Student’s sports media startup grows rapidly with support from Invent Penn State
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State junior Justin Leusner has been creating content since he was 10 years old. From making videos about anything from sports to video games, Leusner has a deep understanding of the world of social media and content creation, he said. With his love of sports and extensive media background — and support from Invent Penn State and the Summer Founders Program — he founded his sports media startup, TDAY Sports (formerly known as Basketball TDAY), in 2022.
With its tagline, “Gen-Z’s ESPN,” TDAY Sports seeks to give sports fans a more relatable platform to talk about their common passion for sports, Leusner explained.
“Gen-Z is tired of traditional sports media,” said Leusner, who is studying corporate innovation and entrepreneurship (CIENT) through the Smeal College of Business. “They want the friendship-like connection you get from watching a YouTube creator or a social media influencer, instead of someone on TV who is almost talking down to their viewers.”
Currently, TDAY Sports has a following of 1.2 million across different platforms, including YouTube and TikTok. However, Leusner’s team creates content for over 7.5 million people on several different channels, including Athletiverse, ClutchPoints, 15 Seconds of Fame and many others.
“Other companies reach out to us to form partnerships,” Leusner said. “We’ll create content like graphics and reels to post for our clients. We manage their social media presence while offering video editing services for some of our partners.”
In September of this year, TDAY Sports signed a deal with Paragon Marketing Group to promote Fast Twitch, Gatorade’s newest energy drink.
“This has been our first real brand partnership,” said Leusner. “They send us a few thousand bottles to make content with or even pass them out to people. It’s been really fun and a huge success for our team.”
In the summer of 2022, when Leusner first came up with the idea for his startup, he joined Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank’s Idea TestLab. The Idea TestLab is a 4-week program that helps individuals figure out if they can turn their idea into a viable business. Through the TestLab, Leusner won $5,000 in reimbursement-based customer discovery funding.
“I was able to use that money to go to VidSummit in Los Angeles last September, which was a fantastic experience,” said Leusner. “I also spent it on LinkedIn Premium and was able to build a strong presence there.”
Leusner has taken advantage of several accelerator programs and pitch competitions offered through Invent Penn State. In November of 2022, he received $3,000 from the Happy Valley LaunchBox FastTrack Accelerator, a 10-week program that helps entrepreneurs test the market quickly and build a solution to meet defined customer needs.
In March of 2023, TDAY Sports won second place in the Inc.U Competition. In addition to awarding him $10,000 for his startup, the competition also provided support specifically designed to help his startup gain traction, including business mentors, professionally designed marketing videos, and showcase opportunities.
Leusner then participated in the Invent Penn State Summer Founders Program this past summer, and most recently was a featured startup in the Student Startup Showcase that took place during the Invent Penn State Venture & IP Conference in mid-October.
“All of this funding has allowed us to build our team up to 80 people, pay our leadership, invest in new gear, supplies and video editing software,” Leusner said. “We were even able to invest in merch and gift cards for our team.”
In addition to the $15,000 in funding he received from the Summer Founders Program, Leusner also gained invaluable mentors.
“Our advisors, Bill Zimmerman and Elizabeth Hay, have been monumental in our success,” said Leusner. “Elizabeth has really pushed me to look at our bottom line and make sure that we’re able to pay our staff and fulfill our partnership promises. She’s been pushing us to think bigger.”
Elizabeth Hay, Jack White Family Director of Happy Valley LaunchBox, said, “Justin joined our programs with determination and grit to become a successful entrepreneur. He quickly transformed his idea into a business by taking advantage of all the resources and programs offered by Happy Valley LaunchBox. His consistent openness to feedback, commitment to growth, and persistence in building a network are a testament to his entrepreneurial spirit.”
Leusner credits the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Invent Penn State for giving him an enjoyable college experience.
“My first year, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Penn State, I was even thinking about transferring,” Leusner said. “But when I found Invent Penn State, it was monumental for me. I was working hard to graduate in three years, but after going through the Summer Founders Program, and having access to the LaunchBox and the community here, being able to meet so many cool people, I decided to stay longer.”
Leusner encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to take full advantage of the LaunchBox, and all Invent Penn State has to offer.
“I really think it’s the most under tapped resource at Penn State,” Leusner said. “I wish I could do all of their programs again.”
About Invent Penn State
Invent Penn State is a commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student career success. Invent Penn State blends entrepreneurship-focused academic programs, business startup training and incubation, funding for commercialization, and university/community/industry collaborations to facilitate the challenging process of turning research discoveries into valuable products and services that can benefit Pennsylvanians and humankind.
This project was financed in part by a grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Community and Economic Development.