Vote for Art
Who: Jeremy Parker, 24
Projected 2010 Revenue: Undisclosed
The Pitch: Vote for Art hosts and organizes collegiate graphic design competitions in partnership with major universities across the nation. Funded by MV Sport, a leader in the collegiate products industry, Vote for Art has revolutionized and democratized the student affinity market. Students submit designs on VoteForArt.com where the VFA community selects the winners. The chosen designs are then printed on t-shirts and sold exclusively in the college bookstores. The winning artists receive a cash prize and a percentage of revenue made from merchandise sales. Since its founding in 2009, VFA has partnered with several universities, including Purdue University, Arizona State University, and University of North Dakota. VFA also recently partnered with DesignContest.net , an online community of 21,000 graphics designers.
The Start Up Story: Jeremy Parker always had an interest in the clothing business. Fresh out of Boston University in 2007, Jeremy launched Teesandtats, a company that sold high-end T-shirts. Initially, the products sold well internationally, however, five months into the venture, the economy began to take its toll on the business. Sales of his $150 shirts slowed dramatically as the company's customer base began to reign in their spending.
Wounded by the economy but still kicking, Teesandtats won third place in a business competition at the University of Maryland. Excited about the victory, Parker was eager to buy a memento from UM to remember the experience. He decided to take a trip to the university bookstore with the intention of buying a souvenir t-shirt. Unbeknownst to Parker at the time, his souvenir hunt would lead him to realize his next business venture.
After roaming the bookstore clothing aisles, Jeremy found himself in a state of shock; he couldn't find a single item he wanted to purchase. All of the designs were unoriginal, uncreative and very institutional.
That's when Parker had an idea: what if he could combine crowdsourcing and licensing? Instead of a school designing its own gear, the tastemakers who actually purchased the merchandise would do the designing and make the selections. Students would be more inclined to buy products designed by their peers and schools would benefit from increased sales because of the inherent built-in community that voted on the selected work. The concept seemed like a win-win.
But, breaking into the collegiate licensing business was no easy task. Schools wouldn't just hand over their insignias and brands to a relatively unknown entrepreneur. Parker needed to infiltrate the system.
Parker spent a year planning and fine-tuning the VFA business model alongside long-time mentor, Elliot Peyser, CEO of Weatherproof. When he was finally ready to pitch his concept, Parker got his dream meeting. Peyser introduced Parker to Josh and Alan Peyser, the owners of MV Sport, a company with over 100 college and university licensing agreements nationwide. After a brief presentation to the three heavyweights, MV Sport was sold on the idea and VFA was born.
Impressive Stat: Two weeks after the launch of VoteForArt.com, Purdue University partnered with the company. The catch: the winner of the design competition needed to be selected in time for homecoming--nine days later. Within six days of launching the competition on VFA, over 200 designs were submitted and VFA didn't spend a single dollar on marketing.
Founder Fun Fact: Jeremy Parker was named "New Jersey Person of the Week" by New York's NY1 Cable TV station.
Founder's Advice: "Logic will take you from A to B, but imagination will take you everywhere."
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Scott Gerber is the founder of Sizzle It!, a New York-based sizzle reel production company specializing in promotional videos for PR and marketing professionals, and the Young Entrepreneur Council. He is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor, columnist, public speaker and author of Never Get a "Real" Job: How To Dump Your Boss, Build a Business and Not Go Broke (Wiley, 2010).