiting to finish college to become a successful businessman is not the way David Nicholson does things - by integrating economic studies with real-world experience, he found his niche for supply and demand on campus, creating a profitable business long before earning his economics degree. During his second year at Middlebury, Nicholson - now a mid-year graduate officially receiving his degree on March 1 - started work on a student-owned and operated business. He has since filled his college career with the multiple roles of entrepreneur, scholar, leader and teacher. 

During the 2005 fall term, Nicholson took a class titled "Middlebury Solutions Group," taught by Middlebury College Professor of Economics Michael Claudon. The students served as business consultants for recently created companies in Vermont, who went through an application process to become clients of the class while students listened and evaluated their business plans. "The class opened my eyes to the challenges of developing and operating a small business. It takes tremendous hard work and dedication," said Nicholson. At the end of the class, the students and clients together gave a public presentation of their plans and received constructive criticism from the audience, which included potential investors.

Nicholson (left) celebrated his mid-year graduation at the college's annual ski-down procession on Feb. 3. His business partner, Joe Powers of the Middlebury class of 2006, returned to Middlebury to celebrate with him.
Photo by Trent Campbell

In the 2006 spring term, Nicholson switched roles and approached the Middlebury Solutions Group (MSG) class as a client. He brought plans for his business, called Campus Storage, to the MSG student consultants. When asked about his experiences as first a student consultant and then a business client for the class, Nicholson said "As a client, I understood where the students were coming from, and was impressed by the great work of the company on the other side. From the client's perspective, I gained a greater understanding of the enormous importance of framing a presentation effectively. Even good ideas can be overlooked or pushed aside if they aren't framed in an appropriate manner." At the end of the term, Nicholson and his fellow student partners of Campus Storage presented their business plan, improved by participation in the class, to business experts and peers.

Nicholson, (second from left) is joined by fellow Campus Storage partners and his father (far right) to load materials on trucks for delivery to storage.
Photo courtesy of David Nicholson

"Throughout the semester, we received constructive criticism the entire time, so were prepared for the presentation's critique period," Nicholson said. "We were invested in our business, so wanted to learn from the feedback of the panelists and audience. It's an extremely valuable experience."

During the 2007 winter term, Nicholson came full circle by participating, with two other fellow students, as an instructor of an economics course called "DigitalBridges2007 - Middlebury Entrepreneurs." Nicholson's instruction of the class was advised by Claudon, who is the director of DigitalBridges2.0, a program that seeks to extend learning beyond the classroom and help entrepreneurs take and manage risk, and navigate the process of creating and implementing their ideas.

Having completed his studies at Middlebury College, Nicholson nevertheless remains a partner and operator of the now incorporated Campus Storage. The company helps Middlebury students navigate their multiple relocations from one room to another, an ongoing necessity of college life. When the academic year comes to a close, the belongings that have amassed in a student's room become one more chore to tackle. While at Middlebury, Nicholson combined his creative business sense with his academic studies to help address the problem. Partnering in 2005 with his fellow student-entrepreneurs Joseph Powers and Ryan McQuillan, who both graduated from Middlebury in 2006, he became an owner and operator of Campus Storage to serve students with their moving needs.

In 2004, Nicholson and McQuillan began working with Powers, who originally created the business in 2003 under the name "Safe and Sound Storage." The service picked up belongings at the rooms of approximately 50 students, delivered the assorted gear to storage and, upon the students' return to campus, brought the stored belongings to their new rooms.
Nicholson and McQuillan worked with Powers, learning about the business' customer-friendly approach. Their customer base grew to 100 students by 2004. By 2005, Nicholson and McQuillan had become Powers' full partners and owners, and again doubled their business to 200 students. "The best way to work with business partners is to remain open to suggestions," Nicholson said. "It's easy to quickly reject an idea, but the more you look into it, the more viable it may seem."

Despite the massive time commitment and continuous customer requests, Nicholson has enjoyed his experience as a student businessman while at Middlebury. "I appreciated the freedom of running my own business, setting my own schedule and playing multiple roles," he said. "My dad started his own business, a handyman company, while he was in college. He has been my teacher and inspiration." Like his father, David sought a service need in his college community, and then filled it.

Although David is retaining a focus on Campus Storage, Inc., he plans to create another business eventually. "I have lots of ideas," he said.