CNBC make it 2024-02-24 02:50:49


23-year-old’s dorm room side hustle brings in $124,000 a year: ‘You can start with as little as $5’

This story is part of CNBC Make It’s Six-Figure Side Hustle series, where people with lucrative side hustles break down the routines and habits they’ve used to make money on top of their full-time jobs. Got a story to tell? Let us know! Email us at AskMakeIt@cnbc.com.

Technically, Sophie Riegel didn’t spend a penny starting her side hustle.

She began with items she already had, searching through her closet for old clothing to sell online. After making $200 off her own used clothes, she turned to some of her favorite places to shop: thrift stores.

“I’ve been a thrifter my entire life, because I don’t like spending money,” says Riegel, 23. “I’d much rather spend $5 than $100 on a pair of pants.”

Since April 2020, she’s turned that habit into a lucrative side hustle. Riegel brought in nearly $123,800 in revenue last year reselling items she bought from thrift stores on online marketplaces like eBay, Mercari and Poshmark, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.

She’s made more than $192,000 in net profit over the past four years, because her costs are minimal: Riegel estimates she’s spent just over $50,000 on the thrifted clothing she’s sold. Other expenses include shipping costs and gas money for driving from thrift store to thrift store. Online marketplaces keep between 10% and 20% of her sales.

Much of her business’ growth came from her dorm room at Duke University, where she graduated last year with a degree in psychology. She’s pursuing a full-time career as a professional writer, speaker and life coach —  and expects her side hustle to comprise roughly 50% of her income this year, she says.

“I started buying things for $5 to $10, flipping them for $50 to $100,” says Riegel. “That seemed to work really well. I had maybe 200 or so items in my dorm room my sophomore year, and now I have 1,300 items [in a storage unit].”

Here, Riegel discusses the work she put in to turn her love of thrifting into a six-figure annual business, along with tips for anyone else to follow in her footsteps.

CNBC Make It: You’re already coaching clients to start their own thrifting side hustles. What are some of your best tips for people who want to replicate your success?

Riegel: The biggest thing is you’ve got to have fun with it. If you’re not enjoying it, don’t do it.

Start with what you know the most about. If you know a lot about clothing, start with that. It can be really easy to just buy a lot — that’s the fun part — but it doesn’t sell if you don’t list it. So even if your listing is imperfect, get it up, get it out there, because there’s a market for everything.

Keep learning. If you go in with a mindset of “I already know this stuff, I don’t need any resources,” it’s likely that you won’t do as well as if you went in with the mindset of “This is a great opportunity for me to learn more about myself, about brands, and all of that.”

I followed tons and tons and tons of other resellers on YouTube. I spent hours and hours learning brands, learning how to use all of the platforms. I’ve learned the strategies of each of the stores I go to, and figured out when they put out the new shoes when they do X, Y and Z.

The Goodwills in my area put a new color out every week. So, when I go to those stores, I only look for that color.

How much cash do you need to start a thrifting side hustle?

Factoring in shipping and all of that stuff — obviously, you need to pay for gas — $100 makes sense.

[In terms of the thrifting], you can start with as little as $5. You get one good thing for $5 and you’ve got more money already: $5 turns into $20, turns into $100.

If you start with your own stuff, you need $0.

What are the most important traits someone needs to succeed at this?

You’ve got to be consistent and persistent. Right now, I list 10 to 20 items a day. And because I list every day, things are selling constantly.

You’ve got to be organized. You have to be patient — I’m not very good at that, but I’m working on it.

The biggest thing is: You’ve got to be willing to ask for help when you need it. You don’t have to do this all alone. When I first started, my dad helped me with all of my shipping. He helped me move everything from different storage units. I didn’t have to do it alone because I asked for help.

Do you see yourself expanding your side hustle in the future? What would that look like?

I’m pretty happy with where I am. I do see, in the future, potentially having employees do all of the stuff that I know I don’t want to do — like the shipping, listing and photographing. That would be great. It is a lot of work for one person.

