Most college students have enough trouble just juggling course loads, part-time jobs and extracurricular activities. But Michael Jordan has them all beat. While he was at Minnesota State Mankato, he also started his own business: UNRL.
“It’s sort of a nightmare,” Jordan says with a laugh. “But I think it’s rewarding, seeing that light at the end of the tunnel and knowing it’s all going to pay off.”
Jordan, who grew up in the Twin Cities, taught himself how to work with HTML and build his own websites when he was 13. He offered his services to anyone who would take them, including his parents’ friends and small businesses in the area. That experience helped him recognize another popular need: customized apparel. So, when he wasn’t busy with high school homework, he was meeting with screen printers, building relationships and creating original designs—including his high school hockey team’s uniforms
When he came to Minnesota State Mankato, his roommates introduced him to the world of competitive video gaming—and he quickly saw the unmet need for customized apparel. He and a partner created Gamingjerseys.com, which utilized the process of dye supplementation to offer a wide variety of colors and designs to gamers. Though the business became extremely successful, Jordan began to have problems with his partner and decided to move on by himself. In 2013, he launched a line of athletic wear and called the company UNRL.
“It was tough because I spent almost all my money trying to salvage my old business,” he says. “I had about $2,000 in cash. So I wasn’t at a good spot to start a business. I was starting from scratch out of my mom’s basement.”
The move worked out: In the past three years, UNRL has secured deals with the National Hockey League and endorsements from athletes such as NY Mets pitcher Witt Haggard and Team USA hockey player Kelli Stack.
Jordan says this success would not have been possible without the help of faculty and staff at Minnesota State Mankato, specifically in the College of Business.
“Being able to learn the fundamentals of business, and have professors who are willing to go the extra mile to sit down with me after class and offer recommendations, has been pretty key,” he says. “It’s been really cool to have a business going and be able to go to class everyday and learn things and think, ‘Oh, I can take that and apply it to my business when I get out of class today.’”
Nick Linde is one of the professors Jordan praises for helping him organize and expand his business. Linde, who helped arrange meetings with potential clients (including the Minnesota Timberwolves) says that Jordan’s eagerness to learn opened the door to his success..
Linde said Jordan’s unquenchable love for learning and improving opened up the doors to his success.
“The biggest thing for him was continually being a student of the game,” he says. “Even today, now that his company’s having a lot of success, he’s always interested in learning, taking on new mentorship, picking people’s brains. Michael’s story is really indicative of Dean Brenda Flannery’s vision, and what our College of Business is trying to do: promote students that have ideas and give them the tools and skills that they need to get their business going and expand their network, to put them in a position to succeed any way we can.”
Linde added that Jordan is also a good example of why potential entrepreneurs should get a good business foundation in school before plunging ahead to start a company on their own.
“There’s so much more to it than just a good idea,” Linde says. “Students who are trying to skip college are missing out. They might have a good idea, but there’s so much they don’t know.”
Jordan currently employs four people and works with six independent contractors. He is the sole owner of the company, but he says he couldn’t do what he does without his key employee and partner, Travis Swan.
“Michael is one of the most driven individuals I’ve ever met in my life,” Swan says. “People often talk about what they want to do and how they want to be successful, but not so many people are successful in following through. But Michael’s the type of person that when he says he’s going to do something, he gets it done.”
Jordan is the first to acknowledge how difficult it is to be both a full-time student and a full-time business owner—but he encourages other students to give it a try.
“You have the opportunity to fail and it’s not going to be the end of the world,” he explains. “Most of us don’t have mortgages to pay or families to support. Being able to be here and have a safety net, it’s an awesome opportunity to start a business. I think that college kids have so much time on their hands… this is the best time to start a business.” —Grace Webb