Great business concepts can come from anywhere – and a lot of them start with students at the Whitman School. The following startups in the fashion, tech, sports and personal branding spaces are just some of the outstanding examples of what Whitman students are making happen across the Syracuse University campus and beyond.
Need something to make your wardrobe pop? Look no further than Popcycle, a company established by Whitman student Jackson Ensley ’22 that curates unique fashions by student designers at pop-up shops on campus. Several times throughout the academic year, Ensley coordinates pop-ups – like those recently held at the Blackstone Launchpad and the Schine Student Center – to showcase the latest trends not yet available in stores.
“These events are not traditional pop-ups,” explains Ensley, who is a marketing management major. “They are full-on retail experiences that include try-ons, immersive browsing and ‘retail therapy’ featuring young, fun fashions that pop!”
Popcycle was established two years ago, and, since then, Ensley has taken over full responsibility for running the business. “I’ve been interested in fashion since high school and also in business, so I wanted to create something that straddled both,” he explains. “There are so many creatives on a college campus who are trying to get established through word-of-mouth or online sites like Etsy, but it’s not easy. Popcycle is an opportunity for them to make connections, move inventory and help get them to the next step.”
While Popcycle was originally designed to be financially sustainable, Ensley has since shifted his business plan to maximize the individual designers’ sales and donate any money left over to charity. Today, Popcycle supports a nonprofit called Callisto, a resource for victims of sexual assault on college campuses.
“The charity aspect has become very important to me, and I just love the mission of what we do,” he says.
As a senior in high school in 2018, James LePage ’22, a Whitman student majoring in entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises, started an SEO and web company called Isotropic. The business is a resource where digital creators find online courses, articles, a how-to blog and a growing YouTube channel, among other resources, to help them become better at using WordPress, a well-known software for creating websites and blogs.
“Isotropic is a term based in chemistry, referring to an object that has the same properties in all directions,” explains LePage. “We took the term and adapted it to our mission statement – creating a company that is here to offer our followers value, quality and resources in all directions.”
The idea stemmed from an internship in commercial real estate LePage had in New York City, where he was tasked with searching for information on hedge fund websites. He noticed that many were poorly designed and knew he could devise a way to make them better. Soon, a business was born. Once he arrived on the Syracuse University campus as a student, he quickly embedded himself in the Blackstone Launchpad, hiring two developers and designers, as he watched Isotropic really take off.
Juggling the responsibilities of running a business and earning his degree, however, LePage made the decision to work only on “really cool projects that we really wanted to do.” He turned Isotropic’s focus from web design to thought leadership, offering WordPress educational content from his own team and freelance content contributors.
LePage credits the Whitman School and the Launchpad for helping make Isotropic the success it is today. With 100,000 views a day, the company is “on autopilot” and has become “hugely profitable.” And, while he oversees the company, like most entrepreneurs, LePage is already working on another idea, Perk, a business that rewards people for owning stock.
“I expect Isotropic will either grow into something where I’ll need to hire a full-time team, or I’ll sell it at some point and roll the money into my next venture,” he says.
Last July, when the NCAA announced that student athletes could profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL), Jack Adler ’23, a double major in entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises and marketing management at Whitman, and Sam Holland ’23 (WHIT/NEW), a dual finance major at Whitman and public relations major at the Newhouse School, were already preparing to succeed in this space with their sports marketing agency, Out2Win Sports.
The agency “run by college students for college students,” according to Adler, helps college athletes at all tiers leverage the opportunity to use their NIL through brand building, storytelling and connecting with the right brand, while also staying within compliance guidelines.
One of the things Out2Win does best is organically incorporate local and national brands into athletes’ social media content. For example, it recently helped Syracuse University men’s and women’s lacrosse captains, Brendan Curry and Sam Swart, respectively, partner with the brand Karma Sauce. Out2Win came up with an idea to have Curry and Swart play a lacrosse-style version of the basketball game “P-I-G,” where the loser had to try the brand’s hottest sauce on video. In another instance, Out2Win paired Syracuse University football player Justin Barron and Timex by organizing a competition on the quad where students ran one-on-one football routes to win a watch. Both ideas were showcased on TikTok, benefitting both the brands and the athletes.
“You don’t have to be one of the ‘big names’ to make money on your NIL,” explains Adler. “There is a lot of potential out there for the other 99%, and we’re working to make those connections. We understand that most athletes only have a small window of time to profit from their NIL, so we’re jumping in to creatively highlight their personal brands in ways they never thought possible.”
Adler and Holland are continuing to attract bigger name brands and hope to expand their clientele to athletes at other colleges and universities, while also looking for other opportunities that will help Out2Win continue to grow.
“Our goal is to continue pivoting and figuring out where we best fit in sports, marketing and business,” says Adler. “It’s exciting to see where it may go.”
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