But right now, I wouldn’t change it because I love what I do.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Want to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC’s new online course How to Ace Your Job Interview to learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and not to say, and the best way to talk about pay.

I’ve spent 25 years studying the brain—I never do these 4 things that destroy our memory as we age

As a neuroscientist, I’ve spent the last 25 years researching the science of memory. A funny question I get a lot from people is: “Am I just getting dumber the older I get?”

I don’t blame anyone for wondering this. Many of us find ourselves forgetting important things with increasing frequency over time.

But the good news is that you can prevent those “senior moments” by avoiding four common habits that destroy our memory as we age:

1. Multitasking too much

We rely on an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex to pay attention to the world around us. Unfortunately, prefrontal function and our ability to focus often declines over time.

Don’t miss: Brain expert shares his 7 ‘hard rules’ for boosting memory and fighting off dementia

Multitasking makes it worse. It impairs memory and taxes the function of the prefrontal cortex, sapping the resources that would normally help us form strong memories.

How to improve your memory: Put your phone on focus mode and block out time in your schedule for specific tasks.

Include breaks for meditation, daydreaming, a walk outside, or whatever it is that will recharge you. Just don’t try to do it all at once.

2. Not prioritizing quality sleep

The amount and quality of sleep we get often decreases with age, for a variety of reasons. The problem can be compounded by medications, alcohol and stress.

But when you sleep, your brain is hard at work. It flushes out metabolic waste that accumulates during the day. Memories are also activated and connections are made between the different events we have experienced.

How to improve your memory: Sleep deprivation is devastating for the prefrontal cortex and leads fragmented memories. Try to avoid screen time, heavy meals, caffeine and alcohol right before bedtime.

If you have severe snoring problems, consider an assessment for sleep apnea treatment. If you have a bad night of sleep, a daytime nap can help, too.

3. Monotonous activities

We remember events by tying together information about what happened, when it happened, and where it happened. This is called episodic memory.

A cue that’s uniquely linked to a specific place and time, like a song that you hadn’t heard since high school, or the smell of a dish that your grandmother used to cook can conjure a vivid episodic memory.

This only works if you have experiences that are associated with relatively distinct contexts — not so much with monotonous experiences.

How to improve your memory: You can find yourself with very few memories of a week that was almost entirely spent at a desk alternating between emails and TikTok videos. So consider diversifying your routines.

Take a walk instead of hanging out in the lunchroom. Spending time with a diverse range of people, going to different places, and trying out new experiences will all provide opportunities to build lasting memories.

4. Being overconfident in your ability to remember things

I’ve had moments where I meet someone and feel certain that I’ve committed their name to memory, only to be flummoxed later by my inability to recall it.

If you’re trying to do something that involves memorization, like when you are introduced to a group of people or trying to learn a foreign language, start by accepting that you are likely to overestimate how much you’ll retain.

The second step is to give yourself the opportunity to get it wrong.

How to improve your memory: Rather than rote memorization, the most effective learning happens under circumstances where we struggle to recall a memory and then get the answer we are looking for.

For instance, a few minutes after you learn something, try testing yourself on it. Then do it again an hour later. The more you space out these attempts, the better.

Charan Ranganath is a professor at the Center for Neuroscience and Department of Psychology and director of the Dynamic Memory Lab at the University of California at Davis. He is the author of the new book ”Why We Remember: Unlocking Memory’s Power to Hold on to What Matters.”

Want to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC’s new online course How to Ace Your Job Interview to learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and not to say, and the best way to talk about pay.

These Americans bought abandoned homes in Italy for as little as $1: Was it worth it?

Picture this: A house with extensive mold, water damage, termites and a collapsed roof in a tiny town where you don’t speak the language. Not exactly a prime real estate opportunity, right?

