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Rival Revival

Making money off university rivalries.
December 1, 2006
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/170700

What: Sports merchandise tailored to more than 40 college team rivalries
Who: Jonah Ansell, Michael Raspatello and Scott Merz of Rivalfish Inc.
Where: Chicago
When: Started in 2003
How much: $20,000

You never know when inspiration will strike. For Jonah Ansell, 25, it happened while he was hung over on New Year's morning in 2003. His idea, loosely based on the age-old Jesus-Darwin fish car-emblem rivalry, was Rivalfish, a sports merchandise company that sells apparel and car emblems reflecting the wearer's loyalty within a college sports rivalry. Soon after he got the idea, Ansell recruited friends Michael Raspatello, 25, and Scott Merz, 25, to help build the business.

With Rivalfish, the trio wanted to create outlets for true sports fans to boast their loyalties 24/7, whether on the company's blog, The Rival Room; on a T-shirt; or on a car bumper. The business also supports colleges with gains through licensing agreements and sales in on-campus bookstores.

For the three die-hard sports fans, starting Rivalfish was an easy decision, but not an easy task. After a slow two-year business development period, they threw away their academic approach to entrepreneurship, which was originally guided by Raspatello's college sports-marketing textbooks. Several merchandisers began to acknowledge that the recent grads had natural insight into college sports fans' hearts and wallets, and Rivalfish got its first merchandising deal in fall 2005.

Now working with three merchan-dising companies, Rivalfish plans to add more apparel and car emblems to its product line this fall, and 2006 sales should reach $275,000. With a satirical web TV show called The Fish Fry in the works, these entrepreneurs have solidified their friendship while succeeding on their own terms. One of their most important lessons learned, says Ansell, is that "no matter how perfect [your business] looks on paper, it's what actually exists that [counts]."