pillowcase studies product (DAG BENNSTROM/courtesy of Barry Weinstein)

For most businesspeople, falling asleep on the job could mean the end of a career. For Barry Weinstein, it was only the beginning.

The 21-year-old from New York had always been an entrepreneur at heart – in fourth grade he peddled homemade wristbands; in ninth grade, he sold flowers from his mother’s shop at his high school. But on a late night studying financial accounting at American University in December 2010, Weinstein had his most lucrative business idea: pillowcases.

“I was trying to stay awake and I had the textbook, going over debits and credits, and I just fell asleep right on the textbook,” Weinstein said. “The next morning, there was this big red mark and textbook residue on my face, and that was when it hit me – we can make that textbook so much softer. This is what the world needs.”

The result was Pillowcase Studies, a series of pillowcases printed with study guides for a variety of academic subjects. The collection currently includes art history, biology, corporate finance, drama, economics, music theory, political science and psychology.

Now a senior at the London School of Economics, Weinstein said he never expected Pillowcase Studies to be a real-world test of his business prowess.

“I thought I’d make my money back in beer money, but I never thought I’d make a significant gain. I’ve been able to live off of it,” Weinstein said. “The most rewarding part is that somebody actually wants my product, that I made something that a significant amount of people like. I never thought I’d be able to do this two years ago.”

So many people like the $19.99 product, in fact, that Weinstein’s first order a year ago totaled 900 pillowcases, and he is now struggling to keep up with growing demand.

Pillowcase Studies are most often sold to students beginning college or graduate school, or purchased online at www.pillowcasestudies.com by parents and grandparents as dorm room gifts. Weinstein said interacting with his classmates ultimately helps his bottom line.

“When I go to school, sure, I’m learning what the teacher’s saying, but I’m also learning more about my target market to complement my business,” Weinstein said. “I think school is a supplement to the business and the business is a supplement to the school. I could do school without the pillows, but I wouldn’t be getting as much out of it.”

The student entrepreneur’s other interests have suffered, though. Formerly biking 15 to 20 hours a week as a competitive cyclist, he said the trade-off of running a successful business for less riding is worthwhile. He has found new ways to incorporate his love of biking — sponsoring AU’s bike racing team and listening to audio books for school while in the saddle.

Next on the to-do list is designing study guides for more academic fields, such as languages. Weinstein hopes to grow the collection to 20 subjects by the end of the year, eventually moving to full bed sets of “homework you can sleep on.”

“If Pillowcase Studies keeps expanding the way it has, even if its growth just stays constant, I’m going to need to reconsider what I do toward the end of school because it might have to be a full-time job before I graduate,” Weinstein said. “My goal is for this to be the new Silly Bandz, a huge trend, a huge fad, and hopefully I won’t need to sell pillowcases anymore to survive.”