Student startup founders navigate the small business world


Courtesy of David Wiwel

David Wiwel (left) and Harrison Ameye (right) working on sight for D.A.W.

By Colm Slevin, For The Pitt News

Cameron DelGatto has taken her quarantine hobby to the next level.

“I was really into jewelry making when I was a kid with all my cousins,” DelGatto, a junior communications and digital narrative and interactive design double major, said. “During quarantine, I found a bunch of my old materials in a closet in my house. And it kind of inspired me to start making more modern stuff and more age-appropriate stuff.”

DelGatto opened her own online jewelry shop called Pearpop Jewelry back in April. She makes earrings and necklaces out of polymer clay and sells her jewelry for about $10 each on Depop and Etsy. She said her pieces have a special, modern style that she helped craft in her free time over quarantine.

I saw a YouTube video about polymer clay and just all the uses of it. I was really intrigued by it,” DelGatto said. “So I started doing mainly earrings, and quarantine was where I perfected the process.”

Jewelry by Cameron DelGatto, owner of Pearpop Jewelry.
(Photo courtesy of Cameron DelGatto)

DelGatto added that she found making jewelry relaxing especially at the start of the pandemic. She said she enjoyed having a creative outlet other than schoolwork.

“It’s kind of rewarding, because it’s nice to do something with your hands,” DelGatto said. “That’s not on the computer screen or on your phone at the end of the day, and it’s something more creative than writing essays.”

David Wiwel, a first-year undecided engineering major, owns D.A.W. Standard Services LLC, which provides labor services such as moving. Wiwel officially created and registered his own company in August, but started working in the moving business as an intern for a friend’s moving company during the summer following his junior year of high school. Wiwel said this experience taught him the ins and outs of running a business before he started his own.

Wiwel said the hardest part about owning his own business in college is balancing school and work. He said he works on-site Saturday and Sunday, putting his schoolwork aside until Sunday night. He then wakes up at 6:30 a.m. on Monday and drives to his grandparents house to park his work car and then takes an hour-and-a-half bus ride back to Oakland.

“This past month has been the most stressful month of my life,” Wiwel said. “During the day on Saturdays, I’m totally committed to running all the management aspects as I can for the business.”

Some students such as DelGatto focused more on their business over the summer when they had more free time and decreased their hours to devote more time to school.

“I would say this summer [I was the busiest], I think partially because I was doing the most on Etsy and Instagram,” DelGatto said. “And that was when I really started selling, whereas now I’m not doing as much.”

Audrey Austin, a senior rehabilitation science major, also said she usually doesn’t do much work during the school year, but this August was a bit different. Austin started A is for Cakes in summer 2019, through which she makes mostly cakes and cupcakes as well as cake pops, cookies and other desserts that she sells via an Instagram account.

“This year I had to plan around driving home to make a wedding cake back in August,” Austin said. “And [I] will be driving home again in a couple weeks to do cupcakes for a bridal shower.”

Wedding Cake by Audrey Austin, owner of A is for Cakes. (Photo courtesy of Audrey Austin)

Wiwel said he hasn’t slowed down since school started, either. In fact he started his company in Oakland as classes were starting he had his first job during the second weekend of classes. Wiwel said he is trying to take advantage of all the available resources for business owners while he’s in college.

“The other day I needed legal advice, so I walked into [the Barco Law Building] and asked for some,” Wiwel said. “There are endless amounts of resources here at Pitt. So I’ve just been trying to take advantage.”

DelGatto also said school has helped her with her business. She said she feels majoring in digital narrative and interactive design has helped her market her products.

“Some of my classes are media classes,” DelGatto said. “That’s helping understand you on how to present things and make it aesthetically pleasing.”

Wiwel said even though his major doesn’t match his business, he’s learning a lot from both. Wiwiel’s goal is to become an entrepreneurial engineer, so he said his business and his engineering degree are preparing him for the future.

“Running the business has felt like a second major because I learned so much from my mistakes and so much from my successes,” Wiwel said. “I’m basically educating myself on the business side of things, [and getting] a technical degree, an engineering degree is just so powerful.”

Austin said she is energized by fellow student business owners who are working to bring the best product to their customers.

“I am inspired by all small business owners and entrepreneurs,” Austin said. “Whether that be a student like me or a full-time worker, it takes a lot of time and effort to get your name out there and even more commitment to build customer loyalties that will last.”