Daniel Fine was 12 years old when his younger brother, Jake, was diagnosed with type 1 juvenile diabetes.
“That was the beginning for me,” Fine reflects.
“His diagnosis was one of those things that was absolutely devastating, but in a way, it changed all of our lives for the better.”
Indeed, Fine was determined to do more than lament his brother’s misfortunate, even at the ripe age of 12.
In 2004, he created an organization called Team Brotherly Love, a nonprofit devoted to increasing public awareness of juvenile diabetes and finding a cure for the disease, which has raised more than $1.8 million to date.
With such an early record of accomplishment, it’s no surprise that now, as a 21-year-old senior at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school, Fine has taken his entrepreneurial acumen to dizzying new heights.
In January 2013, with no outside funding, Fine launched Glass-U – a customized, foldable sunglasses company – out of his dorm room.
“I realized every frat boy, and girl for that matter, rocks custom shades, but there was no key place to get them,” Fine says.
“It began as an idea to fill that void.”
But Fine wasn’t content simply to sell his sunglasses to his fellow classmates. He set his sights on something much bigger.
“What started as custom, if you will, kind of progressed into what is actually licensed,” he says.
“Putting those logos on, having them available for every Greek organization and every school and putting them at a price point that’s really affordable.”
In order to strike an agreement with the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), which controls licensing rights to the biggest university programs in the nation, Fine had to prove that his business model was viable in the long run.
By validating his business through a series of product launches at the Rose Bowl, Bonnaroo, South by Southwest and Lollapalooza, Fine convinced the licensing companies and schools to grant him rights to hundreds college programs in the United States and Canada.
“We were fortunate to get them to say, ‘Well, you’re new, but you’re doing real things and we can see the revenue drivers. As a result of that, we’ll grant you those rights,’” recalls Fine.
“In terms of how we’ve structured it, we’ve almost worked backwards. Generally with licensing, when you’re it this type of business, people are like, ‘Okay, try one school. Two schools maybe. See how those go and then we’ll expand.’”
“We’re taking the complete opposite approach.”
It seems to be working.
In May, Glass-U minted a contract with FIFA to distribute sunglasses for the 2014 World Cup, the youngest such company to do so.
Under the agreement, Glass-U manufactured customized sunglasses for each of the 32 teams participating the World Cup.
Domestically, Glass-U has expanded rapidly.
Twenty-six employees and interns work at the company’s Philadelphia headquarters, and Glass-U GURUs (brand ambassadors for the company) can now be found on 84 college campuses across the country, with more yet to come.
“What we’re establishing and building is this highway, if you will, [and] Glass-U is the first car to go down it,” Fine says when discussing the GURU network.
What you can do is then have this access point where you’re not only represented on campus, but in these organizations.”
Fine is actively recruiting students to join his Glass-U GURU squad.
“As we expand, we’re looking for cool, motivated, and entrepreneurial students and recent graduates across the country to join our team. They get to make money, get free swag, and top performers get to join us at festivals and events and grow within the company.
Though Glass-U is the cornerstone of Fine’s business enterprise, he has established eight companies that range from one-on-one mentorship/tutoring programs to tech and digital marketing under his umbrella corporation, The Fine Companies, LLC.
In each of these pursuits, Fine emphasizes philanthropy at the forefront.
“It’s not all about what can we do, but more, what can we create that makes others happy… what can we do along the process to make sure that we’re giving back. So now we have a campaign called Rock the Cause that we’re launching in about a week and a half, which is partnerships across all types of nonprofits.”
Fine believes that more companies should emphasize philanthropy at the beginning, rather than waiting until the business takes off to figure out how it can be a force for positive change.
One of the ways that Fine hopes to next make a difference is affording Millennial entrepreneurs the same opportunities that helped him achieve success through his Millennial Fund, a special venture capital unit designed to “enable and empower [individuals] under 30.”
“One of the big differences between us and what these other VCs are doing is that a VC will say, ‘Okay, here’s $50,000, now go. And then a company will take that $50,000 grand and go to a lawyer and spend $20,000 of that $50,000 on intellectual property and basic establishment,” Fine says
“Instead, we’ll have those basic teams and accessibilities in-house… They can often harness what we have internally and then take their money to actually build their business.”
While acknowledging that building a business isn’t easy, Fine does offer some advice to prospective entrepreneurs.
“The first step is stop talking and start playing. And I say playing because it is a game and it’s not just working. It’s getting your hands and feet dirty and starting to play that game.”
Photo Credit: MF