Young alum seeks to inspire others with success story
As a former student at Arizona State University, Jeff Kunowski knows how it feels to be a young entrepreneur looking to desperately get your first big break.
It is these fond memories that have led him on a mission to share the tips for success he used to create Ilumin8 Outdoor Media, one of the most endorsed signage platforms.
So how did he do it?
While a student at ASU’s West campus, Kunowski majored in integrative studies, a hybrid degree that allows students to design a curriculum based on a selected concentration that is unique to their career aspirations. Kunowski chose to purse a concentration in business, while simultaneously obtaining an international business certificate.
To further gain the business sense he needed to succeed, Kunowski simply began cold-calling local companies and asking if they had internships available. Taking the skills that he learned from one company and putting them to use in another, he was quickly making connections and gaining hands-on experience.
He went on to complete 12 internships, including those with Omni Real Estate Solutions, Clear Channel Communications, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix, and the Phoenix Suns.
“You can learn a lot in the classroom about the foundations of business, but in order to know how it works you have to be placed in that situation. If you see internships as a learning experience they can open your eyes as to how things really work within a company,” he said.
By having the broad spectrum of internships that he did, Kunowski says it also helped him identify his business strengths and what he was passionate about.
“They showed me what I enjoyed doing and I was able to hone in on what I wanted to do with my career,” he said.
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 though. 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.
“I also came up with a lazy-susan type device using a ball bearing with a handle mounted to the sign that would allow a regular store employee to spin the sign easily instead of paying an outside contractor who can do special tricks with it,” he said.
Jeff’s tips for success:
1. Write short autobiographies to help map out your goals and the steps you need to take to achieve them.
2. Get to know your professors. Even upon graduating, they can still give you advice and even help you network professionally.
3. You can never have too many internships. Internships mean experience and it’s even better if they are willing to pay you.
4. Network! It is all about who you know and being a student should be used to your advantage.
5. Don’t be afraid to give your business venture a try. Find what you’re passionate about and get investors excited in it.
Armed with a prototype, Kunowski turned to the ASU 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.
“I really took advantage of the resources available at SkySong, specifically the venture capitalists who helped look into my markets and see where it might fit, where it won’t, the numbers, etc. I was also able to use the Sandra Day O’Connor ad clinic and had graduate students working on my patents to cut back on costs.”
After graduating from ASU in 2011, Kunowski went on to showcase his product at the International Sign Expo in Las Vegas. He also contacted his former internship bosses at the Phoenix Suns who were eager to jump on board and order his product. Kunowski is currently working with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Coamerica Theater, the Phoenix Coyotes and Panasonic as well.
“Illumin8 is now in a partnership with Panasonic, which is one of the biggest technology companies there is. It is really cool to be able to learn from them and share my product. This is what you dream about when you start a business,” Kunowski said.
The long hours and hectic schedule that come hand-in-hand with a successful business are just proof that the former Sun Devil is accomplishing his dreams.
“It’s a lot of time management but this is what I live for. I enjoy growing the business and creating something from nothing. Being so young has allowed be to enjoy the success while it’s happening,” he said.
For more information on Illumin8 Outdoor Media or to learn about applying for an internship, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.