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Startup credits SU, Sandbox, Tech Garden mentors as support for success
An award-winning web company, whose trio of founders benefited from their Syracuse University backgrounds and support from School of Information Studies (iSchool), Student Sandbox and Syracuse Tech Garden mentors, has announced two major stepping stones furthering its initial success.BrandYourself.com recently launched its new “do-it-yourself” platform product, and has secured more than $1.2 million in Series A investments to help continue its mission of helping people control their own online search results.
Based in Syracuse, the firm was founded in 2009 when classmates Patrick Ambron, Peter Kistler and Evan McGowan-Watson graduated from SU and went straight into building the business as their full-time focus. They were part of the original Student Sandbox entrepreneurship center based at the Tech Garden and supported by the iSchool and Sandbox Director John Liddy.
“It’s hard to overstate how important the support from the University, iSchool and Sandbox has been to the company,” says Ambron, the company’s CEO. “When you haven’t done these things before, that kind of support, knowing you’ve got a community and a university and a support system behind you, is really important.” He cited Liddy and Tech Garden administrator Linda Hartsock as essential advisers in helping them build and manage the business, and for introductions to people who eventually became investors. “The whole program was really great for us,” Ambron says. “To have an office space and a place to go to made a huge difference; it made it more real. When you’re a bunch of 20-somethings who didn’t have real world experience, that was especially helpful.”
Besides the next phase of focus on customer acquisition, the group hopes to lead by example to encourage other young people to consider starting their businesses in Syracuse, Ambron says. “We hope to stand as a testament that the University, and the way it is putting resources into entrepreneurship and helping people like us, can really turn into something nice and big. Syracuse is a great place for young people to start a business, and we hope to stand as a testament to that.”
Sandbox Director Liddy says the trio may credit others for helping create success for their firm, but the founders’ personalities were crucial to their success. “They are very passionate about this. You want an entrepreneur to have strength in their convictions, but also be coachable. They have a very nice blend of that. They listened, took information and applied it,” he says. Also, “these guys hustled, and they have the lion’s share of credit for their achievements.” Still, to see someone you have mentored succeed is a great feeling, Liddy observes. “It makes you want to do it all over again for somebody else.”
The company began after Kistler could not get an internship in college because he was mistakenly identified on Google as a drug dealer, according to BrandYourself.com. That situation led to the idea to create a product that made it easy for anyone to improve their search results, thus manage their online reputation by themselves. The company offers a basic product free of charge, and offers a premium version for a modest monthly fee.
All three company officers graduated from SU in 2009 with dual majors. Ambron came from the iSchool and the Newhouse School; McGowan-Watson was a dual major from the Whitman School and The College of Arts and Sciences; and Kistler was a dual major in the iSchool and the Whitman School.
The investors include Zelkova Ventures, and a group of angel investors including Barney Pell, former head search strategist at Microsoft; and Carl Schramm, former CEO of the Kauffman Foundation, according to BrandYourself.com.
The company was honored by the White House as one of the Top 100 Startups Run by Entrepreneurs Under 30, and it has been named one of the Top 5 Collegiate Startups by Entrepreneur Magazine. It won the $200,000 grand prize in the 2011 Creative Core Emerging Business Competition. The firm is now a regular tenant of the Tech Garden, and it has grown to include eight employees.