For Rubia Daniels, though, the dilapidated building in Sicily also served as an exciting chance to build the home of her dreams — and it cost her almost nothing to get started.

Daniels, 50, of Berkeley, Calif., is one of hundreds of people who’ve taken advantage of an offer that made news around the world: a home in Italy for 1 euro. 

In the late 2010s, towns around Italy started going viral for selling off crumbling properties for 1 euro, or roughly $1.05. The goal? To attract foreign investors to buy up the houses, rehab them and get dwindling population numbers back up.

Of course, there was a catch. In some towns, the 1-euro purchase was symbolic and just the start of more expenses down the line. In others, bids start at 1 euro but can go much higher.

There was also a big stipulation: Once buyers got their properties, they had to complete their renovations within a certain timeframe, usually three years. Costs could easily climb into the tens of thousands of euros. 

Each town handles its own 1-euro program, so we don’t know exactly how many homes have been sold across Italy since the concept took off. But experts estimate the campaigns have brought in thousands of visitors who’ve bought cheap houses across the country.

How much does it really cost to buy and renovate a 1-euro home in Italy? And is taking on a major housing project across the world worth the money and the stress? CNBC Make It went to Sicily to talk to people who’ve gone through the process to find out.

Transforming an historic town, 1 euro at a time

The 1-euro campaign was first proposed in 2008 by TV personality Vittorio Sgarbi, then the mayor of Salemi in southern Sicily, where homes were destroyed in a 1968 earthquake.

The idea has since spread to dozens of municipalities across the country.

One of the most well-known towns with a 1-euro scheme is Mussomeli, a roughly 2-hour drive south of Sicily’s capital city of Palermo. In Mussomeli, more than 100 homes have been sold for 1 euro, as well as roughly 200 so-called premium houses, which start around 5,000 euros and require fewer repairs.

Toti Nigrelli, Mussomeli’s deputy mayor who oversees the program, credits the town’s success to a user-friendly website that lays out exactly how interested homebuyers can schedule a tour and get started. Tens of thousands of requests came in “immediately” after the site launched in 2017, he says. The town made its first 1-euro sale to a Belgian visitor within two weeks.

Daniels is one of a handful of American homeowners there.

She first learned about the program from her husband, who’d read about it online. Daniels, an avid traveler who works in construction, was hooked. She booked her hotel and flight out to Sicily to see if the opportunity was too good to be true.

Days into her trip in spring 2019, Daniels called her husband. They were now the proud owners of not one or two but three separate 1-euro properties in Mussomeli, she told him.

Because she works in construction, Daniels says she didn’t just see endless amounts of work in front of her. Instead, she visualized the final result of three dream projects: a vacation home, a restaurant and a wellness center.

Once Daniels landed on her properties, she got a rundown of what the dream would actually cost. The houses were sold for 1 euro each but also incurred a 500-euro realtors fee and 2,800-euro deed. That added up to a total of 3,301 euros, or roughly $3,500, for each building. 

She felt up to the challenge. Daniels went home to pack her tools and returned that summer with her husband, brother-in-law and five suitcases full of renovation supplies.

So far, she’s focused on fixing up her vacation home and initially estimated renovations to cost $20,000. Those renovation plans include a new kitchen, marble finishes, restored stone walls and a fireplace in the bathroom. Years later, she’s spent $35,000 and hopes to stay under $40,000. It’s a lot of work, but the process still feels as exciting as it did on day one, she says.

Daniels is building the house of her dreams, “which I wouldn’t be able to do back in California because the cost would be much higher,” she says. Daniels plans to visit her Mussomeli home for vacations and split her time between California and Sicily in retirement. 

Daniels is such a fan of the 1-euro initiative that she’s encouraged friends and family to take the leap. On one recent visit to Mussomeli, Daniels brought along two fellow Californians, Alfredo Ramirez and his mother, Elena, to tour the houses.

