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Raleigh startup to design website for Democratic convention

RALEIGH Think of Business Empire Consulting as the brash newcomer that nominated itself for the job – and won.

The 28-month-old Raleigh digital marketing agency beat out 11 competitors for the plum job of designing and hosting a new website for the Democratic National Convention, which is set for Charlotte in September.

Pretty heady stuff for a company created by a trio of 20-somethings – CEO Bryan Young, 25; Matt Laster, chief information officer, 24; and Brandon Blair, chief marketing officer, 24 – at the end of 2009 when they were students at N.C. State University.

Their 11-employee company has won larger pieces of business than the $70,000 convention contract, but the deal is worth much more in terms of exposure.

“We are ... very excited about this opportunity to showcase our ability on such a grand scale,” Young said. “To be involved in the planning and implementation of a project like this, at our age, is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will helps us build relationships, hopefully, around the country and definitely in North Carolina.”

The Democratic National Convention Committee chose Business Empire based on factors such as creativity and its work for clients such as the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, N.C. State University and Lonerider Brewing.

“We’re confident they have what it takes for a project of this magnitude,” said Nikki Sutton, deputy director for communications for digital media. The convention committee isn’t disclosing how much traffic it expects the website to handle.

Being a small business located in the convention’s host state also was considered a plus, Sutton said.

In case you’re wondering, politics apparently wasn’t a factor.

“We’re a non-partisan firm,” said Young. “We leave all our political beliefs at home.”

The new website will debut later this spring, and details are still being hashed out. The convention currently has a bare-bones site at www.demconvention.com that Business Empire wasn’t involved with.

The new website needs to be a resource for both attendees – including 6,000 delegates and an anticipated 15,000 members of the media – and interested bystanders everywhere.

“The goals are to really focus on interactivity, to bring the conversation into your living room so anyone in the country, any American, can interact and be a part of the conversation as it is going on,” Laster said. “We will rely on a lot of social media.”

Prior to teaming up on Business Empire, Young and Laster formed two other startups – a digital magazine for business students and an online textbook company – that fizzled.

“We were bound to be entrepreneurs,” Young said.

They were joined by Blair for their third venture, Business Empire, which grew out of the websites they had built for local mom-and-pop businesses to earn some money.

“We called it Business Empire Consulting because we always thought big,” Young said.

Client No. 1 was N.C. State University’s Entrepreneurship Initiative.

The website Business Empire created helped to increase attendance at the initiative’s events and triggered “a tremendous boost in social media followers,” said Jennifer Capps, associate director of undergraduate academic programs for the interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Initiative. “We’ve gotten tremendous feedback on the work they did for us.”

The business soon gained enough traction that, one by one, the three founders dropped out of N.C. State despite the misgivings of their parents. Nor was Capps, who has been a mentor over the years, pleased with that decision.

“I do know all of the guys have told me they do plan to finish their degrees at some point in time, because I ask them about it all the time,” she said.

Being so young was a handicap for the founders in the beginning. Prospective clients often viewed them as “the three little kids,” Laster said.

But as they have accumulated a track record and a roster of clients, it’s become less and less of an issue, Blair added.

And now have a vote of confidence from the Democratic National Convention Committee.

Ranii: 919-829-4877
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