Illumin8 founder shines as AZ 2014 Young Entrepreneur of the Year

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Arizona District Office has named Jeff Kunowski, founder of Illumin8, a company that specializes in backlit LED signage, as Arizona’s 2014 Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
“I was very excited to learn that I was selected to win this award,” Kunowski said. “I started Illumin8 as an individual but have had a tremendous amount of support from my community and wouldn’t be receiving this award without them.”
Along with receiving the honor, Kunowski also secured a spot in the SBA’s 2014 Emerging Leaders Initiative, a program that selects a CEO from 15 different established businesses in Arizona and gives them a seven month curriculum designed to help grow their business. Kunowski said the bi-weekly class allows for a collaborative learning experience between business owners.
“The goal is to support successful businesses in our state and establish more jobs for our community,” he said.
Kunowski, an Arizona State University graduate, launched the electronic billboard company in 2010 with the help of the university’s Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative, a startup accelerator that caters to ASU students. After Kunowski developed a business plan, built a prototype, and faced two rounds of judging,  the program awarded him a $10,000 grant, office space at Skysong and mentorship.
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“I happened to be at the right place at the right time with the Edson program. I came up with the idea for my company at about the same time that I heard about the program,” Kunowski said. “It was a great experience and provided the support and validation that I needed to continue on with my business concept.”
The idea for the company came to Kunowski’s mind as he was driving one evening. He noticed a man at the corner of an intersection that was trying to direct traffic toward a business. The sun, however, had already set and the sign could not be seen.
“It was at that time that I thought, why not create a portable sign platform that could be lit and visible both day and night,” Kunowski said.  “I did some research and ordered some components that I thought might work and began developing my products.”
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Since its creation, Illumin8 has evolved immensely. Their first sale in 2011 was to the Phoenix Suns, which gave them acclaim in the area, allowing the company to expand to other locations in downtown Phoenix. In 2012, Kunowski met his businesses partner Douglas Moss, who is the former president of the Phoenix Coyotes.
After extensive brainstorming and teamwork, they found themselves boosting local sales and branching out to Las Vegas and clients including the MGM Grand Resort and Casino. This client in particular gave the company even greater acclaim. The company recently signed a blanket purchase order with MGM International, which builds their reputation with all of the MGM properties both in Las Vegas and worldwide.
Read about more startups coming out of ASU’s Edson program
Graphics courtesy of Illumin8