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No summer vacation for student entrepreneurs

The KeeWee Listings Team (from left, Brandon Beneduce, Hannah Becker, Andrew Rodriguez)

Throughout the summer months, college students nationwide spend their days resting, relaxing, and recuperating for the year ahead. Many student entrepreneurs, however, do not afford themselves these same luxuries. After dedicating countless hours to their entrepreneurial work throughout the school year, these students continue working during a season traditionally void of responsibilities for their peers. In order to get a glimpse into the summer lives of these student entrepreneurs, I reached out to Northeastern students Andrew Rodriguez and Mike Behan.

Andrew is the founder and CEO of KeeWee Listings, a social platform that allows college students to post and search for sublet openings in local apartments. Mike is the co-founder and CEO of Njabini Apparel. Njabini employs disadvantaged Kenyan mothers to handcraft apparel using locally sourced materials, and empowers these women through micro-business development programs. KeeWee Listings and Njabini Apparel are two ventures within IDEA: Northeastern’s Venture Accelerator.

Both Andrew and Mike have spent the first half of their summers in Boston, with Mike taking classes and Andrew on co-op working full time for KeeWee. For the remainder of the summer, Andrew will be splitting his time between meetings and events in Boston and working remotely from his home in Connecticut. Mike will spend the rest of his summer in Boston to work full time on Njabini.

For KeeWee, this summer is critical. As Andrew explains, “this is a very important time in the company’s life cycle…it’s a bit slow on the customer side, but it’s very busy on the business development side.” KeeWee launched two months ago to a great response during the busiest time of the year for Northeastern subletting. As they expected, they have seen use drop a bit over the summer. This allows Andrew and his team time to focus on building the business, as they work heavily throughout the summer to prepare for the upcoming fall sublet rush.

The KeeWee team will be working closely with their IDEA venture coach, Ryan Johnson to “round out” their business plan and take some “large, but necessary steps.” They currently have a beta version of their service launched, so they hope to use the summer to get user feedback, make changes to the site, and “work towards producing a better product.”

Conversely, according to Mike, Njabini is “sales heavy” throughout the summer months. As a result, many of the “time intensive operations” occur between May and August. Between meetings, sales events, and markets, Njabini will be busy throughout the summer “continuing to carve out a customer base in the greater Boston area” and launching a few new products.

From a business development perspective, Mike and his team will be making a big push throughout July and August to solidify their board of advisors and to establish better retail connections.

One major challenge student entrepreneurs face when working over the summer is communicating with their team. Both Andrew and Mike, however, seem to have found solutions to stay connected. KeeWee utilizes weekly team meetings via Skype, as well as bi-weekly meetings with their venture coach. Andrew and his team also make use of programs such as HipChat (a group instant messaging service), Dropbox, and Trello (document sharing and collaboration services).

Due to the nature of Njabini, their team is spread “across the country and around the world” at all times – not just during the summer months. Mike and his team have structured their operations around this and as a result, it is relatively easy for everyone to “stay on the same page.

Beyond working on their ventures, these student entrepreneurs also find the time for more traditional summer activities. Andrew will be working a part-time job in Connecticut, while Mike hopes to enjoy a couple weekends on the water in Rhode Island. (Oh, and to find some time to train for his upcoming ultra-marathon in September!)

Andrew and Mike are hopeful for what the rest of the summer will bring. Both agree that the summer is a crucial time for their ventures. “It’s the first time I’ll have a chance to work on [Njabini] outside of classes,” says Mike. “Hopefully we can make some serious progress.”