College Entrepreneurs Make Success Last

(part 2 of 3)

All for the Money
For many young entrepreneurs, making money is certainly a very strong motivator. At Chapel Hill, Rosin’s room and board were paid for, but beyond that, his parents said, he was on his own. “It forced me to decide how to manage my time and generate income,” Rosin says. “The option was either to have a $6-an-hour job at the library or start my own little thing where I generate my own income and act as my own boss. I didn’t want to work for $6 an hour for someone else doing something I didn’t enjoy.”

Low cash flow also helped spark the creative spirit of Sterling Wilson, co-owner of supplier Pop! Promos (asi/45657). After spending a semester in 2010 “living like a king in China” while he learned the ins and outs of supply chain and sourcing for a pharmaceutical company, Wilson returned for his senior year at the University of Southern California flat broke. At the first football game of the year, he noticed his fellow fans were dressed to the nines in logoed spiritwear, from caps to can coolers. No one, though, was wearing sunglasses in their favorite team’s colors. Wilson borrowed $2,000 from his roommate, reached out to his friends in China to find a factory, from which he ordered 2,000 pairs of sunglasses in crimson and gold with the words “game day” printed on the side. In the two days after the shades arrived, Wilson was able to earn $20,000, selling all 2,000 pairs at rallies and pre-game tailgate parties.

He reached out to his lifelong friend and current business partner, Erin Reilly, who was attending school across the country at Johns Hopkins, and convinced her to start selling sunglasses too. “There was a really big void in the arena of free giveaway stuff that actually matches school colors,” Reilly says, recalling the enthusiastic response to the Pantone-matched sunglasses at her alma mater. “It’s all about school pride.”
Mitch Weintraub, co-founder of Pinnacle Promotions (asi/295986), got his start selling funny T-shirts as a college student at the University of Florida.
Danny Rosin (top), co-president of Brand Fuel (asi/145025), in his fun college days at the University of North Carolina, where he created T-shirts to sell at sporting events.
After graduation, Wilson and Reilly committed themselves to expanding their budding business, figuring they could find conventional jobs later if the venture failed. They rented a house in Philadelphia, setting up an office in the living room. In their first year, Reilly says, they sold over 1 million pairs of sunglasses. Over a handful of years, Pop! Promos has grown into a multimillion-dollar company with 17 employees and a growing line of Pantone-matched products. “We never needed to get those jobs,” Reilly says.

Of course, it’s more than just a need to fill an empty wallet that drives young entrepreneurs. Jeff Becker, who went on to launch Kotis Design (asi/244898) after volunteering to be the “T-shirt guy” for his fraternity as a freshman at the University of Washington, says he just has a love of selling. “I’m inherently good at making decisions and being in charge,” he says. “I like the win factor, and in selling you’re sort of winning. I’m very competitive.”

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Sterling Wilson and Erin Reilly, co-owners of Pop! Promos (asi/45657), have grown their college sunglasses business into a multimillion-dollar supplier.


Published in Advantage Magazine August 2015 by Theresa Hegel

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