Student Entrepreneur Series: Ben Collins
In the second part of our Student Entrepreneur Series, we had the honor of sitting down with the multi-talented and creative, Ben Collins, who runs his own photography business, is a student at the University of Vermont (UVM), president of their Entrepreneurship Club, and enjoys playing live music in his free time!
Tell us a bit about yourself and where you are now!
I’m a senior at UVM in the Grossman School of Business studying marketing entrepreneurship! I am also a photographer – which I consider to be part of my entrepreneurial side. I shoot a lot of music, portrait photography, client work, fashion and apparel, and a lot of event work such as weddings on the weekends. It all helps pay the bills! In addition to that, I’m also a musician, and I wouldn’t have considered that being a part of my entrepreneurial landscape before but I’ve recently started making money from playing shows and recording music! Now that the world has been opening back up, in some ways, it has become part of my entrepreneurial pursuit in the last six months. I’m also the president of the Entrepreneurship Club at UVM, and through that, I’ve gotten to know and work with VCET a lot. We host our meetings in the co-working space on Monday nights with Skylar Bagdon!
What is it like being a student entrepreneur? Was it something you saw yourself doing in college, or did you suddenly find yourself immersed in it?
That’s an interesting question because my work has been so tied up with my life, I couldn’t envision doing anything else as an entrepreneur. For the last three years at college, I’ve been trying to figure out how to do what I love and also pay whatever bills I might have. I came to school with the idea that I would continue doing photos and videos, and after graduating making that a full-time job because it’s my passion. Currently, I’m in a very fortunate position where I don’t have that many bills to pay but to get to a place where I felt financially stable I wanted to work in a field I loved and not work somewhere random. I also always saw myself doing entrepreneurship in general, I’ve always wanted to work for myself and I come from a family of very driven entrepreneurs! I always envisioned my work going alongside with school, and going to college has just been another way to make connections with people at VCET, Hula, and everyone around campus. It’s been a great way to meet others and it’s opened so many doors!
Have you been doing photography your whole life? Where did the idea for your website or inspiration come from?
I started doing photography about ten years ago when I got my first Go-Pro for Christmas one year. I started filming myself and my friend’s skiing and then a couple of years later I got my first DSLR! What I really loved about photographing and recording my friends was that I was able to be a part of everything they were doing. I was never as good as them at skiing or any other extreme sports they did, so it was a way for me to stay connected with them and stay a part of our inner circle and also make a lot of other connections. With music, it was the same thing – I wanted to be around people making music, and be a part of it. I started by photographing musicians in high school and it opened up a lot of opportunities for me in the music world. There was a point sophomore year of high school when I realized photography and video were what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. If other people were doing it, why could I do it too?
One of the first videos Ben created and published.
What are the resources offered to you by UVM?
I have to start by shouting out the Entrepreneurship Club. I joined my freshman year of college and it was a way for me to network and meet like-minded people. At the time it helped me figure out and learn everything there was to know about VCET, LaunchVT, and every other network in Vermont that was made for entrepreneurs. Once I started to learn more, wanting to be a part of that community became really infectious, I kept thinking “these places are really awesome!”. I never realized going into school how the entrepreneurship network in Vermont is so incredibly driving. The university itself doesn’t have a whole ton of resources but it’s one of those things that you get to make whatever you want out of it. You can make your own opportunities but the school won’t directly offer those handouts. I’ve had to figure out how to navigate my own way and create my own valuable experiences. I’ve worked alongside other photographers and crews and I find it so interesting that I don’t relate to photographers as much as I do to the founders, entrepreneurs, and starters at VCET. There’s nothing I want more than to be surrounded by people who can get up and make things happen for themselves. Everyone supports and pushes each other to do our best!
“It’s always hard when you’re first starting out! Taking that first step can seem so terrifying, especially when you’re thinking “how can I make money from this?”, but that’s why the community at VCET and the Entrepreneurship Club, in general, were really helpful. They constantly reminded me that I didn’t need to worry about making x amount of money per month, just worry about making that first move. Like Skylar said: Just send that first email! It doesn’t matter if that’s a massive step or a tiny step for you, just write that subject line, then write the next line, and so on.” – Ben Collins
What are your biggest challenges?
I’m in a really good spot right now where the challenges aren’t terrible! I’d say the biggest one is balancing personal life and work. I’m very lucky because everything I do for work (music, photography…) is something I’m extremely passionate about. Although sometimes I do have to remind myself to hang out with my friends. I have a lot of work friends and it’s hard to dedicate time to my other group of friends and I have to constantly remind myself to set healthy boundaries. I used to get a lot of burnout and feel overwhelmed at times, but I’ve learned how to balance that out. Time is always a challenge – you can never have enough of it! All around, my challenges aren’t too significant right now.
How about when you were first starting out?
It’s always hard when you’re first starting out! Taking that first step can seem so terrifying, especially when you’re thinking “how can I make money from this?”, but that’s why the community at VCET and the Entrepreneurship Club, in general, were really helpful. They constantly reminded me that I didn’t need to worry about making x amount of money per month, just worry about making that first move. Like Skylar said: Just send that first email! It doesn’t matter if that’s a massive step or a tiny step for you, just write that subject line, then write the next line, and so on. One thing I’ve noticed in the Entrepreneurship club is that a lot of people have these massive steps they want to take when they’re first starting out. We had a workshop last week where we took everyone’s ideas and brainstormed as a group what should be the first step they take. Some people said to get a patent or land a first client, and we had to break it down by saying that doesn’t always have to necessarily be the first step. Start small! Tomorrow you could create a platform for your product, make an Instagram, then the next morning you can take a picture of your product – that’s a good example of the first step. It does not have to be a massive legal leap. Just make it to the next hour!
What resources or mentors have you found to be the most useful?
I look up to Skylar Bagdon and George Philbrick a lot, they both worked on Power Scavengers and now Chromajam. If I ever have doubts or questions about anything they’re some of the first people I go to for advice. There are people in every category that I go to. I’ve been able to reach out to photographers that I really love that are doing the things I want to do. I usually ask them to chat for ten minutes and those conversations usually turn into two-hour phone calls where they’re life coaching me on photography and how to make my visions happen. It’s been really amazing. Locally, Erik Monsen, from the Grossman School of Business who teaches courses in entrepreneurial business models, new product development, and technology commercialization at the undergraduate and MBA levels. He’s been amazing and someone great to bounce ideas off of. Cole Green, who when I first got to UVM was the president of the Entrepreneurship Club. He’s incredible and was so good at teaching me how to prioritize what really matters, how to keep people engaged in the club, and how to lead it. In terms of music, Zach Nugent who’s played with Melvin Seals and Jerry Garcia’s band, Kat Wright, Bob Wagner, and Josh Weinstein, have all been unequivocal in helping me be confident in my photography work. They also push me into becoming part of that network by inviting me out to shows and inviting me to join them at their studio! Obviously, my parents and grandparents are a big inspiration. Anyone in my inner circle of college musicians is such an incredible and intense support system, especially any current or recently graduated students at UVM!
How do you think we can help? Do you have an ask for our community here at VCET?
We would like to connect with more people that could come in and chat with the Entrepreneurship Club about their experiences! We’re always looking for people who are interested in mentoring if the opportunity were to arise. For example, if a student came to us needing help with an idea, we want to be able to connect them to the right person. Any entrepreneur is welcome, it doesn’t matter if your startup or business is small or big, we’re always looking for mentors!
Published and edited by VCET Marketing Associate, Nicole Mattos-Parodi.