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Student tech startup, Wheat.co, achieves success

The founders of Wheat.co, a tech consulting start-up, say they’ve already drawn attention from IBM, Mozilla and NASA. They hired three new staff members this week. Their business success isn’t anomalous in the Carleton community. But unlike alumni who’ve gone on to companies like Expedia, Foursquare and Snapchat, these Carls have yet to graduate.

Kyle Schiller, Robert Lord and Adam Canady aren’t the only student-workers cracking $9.28 an hour. In fact, they’re part of a trend at Carleton, according to economics professor Nathan Grawe. “Student interest in entrepreneurship has been bubbling up,” he says.

Grawe helped organize the first Carleton Start-Up Fellowship Competition this year. The competition, which promised $10,000 grants for the two best entrepreneurial project proposal, attracted 27 applicants from 9 teams. Among the applicants was Simon Orlovsky, whose haircutting business, Dormcuts, was recently featured in Money magazine and USA Today. 

The founders of Wheat.co had all spent summers writing code in Silicon Valley, when they returned to Carleton and decided they didn’t want to stop. They had learned to design webpages that were functional and secure, and that passed Google’s algorithm for a top hit. Instead of waiting for another summer of work to roll around, they decided in January to start designing websites on their own. Since then, they’ve attracted 10 paying clients, Schiller says.

They’ve drawn more attention to their brand by posting free bits of computer code on Github.com, a database of open-source code. About 10,000 users have snatched it up, Schiller says, including well-known companies like IBM. This week, they hired three more Carleton students, at an hourly pay of $20.  

Canady, one of Wheat.co’s founders, also leads the Carleton Entrepreneur and Social Entrepreneur Club. Last year he helped found Homi, a networking website aimed at students. Canady says starting a company on campus has benefits. For one thing, the college offers resources, including a network of similar-minded students. He says he’s learned from other student entrepreneurs, and from members of DevX, a chartered club that works on developing projects.

“The community feeds itself,” he says. The college also offers a captive population of clients. Although the college technically bans selling stuff to students on campus, Schiller, an Asian studies major, says he’s been inspired not only by computer science courses, but also courses in the humanities and social science. With the zeal of a liberal arts student, he says he hopes to use Wheat.co for social good.

Schiller says a well-designed website can make or break a new company, and many would-be entrepreneurs don’t have the resources to make high-quality websites. He hopes to reach those companies.

“One of the downsides is I do have schoolwork,” Canady says.  

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