Janik Alexander and Mya Wilson, Local college students turning hobbies into money-making side hustles
College students and entrepreneurs Janik Alexander and Mya Wilson

These days a 9-5 job just isn’t cutting it in this ever-changing job market. Young people interested in pursuing higher education are often trained to prepare for snagging traditional entry-level jobs, but in recent years, the gig-economy has created avenues for them to maximize their talents while bolstering financial security with an extra revenue stream.

COVID-19 has proven to be very difficult for new entries into the job market. Research from the Economic Policy Institute suggests the economic effects of the pandemic on young workers between the ages of 16-24 may persist for years. Young workers are more likely to be working in fields most impacted by the pandemic, like retail, leisure and hospitality. This has sparked a new wave of entrepreneurialism. 

Mya Wilson, junior at Rice University studying Chemical Engineering and owner of Taming Manes

Mya Wilson is a 20-year-old junior at Rice University studying chemical engineering. She started her hair business Taming Manes in 2021 as a way to generate extra income and explore her talents as a hairstylist. Wilson is under a full-ride scholarship, so twice a week she blocks off time for her craft, braiding hair at affordable prices.

“School is a lot of work and my major is very demanding, but it’s a field that is in demand. Plus, the income allows me to afford a certain lifestyle that I want,” said W,ilson. “The pandemic gave me time to focus on learning about what services my customers need. I know what it’s like for college students especially for Black people where prices are high. My target audience is college students, so my services range from $50-$150+ depending on the length and duration it takes me to do the hair in a span of two days.”

Janik Alexander, Business Administration graduate student at Texas Southern University and owner of Unique Touch Photos.

Twenty-three-year-old Janik Alexander, a business administration graduate student at Texas Southern University and owner of Unique Touch Photos, says her side business as a portrait photographer isn’t just about the extra income, it’s about expanding talents to teach others how to empower themselves economically.

When she lost her job working at Papadeaux’s during the lockdown, her side business kept her afloat while using some of her unemployment funds to pay her rent and re-invest back into her business. Alexander entered into her program not to find a job at graduation but to use the resources to expand her business.

“My passion as a photographer is bigger than me. A lot of people in the Black community don’t have the proper guidance and support to be able to leverage their skills,” said Alexander. “I want to open up a studio or after school program to teach graphics, social media, lighting, editing and basic skills that will be marketable. There are other ways to be successful aside from working a traditional job.”

Joyce Beebe, Fellow in Public Finance for Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, says side gigs can be used as an internship experience. “Young people have lots internship opportunities due to COVID, and a side business can be a great alternative. Use technology to showcase your skills online, list your transferable skills like networking, communication, leadership and time management,” she said. “Do research on taxes. It is great to make money, but if you’re self-employed taxes is a major part of being a business owner that gets overlooked. Talk to your parents or tax professional for guidance.” 

Both Wilson and Alexander provide services on Clutch, an app aimed at giving a platform to college students with side businesses to offer services and shop at affordable prices. Co-Founder, Madison Long says the culture is shifting and big corporations are not adapting quick enough.

“People want more autonomy over what they do, how they make money and how they enjoy their lives. Are these corporations allowing remote work? Are they allowing flexible hours? PTO? Things that give trust back to the employee? Lastly, there aren’t pensions anymore. No one feels super committed to any one company if they’re not getting their needs met.”

Laura Onyeneho

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...