Derek Haake got his law degree, as well as an MBA, from the University of Akron in the last few years.
And he’s still not earning a regular paycheck.
But that’s OK with him.
The revamped version of his online venture Campusshift.com — a website college students use to search for deals on textbooks, as well as discounts at local businesses — is gaining traction on campuses nationwide.
“Right now, we have users on 252 campuses,” the Akron resident said. “And we just soft launched it [this summer].”
Haake, 33, said while the online enterprise isn’t yet turning a profit, he and six partners — all in their 20s and 30s —are living their entrepreneurial dreams.
Campus Shift got a boost this spring when it secured office space — the rent is free — at the Youngstown Business Incubator, a nonprofit facility in a former furniture warehouse in the city’s downtown.
Campus Shift, one of the incubator’s “portfolio companies,” also has access to business counseling and other services at the incubator, which focuses on fledgling technology companies, said Rose Shaffer, a project manager at the facility.
Haake (pronounced “hockey”) said the incubator is invaluable: “It has given us the tools to operate a business without the costs.”
Previously, Haake had been operating Campus Shift out of his Akron home, or essentially wherever he and his partners could set up their laptops.
Shaffer said the incubator was drawn to Campus Shift partly because its leaders are “young and energetic and passionate about entrepreneurship. They’re all early in their careers so they have the time to put toward starting a new business.”
Incubator staffers also see a big market for Campus Shift, she said. “Students are constantly paying top dollar to buy their campus books, and now there’s a new alternative.”
Campus Shift also received $15,000 from the Inspire fund at the incubator. This was on top of a $25,000 grant from Northeast Ohio’s Innovation Fund, designed to help startups at the earliest stages of development.
This may not sound like much money until one considers that the Campus Shift partners work other jobs to pay their personal bills. For example, Chris Haynes, who is studying entrepreneurship at Kent State University, has a boat-detailing business. He joined Haake in the online venture last year.
“We’re just doing what we have to, to make ends meet,” Haake said, “while we’re working to create a campus-centric network focused on savings.”
Haake’s own experience with facing big college bills inspired him to set up Campus Shift, an outgrowth of an earlier textbook-swapping and selling site.
Campusshift.com’s main platform is a search engine used to find savings on books; it can be used in many cases to save 40 to 80 percent on textbooks, boasts Haake.
Students enter the textbook’s author, title, or ISBN number into a field and the engine searches dozens of sites, including Amazon, half.com and chegg.com. Campus Shift makes a small percentage on each sale resulting from a search.
Haake compares the search engine to Kayak.com, which travelers use to compare airfare, hotel and travel deals offered on individual sites.
Haake and partners, however, stress the site is about much more than looking for textbook deals. They see it as a one-stop, student-centric web portal where students also can find out about campus events and get “daily deal” discounts from local businesses.
To help drive students to the site, Campus Shift offers free services, such as CS.interactive, a mobile messaging system that allows campus organizations to communicate with members. Another platform, CS.inspire helps student entrepreneurs build websites and sell their products online.
At this point, Campus Shift is not selling advertising space on the site.
“College students are inundated with advertising and everything else,” Haake said. “We don’t want to add to the clutter.”
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.