While her friends interviewed for jobs and applied to grad schools, Jessica Nam spent her senior year whipping up pumpkin bread and coffee-spiked chocolate cakes in her Brown University dorm room to sell at shops near campus. "I couldn't even keep up with the demand," Nam, now 23, says. So almost every day, after going to classes, teaching aerobics and studying, the linguistics-anthropology major would bake into the wee hours. "Her dorm room was a 23-hour bakery," says her boyfriend, medical student Peter Kim, 24. "She's always been one to not need much sleep. But even she was pushed to the limit that year."

Something else was cooking in that oven: a booming business. Jessica's Wonders—the line of baked goodies that Nam officially started after graduating in June 2000—is expected to ring up $400,000 in sales this year, mostly in New England markets; a deal with a national outlet is on the horizon.

Nam, whose parents are Korean immigrants, first experimented with cooking in her sixth-grade home economics class in Warren, N.J. "I would develop these recipes," she says, "and then surprise my family with something I knew they would like." She's still inspired by others. Her mother's love of nuts led to a banana bread called Nutty Momma, and Pumpin' Peter Protein Power Bar was created for Kim, a gym rat. But some of these concoctions have to be put on the back burner. "Everyone is like, 'Stop inventing. We still have to launch the other 20 you invented,'" says Nam, who lives in Cranston, R.I. "But I have to keep going back to my kitchen. That's what keeps me alive."