For alumnus Chris Olsen, ‘11, a degree in sociology has led to a successful startup.
Idea Kraft, founded in 2008, is a brand development and design agency with locations in the city of Binghamton and New Orleans. The company has seven full-time employees, three part-time employees and works with several freelancers. These include designers, developers and copywriters.
Olsen, a partner in the company, specializes in digital marketing — an interest he developed as an undergraduate student.
“While I was at BU, a bunch of my friends and I started a T-shirt company and we sold shirts on campus at Spring Fling and stuff, and just locally, we booked shows and during that I learned how to do online marketing,” Olsen said. “And so it just kinda went from there. Marketing came out of needing to do it for my own company.”
Though Olsen is from Orange County, New York, he made connections locally during his time at BU and decided to stay after graduation. After working for a few other startups and marketing companies in the area, he partnered with Ewelina Zajac-Holdrege, another local marketing guru, to formally launch Idea Kraft.
Since its start, the company has worked on designs for local and national companies, including Cooperstown Brewing Company, the Cat Brand, Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce and Early Morning Farm, among others.
”A lot of times we’ll get into a company with a really small project and we’ll end up growing within that organization and taking on lots and lots more work,” Olsen said. “Once we catch somebody’s attention, we can grow [our relationship with them] significantly.”
Though the company has been able to grow, the successes have not been without their attendant challenges. Olsen said that Idea Kraft has struggled to find talented designers and maintain a market for their services.
“One of the hardest things in upstate New York especially is finding clients that value really good design work,” he said. “Right now we have a ton of really great clients, but that took a while to build up.”
As Idea Kraft is expanding to New Orleans, the new office has made community engagement a priority. It is focusing on reaching out to community members through creative entrepreneurship events.
Housed in the old railroad station Downtown, the Binghamton location’s use of an updated space provides an apt metaphor for the spirit of Idea Kraft: refreshing communities through design. Olsen said he would like to bring this same kind of rejuvenation to New Orleans, as he said the two cities have a lot in common.
“The market in New Orleans and Binghamton, though it doesn’t seem like it, is actually really similar,” he said. “Obviously New Orleans isn’t in the Rust Belt, but the old manufacturing town down here was old shipping and that kind of stuff and sort of was in decline for a long time, but is now sort of experiencing a renaissance of music and food and technology, sort of similar to Binghamton in a lot of ways.”
Olsen said that the company plans to expand into even more markets throughout the U.S., including the Carolinas, in the coming months.