Alfredo, 35, was struck by the price difference: The amount of space he could get for 16,000 euros in Mussomeli might run him over $330,000 in Petaluma, Calif., where he lives and works in customer service.

‘4 million moments of frustration,’ but no regrets

About an hour’s drive from Mussomeli is the town of Sambuca di Sicilia. In 2019, it went viral for auctioning off old homes with bids starting at 1 euro. 

There, Meredith Tabbone, 44, of Chicago, bought and renovated a 1-euro house of her own.

At the time, Tabbone was looking into getting dual citizenship in Italy, where part of her family was from before they immigrated to the U.S.

A friend told her about the Sicilian home project. “I thought it was too good to be true,” Tabbone says, “but I checked when I saw the name Sambuca and took a look, and it was the same village that my great-grandfather came from in 1902 to the United States.”

On one of the final days of the auction, Tabbone placed her bid of 5,555 euros for a property, sight unseen.

“A lot of people warned me that it could be a scam [and that] I could end up losing a lot of money,” she recalls. In May, she got the email that her bid won. She paid what she owed, plus some taxes and fees, bringing the home sale up to 5,900 euros, or roughly $6,200.

From the moment that I sent in the bid and checked my email every day and found out that I won, all the way through this process, there have been 4 million moments of frustration, exhaustion, contemplation of how to move forward.
Meredith Tabbone
1-euro homeowner from Chicago

Tabbone flew to see her new home for the first time in June 2019. She then bought the building next door through a private sale with the owner for 22,000 euros, or just over $23,000. 

The additional purchase meant more space to build her dream vacation home. It also meant much higher renovation costs. What started as a 40,000-euro budget to renovate 620 square feet grew to 140,000 euros to cover 2,700 square feet.

Over the next four years, Tabbone visited Sambuca for weeks at a time to oversee a local crew for the extensive overhaul: They knocked down walls to join the properties; leveled the flooring across 18 small rooms; reinforced the structure against earthquakes; added two large terraces; and opened up the kitchen, dining and living rooms. 

All in, she spent about 425,000 euros on renovations, or roughly $446,000.

“From the moment that I sent in the bid and checked my email every day and found out that I won, all the way through this process, there have been 4 million moments of frustration, exhaustion, contemplation of how to move forward,” Tabbone says.

That being said, “I never felt like this wasn’t the right place for me to be, and that this wasn’t the right project for me to work on or community to live in,” she says. “I’ve learned so much about my family, which has been really special for me because my father passed away when I was a senior in high school.”

When unexpected challenges derail the plan

Not all renovation plans work out. That was the case for Danny McCubbin, 59, who’s originally from Australia and was living in London when he heard about Mussomeli’s 1-euro program.

In spring 2019, he made his first visit and toured 28 houses before buying his property.

His vision was different from most: McCubbin wasn’t looking for a home to live in, but rather a space to launch a food-rescue charity, building upon his 17 years working on food-based campaigns for Jamie Oliver in London. He was inspired by his observation that lots of elderly people and families were not getting fresh food in Mussomeli.

The pandemic delayed his plans to rehab a 1-euro house for the project. The home experienced extensive water damage while he was stuck in London for 10 months. By the time he returned, his 15,000-euro quote for renovations doubled.

He decided to sell his house back to the real estate agency for 1 euro and found a different space to rent in the town square. His charity, The Good Kitchen, now operates from the space next door, where rent and utilities run 400 euros a month.

McCubbin says he doesn’t regret a thing: He’s grateful the scheme helped him establish his Italian residency and brought him to Mussomeli. 

Locals are glad he stayed, too: Each week, volunteers at The Good Kitchen work to rescue surplus food from nearby markets and deliver grocery packages to local families in need. They also host a weekly lunch for community members.

“My dream is that one day we will be able to provide jobs, especially for young people in the town,” he says.

A flood of foreign capital, jobs, tourism and newcomers

Mussomeli’s 1-euro campaign has already had a positive impact by bringing more foreign investment, tourism and jobs, says Nigrelli, the town’s deputy mayor.

