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UT student's startup named one of 'coolest' in country

Duncan Abdelnour helps touring DJs sell their merchandise.
Published Apr. 25, 2014

TAMPA — Imagine partying like a rock star, traveling abroad, and running a business that made six figures in its first year.

Duncan Abdelnour is living the dream.

Abdelnour, a senior at the University of Tampa's Sykes College of Business, started Beatmerch, an electronic music merchandising company that recently was named one of the Coolest College Startups by Inc. Magazine for 2014.

"It was definitely an honor, and it feels really good to bring some recognition to University of Tampa and the Tampa Bay community as a whole, because there's not a lot of businesses that get big recognition that are startups in Tampa," he said. "So it's nice to kind of put us on the map."

The company started last spring and officially launched in October 2013. It counts among its clients Hardwell, Nicky Romero, Paul van Dyk, Don Diablo, Spinnin Records, Protocol Recordings and Club Space Miami. It grossed $126,000 last year for a net profit of $45,000, and Abdelnour said he plans to double those profits this year.

"We're able to travel all over the world," he said. "We get to party with and hang out with some of the biggest, pretty much, artists in contemporary music today. These are guys that have No. 1 radio hits, and we're hanging out on stage with them."

The company helps touring electronic music DJs delegate all of their merchandising needs to one company. The main focus so far has been setting up "merchandise stores," which they call them instead of booths.

Beatmerch partners with Hitmaster Graphics, a promotional products company in Tampa that screen prints T-shirts, embroiders hats and produces other products for clients. The company is buying an RV for tours to musical festivals this summer.

An e-commerce platform for artists to sell their merchandise is in development, which the company hopes to launch in mid May. The next phase is creative licensing agreements for artists and brands.

Abdelnour said the key to his success has been "a lot of sleepless nights and a tireless work ethic." That, along with "a couple of partners that really helped out as well, pulled their weight, and it's pretty much just doing whatever our clients need us to do, making sure things get done right and on time."

Alexa Blackburn handles West Coast operations. Kevin O'Connell and Aaron Musicaro, who assist in artist relations and tour merchandising, are also Abdelnour's roommates.

The recognition by Inc. Magazine came "after internal deliberations which involved comparing and contrasting about 100 startups across the U.S.," Diana Ransom, articles editor, said in a statement. "With revenue of $126,000 in his first year of business, Abdelnour hasn't just found success at a young age, he's established a company with an impressive following and clients who include world-famous DJs."

Two years ago, Inc. Magazine named BetterBoo, a startup of former UT student government president Nick Chmura, one of 19 of the Coolest College Startups for 2012.

Abdelnour said balancing the needs of his business and being a student, especially when about half of the business is traveling, has been a challenge. But his professors have been flexible.

"People that have that entrepreneurial mind-set when they look at the world, they see opportunities, and I think that's the way he is," said Rebecca White, director of the University of Tampa Entrepreneurship Center. "It's that mind-set that he has — that way of looking at the world, which is something we try to nurture — that allowed him to be out there, and it's he who saw the pieces and put it together into a profitable business."

Before Beatmerch, Abdelnour started a promotions company called Synergy Events, which dealt mostly with college nightlife events, along with a promotional products company called Branded Lights.

"That kind of all transitioned into my love of electronic music, which I saw that there was a huge need for artists, especially European artists that we mostly deal with, to have a North American-based merchandising company that specialized and could focus on their needs, and that's how Beatmerch was born," he said.

Abdelnour, who is from Somers, N.Y., started his first business at age 14, selling online paintball accessories.

"He received his first NYS Business Tax I.D. at the tender age of 14," his mother, Maureen, recalled. "I drove him to the state offices in White Plains and will never forget my pride of his initiative as I watched him filling out the required forms while standing on his tiptoes."

Both of his parents are also entrepreneurs, and his grandfather was one also.

Duncan's father, Doug, says: "Mostly I just reiterate the basics: Be yourself, be honest, be professional and maintain your integrity."

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