Jeff Kunowski, a recent graduate of Arizona State University, is the founder of Illumin8 Outdoor Media, LLC., an Arizona based company that provides eco-friendly and innovative signage products primarily using LED technologies.
Kunowski learned early on in his college career that he can benefit from establishing a network of contacts outside of the classroom. He reached out to local companies and set up meetings which led to an expansive network and an impressive 12 internships with companies like: the Phoenix Suns, Clear Channel Outdoor, the U.S. Attorneys Office, Venture51, and others.
Driving home from work one night in 2010, Kunowski unexpectedly found the inspiration he needed to create his very own business. To advertise, companies will often hire individuals to hold up signs on streets corners to draw in customers. As the sun starts to go down, it becomes harder to make out what exactly these signs are advertising. While sitting in commuter traffic, Kunowski realized that illuminating these signs would be the best way to extend the promotional hours and attract key audiences. After countless hours of research and trying out different light sources, Illumin8 Outdoor Media was born.
Kunowski turned to the Arizona State University Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative for help with funding. He put together a business plan, renderings, market research and gave a compelling presentation to the judges about why his business would succeed in today’s market. Illumin8 was selected for a $10,000 grant, plus office space at ASU SkySong and access to university mentors.
After extensive development, Kunowski introduced his products to his network. The Phoenix Suns were among the first to purchase these signage platforms. As word spread, so did sales throughout the downtown Phoenix District.
This early success attracted the attention of Douglas Moss, (former President of the Phoenix Coyotes and former president of the Madison Square Garden Network), who is now a partner and investor. Moss has been the driving force behind Illumin8’s relationship with sports and entertainment clientele on a national scale. In 2012, under the guidance of Moss, Illumin8 began a relationship with Panasonic Enterprise Solutions, to provide static backlit signage solutions to accompany their large format digital signs in sports and entertainment venues across the country.
1. What was the driving force behind your decision to start a business in college?
I have been interested in building businesses since I was young. I have always been a guy with ideas. But I found early on that talk is cheap, and worse, it doesn't make you successful. So I decided to apply some of my ideas.
2. There are always obstacles when trying to reach your goals. What is your advice to members of the student body who wish to excel beyond the books (business, company)?
The biggest obstacle that I have had to overcome is time management. At certain times, I would have 2 or 3 internships going on simultaneously, while running a start-up, as well as attending school full time. It got hectic, but I found the solution for that was to remain motivated. This is perhaps the most important thing you can do to be successful. If you don't have something that you work towards, such as financial freedom, or making an positive impact in the world, you might as well give up. You will be tested on the road to success and it is very important to know exactly what you are working towards. I recommend writing down your progress and accomplishments so that you have these to refer back to when you have a rough day. Also, the people you hang out with have a huge effect on your morale, so choose wisely. Motivation is an integral part of success.
3. Who are your main influences and why?
I have had many positive influences throughout the last several years. I have to first mention my parents. They have been very supportive and have never questioned or limited my creativity. Other influences came through the many people that I have networked with. As I became more involved in Phoenix’s business environment I found role models everywhere I looked. I saw that I could learn from everyone I came in contact with. My most current influence is my business partner and advisor, Douglas Moss. He has had an amazing career in the sports and entertainment business, including running the Madison Square Garden Network, heading up the International Hockey League, and was the President of the Phoenix Coyotes. He has a wealth of knowledge and it is a pleasure to be affiliated with him.
4. Recognition is key. How would you like to be recognized in a world of entrepreneurs?
Recognition is certainly an important factor of success, and I believe that there is a certain amount of responsibility that goes along with it. If you are fortunate enough to promote your success and your business through a press release, you should also offer guidance for others to achieve similar success. I would like to be recognized as a mentor, not a competitor.
5. Other than networking, what are other things you can do to make sure your business excels beyond a start-up?
Networking is a great way to get in the door, but that alone is not enough to be successful. You need to have a quality product or service that you can present that prompts action from your target. Whether that action is a purchase, or an endorsement, or simply feedback, it is important that you are networking with a purpose in mind. If you are involved with a start-up, be sure to keep developing and stay ahead of the curve, because if you don’t, your competition will.
6. Which fields are you looking to explore next and why?
I have devoted the majority of my time up to this point to product based companies. I will continue to work on these, but I also recognize the potential for tech companies. Although there is a lot of competition, there is also a lot of potential for rapid growth. I am currently working with a partner on a site that I believe will tap into that potential, so stay tuned!
7. How does business connect to the college life? Do you feel that they are compatible or more of a pressure point?
Business and college go hand in hand. But what you are taught in college has a lot to do with theory and procedure. Not application. There is a strong push to bridge this gap at many universities and Arizona State is among the top. I was fortunate enough to receive a business grant for my start-up through the Edson program at ASU. Under the direction of ASU’s president, Michael Crow, they have really begun to support the entrepreneurial minded students that pride themselves in being self starters and innovators.
8. What does entrepreneurship mean to you?
Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle. I enjoy being able to brainstorm with friends, make connections, and see an idea come to fruition in a matter of weeks. It isn’t an easy lifestyle, but one thing that I can say is that you will get out of it, what you put into it. So stay motivated and put in the time.