While majoring in graphic design at the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, Chad Reynolds held internships in Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Those internships, says Reynolds, helped him form a better idea of what he wanted to do with his degree, what additional skills he needed to hone in order to achieve those goals and prepared him to start his own company right out of college. It crossed his mind at the time that it was a shame there weren't many internship programs for high school kids, to give them a sense of focus going into college, instead of coming out.
After graduation, Reynolds co-founded a successful design company and began a promising career. But the seeds had been planted and over the course of several years, an idea began to grow.
In 2007, the idea bloomed into fruition. Reynolds started Fanattik, an organization that introduces high school students to small business practices by guiding them through the hands-on creation, marketing and sales of spirit wear - a school-specific line of t-shirts and sweatshirts.
"It was a way for me to give back to the schools and communities and the people who helped me understand business," he says. "And it passes that knowledge onto the next wave of entrepreneurs while allowing them to perform a service for their own peers."
Previously, spirit wear sales were driven by parents or boosters who passed out order forms or set up a school spirit store. Students only had the opportunity to be customers. Fanattik and its student interns are turning that model on its head and making it a student-driven, student-run business.
Here's how it works. Fanattik makes its business model available to interested high schools and hires 2-5 interns that, with the help of a school administrator, form a company within each school to design, market, produce and sell spirit wear.
"It's real world experience," says Reynolds. "Our interns have unprecedented access into the inner workings of our company, and hands-on experience building their own product lines, developing marketing campaigns, and learning and implementing new business strategies."
It also provides students with a small sampling of business contacts, allowing them to begin networking and looking for mentors years ahead of their peers. "It's all built around raising money for their school but gives students experience along the way. They start to understand how to turn a great idea into a marketable product," says Reynolds.
Students are also given a chance to hear and learn from local business leaders and job shadow professionals in their fields of interest. "It's really providing a diverse learning platform for these kids," Reynolds says, "not just the day-to-day business functions."
And, it's working. Nick Daffin, a recent Elder graduate and Fanattik intern who will be heading to Yale this fall, says the program has taught him a great deal about business. Daffin, who plans to own his own business someday, says actually running a business was much more meaningful experience than just learning about running a business.
"I have a much better idea of what to expect when I get to that point in my life. You can study it all you want, but you really don't understand it until you're actually involved. For instance, one of the things that really struck me is how long things take," he says. "You have a really great idea and you just kind of expect things to fall into place. I've learned that's not how it works."
Daffin says the program's speakers and lectures were also helpful to him. "Chad knows everybody. He even knows a guy who produces reality TV shows and got him to come in and talk to us about how to get the job of our dreams."
In just two years time, the Fanattik program has been installed in 25 schools in the greater Cincinnati area, including Indian Hill High School. Susan Schonauer is the school's marketing instructor and manages an internship program for around 35 seniors every year. "We're always looking for businesses that will take our interns," she says. "It's a rare treat to have someone contact us looking for interns. But Fanattik did." And when she looked into the program, Schonauer was easily persuaded.
Coincidentally, Schonauer is also in charge of the school's spirit club and the combination of the internship program and the spirit wear component made the program a win-win situation at her school, and it included an additional bonus as far as she was concerned. "Everything I read about Chad convinced me," she says. "He's young. He's ambitious. He's successful. What a great role model for my students to be around."
Reynolds plans to take the program national this fall and hopes to be in 150 schools nationwide by year's end. The program is growing so rapidly that Reynolds no longer handles day-to-day responsibilities at the design firm he co-founded.
Reynolds says it's particularly gratifying to hear his interns tell him about the interest in Fanattik shown during their college interviews. "Some students are spending more than half of their interview time talking about Fanattik, how the program works, what they've learned and how they plan to use that knowledge in college and beyond," he says.
Daffin said his Fanattik experience was discussed at his Yale interviews and feels it was definitely a factor in his acceptance to the Ivy League university. He also says Reynolds "doesn't sleep - the guy just lays awake at night and thinks up new ideas." He might be right. Even with Fanattik's national roll out on the horizon, Reynolds is already laying plans for his next project, a joint venture with Edun Live, a company founded by U2's Bono, to help develop social responsibility at the college level.
Photography by Scott Beseler
All photos taken at the Fanattik workshop, West End