Mussomeli had roughly 16,000 residents in the 1950s, he explains, but populations declined through the ’80s as young people left for university and better career opportunities in northern Italy. Today, roughly 9,900 people remain in town. 

Like many small towns in Sicily, Mussomeli doesn’t have a major university. As a result, many jobs that stay in town are concentrated in construction, agriculture and the trades. The compounding effect has left the region with a large youth unemployment problem: Roughly 32% of young Sicilians from age 15 to 29 are unemployed — one of the highest rates in Italy.

Even when young people return to Mussomeli, they can find the small town limiting. Federica Prezioso, 37, moved away to study in Palermo, Milan and London. She returned to work as a teacher and raise children, but says it’s hard to see her friends move away over time.

She’s in favor of schemes like the 1-euro home program. Large-scale renovations mean more jobs for carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other construction workers. The project even brought a wave of Argentinian doctors who moved there and resolved a shortage of health-care workers.

Even if prospective homebuyers or curious tourists don’t settle on a property to purchase, the increase in foot traffic has led to a boost for local restaurants, hotels and retail stores. Mussomeli’s tourism sector increased by 3,000% within the first year of launching the 1-euro home program, according to Nigrelli.

In the last seven years, Mussomeli has sold off nearly all of its 1-euro homes, another marker of success. Roughly a dozen houses are left, says Natalie Milazzo, a local real estate agent. 

Meanwhile, there are over 100 premium houses currently on the market, Milazzo says. Many of them are being sold by families who’ve moved away or inherited multiple properties and see an influx of interested foreigners as an opportunity to make a profit.

With more foreign home investors and visitors come higher real estate costs. As the demand for previously worthless homes has increased, Nigrelli says, the price of homes for sale and for rent have risen by up to 100%.

This could become a problem for incoming homebuyers purchasing old properties and renting places to stay during renovations. On the other hand, Nigrelli estimates roughly 90% of Mussomeli residents already own their homes, so rising real estate prices have a smaller immediate impact on locals.

Looking ahead: ‘The respect of the old town is the most important thing’

In 2021, a group of young professionals in Cammarata, Sicily, started a nonprofit called StreetTo, which works with the city to advertise 1-euro and cheap houses to foreigners. So far, the program has attracted a handful of young people and couples who move to the town to work remotely, says volunteer Martina Giracello, 31.

Houses that aren’t being sold for 1 euro range between 5,000 to 25,000 euros, or $5,250 to $26,250. StreetTo volunteers say they list houses at a sustainable pace to avoid gentrification and out-of-control housing prices.

“The respect of the old town is the most important thing,” Giracello says.

Gianluca Militello, 38, says volunteering with StreetTo is one of the main ways young people like him can improve their futures in Cammarata: “We want to be surrounded by people who can bring something to our own lives.”

“It’s also personal,” he adds.

Back in Mussomeli, Nigrelli says local officials across Sicily have asked him for guidance to bring 1-euro programs to their town. One recent partnership: Getting a campaign up and running in Caltanissetta, an hour’s drive east.

Daniels and Tabbone, the American homebuyers in Mussomeli and Sambuca, say their 1-euro journeys have been worth it.

Their small Sicilian towns offer a low cost of living. A nice meal out might be 10 euros or less, while a round-trip flight within Europe or to Africa might run you just 45 euros, Tabbone says.

Another big draw: the Sicilian approach to leisure, including a daily lunch and nap break from noon to 4 p.m. when most of the town shuts down.

Tabbone, who runs her own business as a financial advisor, says the slower pace of life abroad makes her want to “have the focus of my life be about just personal fulfillment in general,” rather than work.

A mentality that prioritizes leisure and socializing makes for a lower-stress life, Daniels says. “People here, they consume a lot of alcohol, nicotine, carbs, and they live longer than most places,” she points out. “I believe it’s because the level of stress is so low and [the fact that] the community is so active that that gives them longevity.”

