In our line of work, we are introduced to hundreds of small businesses on a daily basis- and we LOVE it! Each entrepreneur brings something so drastically different and special to the table. Though when we stumbled upon Campus Enterprises recently, we couldn’t help but be intrigued by their unique story.
Campus Enterprises is a company completely run by Duke University students. Though, going beyond any typical student-run business that provides “for the students, by the students,” Campus Enterprises also has a large presence in the community surrounding Duke University. They offer such services as food delivery, laundry, note-taking, screen printing, cleaning, marketing, and expansion. As their website states, they’re a “one-stop shop for your daily needs.”
We had the pleasure of interviewing Campus Enterprises about their inspiration for the business, its history, and what the students who participate, as well as the community, gain from this unique venture.
1. How did the idea for Campus Enterprises come about?
Two Duke students, Robert Benson and Scott Castle, conceived the idea for Devil’s Delivery Service (DDS) in the spring of 1993. Their vision for DDS was a partnership of nine owners, corresponding to the nine weekly managerial shifts at Subway, then its only client. After two and a half academic semesters of experience, DDS, in the Spring of 1995, filed for and attained Sub-Chapter S Corporation status in the state of North Carolina.
Twenty years later, DDS has rebranded as Campus Enterprises LLC, grew from nine owners to 42 shareholders, and expanded from its core food delivery division to now include screen printing, laundry delivery, cleaning services for students’ dorm rooms, a note-taking service for several classes on campus, in addition to forming a partnership with an online food ordering platform, Radoozle, to further convenience students ordering food. Campus Enterprises has grown into a company that strives to service the needs of Duke students, making campus life more convenient.
2. Campus Enterprises has been compared to other similar student-run businesses, what exactly separates you from schools like Harvard, Stanford, and Brown?
There are very few entirely student-run businesses in the country and even fewer as extensive as we are. Princeton Student Agencies (PSA), for example, provides many similar services, but they have a faculty advisor who is in charge of all financial operations and business needs for PSA. Harvard’s Harvard Student Agency (HSA), Stanford’s Stanford Student Enterprises (SSE) and Brown’s Brown Student Agencies (BSA) are the most similar to our own in service and their concept of “by students for students.” The main difference between us and them is in structure and community engagement. HSA is a non-profit, BSA is a specially formatted student club, and SSE funds and manages the student group accounts to ensure the long term success of their on-campus clubs. HSA hires only students to work all of their initiatives; the only non-student involved in running their operations is their bar tending professor. Students do both soft and hard labor for the company. Stanford is completely student run but they do largely advising for advertising and banking; the only true hard labor required is running the store. Brown is the most similar to us in that they partner with 3 local partners for laundry, storage and their concierge service but everything else is student run. We are unique in that we are an LLC. Our students invest in the company in a literal sense and have a vested interest in multiple capacities in building the company to its full potential. We are completely separate from Duke University. Naturally, we work very closely with them and all of our shareholders are Duke students, but we are private. This allows us to work much more freely within the Durham community and expand without all of the constraints of Duke’s policies. This separateness also allows us to be more involved in the Durham community, particularly through job creation. While all of our executives and managers who run the company are Duke Students, many of our employees come from the Durham community. They depend on CE for income, and many of them have been with the company for years and have watched it evolve under each new group of students. This forces us to ensure that we have developed a business plan centered on stability because we are not just accountable to ourselves, or students that want supplemental income, but to individuals who count on CE to pay bills and support their families. The same can be said for our business partners. Instead of building our own laundromat on campus or opening our own screen printer, we partner with local partners who already do this. This has a couple of positive impacts for us. For one, we can ensure we are providing the best possible services for our clients, because we partner with the best in our area who have already dealt with the initial growing pains so our clients do not suffer. Secondly it helps ensure stability because we have partners who are just as invested in the success of the venture as we are. And finally, it allows us to help enhance the Durham community by aiding local businesses in expansion into new areas previously unavailable to them. For instance, we account for 25% of the orders our screen printer handles annually. The growth was so significant that he has had to hire more staff to handle the volume.
We are not a student business, we are a business run by students.
3. Campus Enterprises is 100% student owned and run, how can students get involved and how are positions delegated?
CE hosts numerous recruiting and information sessions in the spring that are open to all interested freshmen. They are then encouraged to submit an application and resume, at which point they will be invited to interview. Current members then sit down and discuss all of the candidates after interviews and reviewing applications and resumes and choose 14. Positions are then delegated democratically at a full company meeting where any interested shareholders give a speech about why they are the most qualified for the role. The remaining shareholders discuss it, then vote. If a student wanted to be involved in the operations without becoming a shareholder, he/she can work in laundry delivery or, in unique cases, food delivery.
4. What made you decide to file as an LLC over a Corporation?
Campus Enterprises started as a Sub-Chapter S Corporation while under the name Duke Delivery Service, or DDS. As the number of shareholders grew and as our restaurant portfolio expanded, DDS filed as an LLC and re-branded as “Campus Enterprises LCC” in the Fall of 2010. Limited Liability status became a more appropriate corporate structure for Campus Enterprises’ working – nonworking shareholder configuration.
Aside from limiting personal liability to each of the shareholders, an LLC offers CE flexibility by not being held to the formalities that corporations must maintain, like limiting the amount of administrative paperwork. While having increased flexibility, an LLC also allows us to choose our tax regime, benefiting from the S-Corporation’s tax structure of “pass-through taxation” in order to avoid double taxation.
5. What is the best thing students get to take away from being a part of this business?
Campus Enterprises offers an unparalleled opportunity to gain business experience, a network of support and contacts, and a creative environment to develop leaders and their ideas. As a result, our alumni succeed in their careers at the foremost companies in the world, including Goldman Sachs, Amazon, KKR, McKinsey, Deloitte Consulting, BlackRock, Teach For America, and more.
Campus Enterprises provides the unique opportunity to develop the “soft” business skills during college such as managing employees, negotiating contracts with clients, and pitching ventures. Furthermore, the “for-profit” nature of the business in addition to each student’s financial commitment to the company encourages shareholders to think how their decisions and ideas will affect the bottom-line in both the short and long term.
Due to the competitive nature of our recruitment process, our shareholders are surrounded with incredibly motivated individuals who inspire and push each other to achieve greater success. This talented pool of Duke students builds a strong, successful alumni network which can be leveraged years after graduation.
By becoming a shareholder, a student positions himself into a community of entrepreneurs and for a fulfilling future at Duke and beyond. They get to lead divisions in a real-world capacity, earning a monetary benefit and career skills along the way. Whether shareholders run for one of our existing roles or create his/her own with a new idea, Campus Enterprises gives the shareholder the mentorship and infrastructure to make his/her experience a success.