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Former Sandbox company wins top industry startup award at SXSW

March 15, 2012

Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

SXSWA .com company launched from the School of Information Studies/Syracuse Tech Garden Sandbox in 2009 by three Syracuse University graduates was named “Best Bootstrapped Startup” at the tech industry’s pinnacle conference of the year last night.

BrandYourself.com was named the overall winner in that category for the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Accelerator competition in Austin, Texas.  The “Best Bootstrapped Startup” award recognizes the company that has made the most progress with the most promise, given the resources of a startup, according to BrandYourself.com CEO Patrick Ambron.

“We were hoping to win the award for our category, but certainly not expecting to win the overall [competition] award,” Ambron says. “It’s a testament to the quality of our application and more importantly, to the problem that we solve,” he added. “More than anything else, we hope this shows that Central New York truly has the resources to produce great, innovative new companies."

The firm started in concept after one of the founders, Pete Kistler, could not get an internship in college because he was mistakenly identified on Google as a drug dealer, the company has said. That led to the idea to create a product that made it easy for anyone to improve their search results, thus managing their online reputation by themselves. The company offers a basic product free of charge, and a premium version for a modest monthly fee.  “We wanted to give everybody the power of reputation management, regardless of how tech savvy or wealthy they might be, so we created a free product that makes it simple for anyone to do,” Ambron says.

The 2012 Accelerator competition included the following categories of technologies: Innovative Web; Entertainment; Health; Mobile; News Related and Social Media; and Social Networking.  BrandYourself was selected as a finalist out of 670 initial startups competing to present at the SXSW conference. The company was then selected among 48 presenting finalists.

The Syracuse-based company was founded in 2009 when classmates Ambron, Kistler and Evan McGowan-Watson graduated from SU. They were part of the original Student Sandbox entrepreneurship center.

The company’s principals all graduated from SU in 2009 with dual majors—Ambron came from the iSchool and the Newhouse School; McGowan-Watson was a dual major from the Whitman School and The College of Arts and Sciences; and Kistler was a dual major in the iSchool and the Whitman School.

BrandYourself.com has received significant governmental and entrepreneurial community recognition recently. In 2011, the firm won the $200,000 grand prize in the 2011 Creative Core Emerging Business Competition. The company also was honored by the White House as one of the Top 100 Startups Run by Entrepreneurs Under 30, and it has been named one of the Top 5 Collegiate Startups by Entrepreneur Magazine.

In announcing the firm’s new investment status last week, Ambron credited SU, the iSchool, the Tech Garden and advisers John Liddy and Linda Hartsock for helping the idea become a thriving business. “When you haven’t done these things before, that kind of support, knowing you’ve got a community and a university and a support system behind you, is really important,” he says.

Now a regular tenant of the Tech Garden on Harrison Street downtown, BrandYourself.com has grown to include eight employees.

More information about the competition and the Accelerator finalists is at: http://sxsw.com/interactive/startupvillage/accelerator/finalists.

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