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Sam Houston State student runs small business to help pay her way through college

19-year-old Karen Sears takes classes online, works at a dentist's office and sells gift baskets in her free time to help pay for her criminal justice degree.

CYPRESS, Texas — Small Business Saturday celebrated its 10th year as an unofficial day dedicated to encourage people to shop small as they search for holiday gifts amid the advertisements of blockbuster deals at big box stores.

These independent companies rely on word of mouth and support from consumers, and one young entrepreneur from Tomball knows that well.

19-year-old Karen Sears is a student at Sam Houston State University. She's pursuing a criminal justice degree.

But she's not the stereotypical college student. She takes classes online, works at a dentist's office and sells gift baskets at craft fairs in what little free time she has left, all to pay to get her degree as fast as she can.

"It's a lot of late nights, staying in the garage," Sears said. ”I have the website, I have the cards, I have my name out there. I work on it a lot. So I guess technically, yeah, I am a small business.“

She compiles the gift baskets out of things she finds at dollar stores or clearance sections or online and turns them into packages people might enjoy.

"I ran it by my dad. He doesn't really know what goes in a gift basket. I was like, 'Would you buy this?' and he was like, 'Yes,' so if he would buy it, I figured anyone would buy it."

Small Business Saturday was started by American Express to encourage people to spend their money in support of their neighbors. The company estimates $0.67 of every dollar spent at a small business stays in that community.

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Texas is home to 2.7 million small businesses, according to the Small Business Association. The latest numbers from the SBA show mom-and-pop shops employ 4.7 million people in the state: nearly half the state's workforce.

”The standards, the experience, being able to touch things, being able to try things on – the personalized touch," Bill Fraser said about shopping at locally owned stores.

The University of Houston's Small Business Development Center helped start 376 new businesses in 2019, creating thousands of jobs.

Many of them are people like Sears: entrepreneurs with a dream and ambition.

”Honestly, this is going towards my future. I’d rather have fun and retire early. I can use my money that I actually have then," Sears said.

Sears is getting corporate sponsors for her business, including on her website, itpaysmycollegetuitionkarensears.com


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