When Kent State University student Genia Kollie couldn't find the Thai, Indian and Asian foods she craved, she hit on a solution: start an international foods grocery store.
Now her HOME Markets store in downtown Kent offers the flavors she favors as well as exotic foods for 1,500 international students on the KSU campus.
Today, Kollie, 26, will help to inspire other would-be business owners at the university's sixth annual entrepreneurship fair .
She will be one of several speakers at the daylong event featuring the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour, a motivational program based in New York City.
The company was founded in 2006 by two New York University graduates who sought to spread the entrepreneurship fever and has visited more than 100 campuses, including Kent State.
Julie Messing, director of KSU's Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation, said she expects about 500 students to attend the conference, including 14 buses of students from area high schools such as Buchtel, Tallmadge and Wooster.
One guest speaker will be Lauren Berger, a University of Central Florida graduate who launched the Intern Queen website in 2008 for students seeking job experiences. She was one of Business Week's ''Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under the Age of 25'' in 2009.
Guests also will include a surprise speaker who will be well-known to ''90 percent'' of the students, Messing promised.
Speakers will share their experiences and give students some tools to chart their own entrepreneurial future. That might be a necessity, given the loss of manufacturing jobs and lack of other employment opportunities.
Startup businesses are ideal for students and fresh graduates, Messing said. They are not burdened by mortgages, families and children and don't have too much to lose as long as they don't go too deeply in debt.
''They take a risk on their business, and what's the worst thing that could happen?'' she asked rhetorically. ''They may have to move back in with Mom and Dad, but half of graduates move back home for some time after graduation.''
Since its inception six years ago, the KSU center has helped to groom students for a wide variety of startups everything from customized clothing for fraternities to think tanks to help for established businesses to get out of a rut.
Some ideas proposed by students seem to have hit the proverbial nail on the head.
When Matt Kolic of Canton saw a void in premium bodybuilding apparel, he moved in to fill the gap with his Steel Clothing line six months ago.
His American-made apparel got a lift just a few weeks ago, when bodybuilder Phil ''the Gift'' Heath, who won the Mr. Olympia contest last month, agreed to wear the clothes.
''We're growing every day,'' Kolic said. ''It's been awesome.''
He has sold 1,000 shirts and has shipped products to eight countries. Offerings include an offbeat shirt that depicts Jesus holding hand weights.
''A lot of companies would shy away from that, but we've had a lot of positive experiences,'' he said.
As for Kollie, her HOME Markets store has bloomed since opening in February with two loans totaling $4,500 from the KSU Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation.
She and partners, KSU students Abdullah Alkhaddah and Nick Testa, are turning a profit but have yet to draw a paycheck as they look to the future. They want to hire employees and export the business to other universities that are home to large populations of international students.
Kollie, a Cleveland native majoring in entrepreneurship, doesn't know what she'll do when she graduates in May.
''I'm not limiting myself,'' she said. There may be opportunities with the store or her paying job at Target. ''I'm just going to see what fits me,'' she said.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3729.