Daniels feels strongly that historic renovation programs are beneficial in part because they’re sustainable. Around the world, “we have destroyed so much of the environment building things instead of using what exists,” she says.

Tabbone is glad to have the chance to connect with her family history and considers the Sambuca project a “huge success” for bringing attention to the village. 

She’s wary of fielding questions from foreigners like herself who want to buy an old home and turn it into an investment property. “I’m very grateful that I do not know anybody doing that, because I do not want this to be a village of Airbnbs,” she says.

Tabbone says she will never sell her Sambuca home despite getting many offers. “I have a cousin, [and] I’ve already told her she can use the house if I pass away before her. After that, it’s going to be donated to the village.”

“A lot of people refer to this as a revival of this town,” Tabbone adds. “I like to think of it more as a renaissance.”

Conversions from euros to USD were done using the OANDA conversion rate of 1 euro to 1.05 USD on Oct 18, 2023. All amounts are rounded to the nearest dollar.

Want to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC’s new online course How to Ace Your Job Interview to learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and not to say, and the best way to talk about pay.


How a 23-year-old started a side hustle that brings in $10,300/mo: ‘It doesn’t feel like work to me’

Sophie Riegel turned her boredom into a six-figure side hustle.

Riegel was a Duke University freshman in 2020, when Covid-19 turned her first year of college into a remote experience. She was “so bored” at home, and began searching her childhood bedroom for unused clothing and other items she might sell online to “make some extra money,” she says.

She found a few items, and netted roughly $200 selling them. “I probably sold, like, an item a week for the first couple months of me selling my own stuff,” says Riegel, 23.

Hooked, she combed through thrift stores around Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Within weeks, she was selling roughly $50 per day of thrifted clothing, mostly buying T-shirts for $1 apiece and selling them for up to $10.

Last year, Riegel graduated from Duke with a degree in psychology, and her side hustle brought in nearly $123,800 in sales — more than $10,300 per month — on online marketplaces like eBay, Mercari and Poshmark, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.

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Riegel has pocketed more than $192,000 in total net profit since starting her venture, after accounting for platform fees and the cost of goods. The total figure is slightly higher, she says, due to in-person sales and other revenue for which she doesn’t have documentation.

Now, Riegel sells around 10 items per day, averaging between $400 and $500 in revenue daily. She spends up to 25 hours per week working on her side hustle, she says — in addition to her day job as a professional writer, speaker and mental health coach.

“I’ve been doing [my side hustle] for about three and a half years now, and I wouldn’t do anything else,” says Riegel. “I love it so much. It makes me so happy.”

‘It gives me so much freedom’

Riegel’s full-time career is the kind of job that can require time to develop and build a steady stream of clients. That makes her side hustle money particularly valuable.

’It just gives me so much freedom to do what I really want to do,” she says. “Not only financial freedom … I can have coaching calls at any time, do speaking gigs anytime, because I’m not bound by a 9-to-5 job.”

The payoff isn’t accidental: In her side hustle’s early days, Riegel conducted a lot of research. “I followed tons and tons and tons of other resellers [on YouTube],” she says. “I spent hours and hours learning brands, learning how to use all of the platforms. And in my first year, I had $70,000 or so in sales.”

I followed tons and tons and tons of other resellers [on YouTube]. I spent hours and hours learning brands, learning how to use all of the platforms.
Sophie Riegel

Riegel studied bestsellers across multiple marketplaces to learn which specific items and brands would likely sell quickly or fetch a high price — like Lululemon leggings or Hoka sneakers. Once-expensive items tend to have good resale value, no matter how cheap they are to thrift, she says: A jacket from J. Crew or Carhartt might cost her $10 to $20 in person, but fetch $50 to $150 online.

