By Wendy Linden
Every new business is looking for the thing that sets it apart — the special sauce. For Sam Shepler ‘11, M.S.P.C. ‘12, Gabe Gerzon ‘11, M.S.P.C. ‘12, and Alex Dunn ‘11, M.B.A. ‘12, that “sauce” was a collaborative approach to building their company, Skyscope, from a group of graduate students strategizing around their kitchen table to a world-class video production agency with clients nationwide.
In 2011, the three close friends, all fifth-year students, were considering their career prospects. “Entrepreneurship was always on our mind,” says Shepler. “We asked ourselves, ‘What could we do better than most that a customer segment also really needs and is willing to pay for?’ The answer we came to pretty quickly was corporate video production that was energetic and alive, not staged and stodgy like so many providers we saw out there at the time.”
Shepler, Gerzon and Dunn are avid video enthusiasts with an abiding fascination for consuming and creating content. Shepler, for instance, learned the basics of video production by shooting and editing snowboarding videos of himself and his middle-school friends. “We cut our teeth early on, making our first videos when we were about ten,” says Gerzon. “We would use action figures to make stop-motion animation videos. And we didn’t have access to non-linear editing software like we do now, so we just taped over our mistakes. It was a formative analog experience.”
When Shepler, Gerzon and Dunn met in their first year at Clark, they fed their cinematic passions by making zombie and gangster films. As their partnership took root, they learned from practicing entrepreneurs associated with Clark’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship program about the challenges of launching a business. “Hands-on, in-the-trenches experience is invaluable,” Dunn says.
During senior year, Dunn worked for former Clark professor and entrepreneur Steve Rothschild, and Shepler worked for Mark Arvanigian, another prominent Worcester internet entrepreneur. This exposure helped them realize there is no great mystery behind starting a business. “Fundamentally good entrepreneurship is about solving a need or unlocking a new experience in a new, novel, delightful way,” Dunn says. Shepler likens the process to a puzzle or treasure hunt. “A good chunk of the map is missing, but you gather clues, get feedback and continue to hypothesize, test and update your strategy. We’re constantly learning, so it’s always exciting.”
The business partners agree that being Clarkies means they weren’t afraid of risk. “We had a lot of conviction,” Gerzon says. “We already knew we could work together and that our Clark education had given us the hard and soft skills to execute our vision. We’re Clarkies — we were primed to do our own thing.”
That “thing” was a video production agency that arose from their frustration with the inferior quality of corporate video. “We weren’t seeing professional quality video for business websites that was also raw, edgy and real,” Shepler says. “We believe the most effective video is polished and authentic. We saw an opportunity to start a company to fill that need.”
Shepler is Skyscope’s chief executive officer focusing on sales and strategy; Dunn is chief operations officer, managing daily operations, marketing and finance, and Gerzon is the creative director, head video editor and master cinematographer. The Skyscope team also includes motion graphics designer Jon Bettinger ‘10 and current Clark senior Jack Hall. Editor Michael Osowski and operations director Linnea Garvin round out the group.
The partners are now providing opportunities to mentor Clark students and offer them real-world experiences through the University’s LEEP (Liberal Education and Effective Practice) initiative. “It’s a great set up,” Shepler says. “Skyscope gets a pipeline of ambitious young talent, and we get to teach them a few things and hopefully inspire them to realize they should think big as they launch their careers.”
While the bulk of Skyscope’s work is for technology businesses, the founders agree they are most proud of the video they made for their alma mater. “Moments” documents the college years through the eyes of a handful of Clark University students, depicting their journey in reverse chronological order from graduation through acceptance. Scored by Clark senior Joel Helander, the video is shown at all Clark undergraduate admissions information sessions.
“Most college admissions videos are pretty standard,” Dunn says. “True to our founding belief about challenging convention, we wanted to shake things up with this one.”
Adds Gerzon, “I think our vision and execution aligned with Clark’s motto. We pushed each other to create something that’s never been captured or communicated in an admissions video.”
“Moments” has resonated with thousands of prospective students and their families, as well as alumni, and recently won a silver award in the highly competitive 2015 Council for Advancement and Support of Education District I Excellence Program.
“If the video helps put Clark at the top of consideration for the next generation of college students who want to change the world, we’ve done our job,” Shepler says.