She learned her local thrift stores’ restocking schedules, too — so she could avoid repeatedly wading through the same items, and get early dibs on new ones. Once, she bought a vintage Chanel purse for $2 and sold it on eBay a few months later for for $1,000: “That was incredible,” she says.

‘I’m going to do it for as long as I can’

Riegel’s side hustle comprised roughly 70% of her income in 2023, she says. This year, she expects a more even 50-50 split as she adds more coaching clients and speaking opportunities.

The side hustle comes with challenges — like keeping track of the roughly 1,300 pieces of inventory she usually has in stock. Riegel spends much of her time researching clothing, photographing items, editing the photos, listing the items online and cataloging them so she can find them quickly in storage once they sell.

Eventually, she might hire employees to help with the aspects of reselling that can feel like a slog, she says — just not the actual shopping.

“Technically, the thrifting takes the most time,” Riegel says. “But it doesn’t feel like work to me.”

As her two careers tracks evolve, Riegel sees no reason to slow down or stop her side hustle. Thrifting makes her happy, and “you can’t put a price” on that, she says. She’s even growing that part of the business by posting her own instructional videos on YouTube and selling her services as a reselling coach.

“I’m going to do it for as long as I can. Both of these [careers] make me happy,” says Riegel. “They both allow me to be independent, and I don’t have to choose between one thing or another.”

Want to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC’s new online course How to Ace Your Job Interview to learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and not to say, and the best way to talk about pay.

How an accidental college major pushed an ex-Disney star into running a space startup

Bridgit Mendler’s path from Disney Channel star to space startup CEO started with — quite literally — an accident.

The 31-year-old is the CEO and co-founder of Northwood Space, a company based in El Segundo, California that aims to mass-produce ground stations — otherwise known as the antennae that communicate with space satellites. It’s a far cry from her youth spent as a child actor and recording artist, known for roles in Disney Channel shows and films like “Good Luck Charlie” and “Lemonade Mouth.”

“While everybody else was making their sourdough starters [during the Covid-19 pandemic], we were building antennas out of random crap we could find at Home Depot … and receiving data from [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] satellites,” Mendler told CNBC on Monday while announcing her startup.

Mendler was still acting on screen as recently as 2019 — but her new career path began more than a decade ago, when she unintentionally marked a box on her University of Southern California college application.

“I’m studying anthropology,” Mendler told ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in 2015. “But it was an accident … I was doing the application all on my own. I think I didn’t really understand how it worked. I put down like five different things that I would potentially want to be in as a major, and I got my acceptance letter, and it’s like, ‘You’re in anthropology.’”

The educational field resonated with her: She graduated from USC in 2016, and parlayed her anthropology degree into a master’s degree in humanity and technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2018.

Earlier this year, she completed programs at the MIT Media Lab and Harvard Law School, obtaining a technology-focused PhD and a juris doctor degree. While at Harvard, she served as co-president of the Harvard Space Law Society, according to her LinkedIn profile.

“I have two engineer parents,” Mendler said at an Atlantic Live event in 2018. “My mom’s an architect and my dad designs car engines. So there was a lot of math-y science-y talk when I was a kid.” 

Mendler’s off-screen qualifications lend credence to Northwood, which she co-founded with her husband, CTO Griffin Cleverly, and head of software Shaurya Luthra — whom she referred to as her “two favorite ground nerds” in a LinkedIn post on Monday.

The startup is already on the radar of several venture capital investors, raking in $6.3 million in initial funding from firms like Founders Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, Also Capital and Humba Ventures.

Some of Northwood’s early employees have track records at Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Peter Thiel’s Palantir Technologies and aerospace technology company Northrop Grumman, Mendler noted in her LinkedIn post.

“At Northwood, we’re rethinking infrastructure for satellite backhaul from the ground up. We have our sights on building a data highway between earth and space,” she wrote, adding: “We have a lot of work ahead of us but that’s the fun part.

Want to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC’s new online course How to Ace Your Job Interview to learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and not to say, and the best way to talk about pay.