FALL 2008 VOL. 9 NO. 2

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Great ideas and great commitment make these businesses, run by Smith School alumni and current students, shine. Up-and-comers in their respective industries, they’ve already gained attention from local media, and are well worth watching!

Spotlight: Brami brothers, Gelberg Signs

Web site: www.gelbergsigns.com

The Brami brothers never dreamed they’d be signing major league deals, let alone running a business together. But the trio — Luc, Neil and Guy, all University of Maryland business school alums — found a strong team in family and they’ve been winning ever since. They are now winning more than $7 million in annual contracts with their sign company, Gelberg Signs. They really hit one out of the park when they scored a $1.5 million deal to create all the signage for the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium.

The Bramis’ signs were in place — all 3,000 of them — for the Nationals’ Opening Day and debut of the new stadium this past April 1. Gelberg Signs designed, manufactured, installed and will maintain every one of them. The D.C.-based company is one of the few vertically integrated sign companies in the area, a “one-stop shop” for those in need of a few good signs. But winning the Nationals Stadium contract wasn’t easy.

“We implemented a three-point strategy: price, politics and performance. Each point is equally important,” said Luc Brami. “We won the contract by offering the best price, the opportunity to keep business within D.C. and the highest quality products.”

The strategy seems to be working. Gelberg Signs has grown 20 percent for two consecutive years, and the brothers are aiming high, pushing the company to reach a $10 million annual sales mark by 2010.

Luc (’77), Neil (’85) and Guy Brami (’89), all majored in marketing at Maryland. “We didn’t major in business at Maryland thinking that we’d get together and run a business later,” said Neil. “It just happened.”

Neil began working at Gelberg Signs as an undergraduate at Maryland, joining the company full-time after graduation. The company was founded in 1941 by William P. Gelberg, who died in 1941. Luc, Neil and the brothers’ father, Georges, acquired the organization from external investors in 1989. Guy joined the company in 1992.

Each brother fields a different area of operations in the business. Neil works in creative planning and manages operations, while Luc handles the business’s public relations and marketing efforts, and Guy lends a hand in external communications and oversees project installation. Their unique relationships with one another have benefited the company’s long-term outlook.

“If you had three people that care about a company and its growth in the same way, it’s much different than being one lone manager,” said Guy. “You never worry if the people around you share the same goals and motivation. Everyone’s in this together.”

The Bramis credit the education they each received at Maryland’s business school with the valuable marketing knowledge and skills that they have applied to running and growing their company.

“We were all marketing majors for a reason. We learned about product lifetimes and the importance of sales, marketing, and good public relations,” said Luc. “Maryland gave us a base for how to take off with a business, wherever you go.”

 

Keeping (Electronic) Speech Free [www.invisionfree.com]

Not many Smith businesses can boast a company that reaches 7% of the population of the United States, but InvisionFree.com can and does. Founded in 2002 by Brandon Kopetzky ’03 while he was a junior business and computer science major and Hinman CEO, the Web site hosts two million discussion boards and 22 million users. In fact, it is one of the top 200 “most-hit” sites on the Web today. The discussion boards are primarily used by businesses, clubs and groups of friends, and even when a member is offline, messages may be posted and left for them to read and respond to later. Designed to be user-friendly, InvisionFree also posts tutorials and “Tips & Tricks” to help the average computer user interface effectively and easily with the forums.

Getting Hooked in Silver Spring [www.hookandladderbeer.com]

Most MBA candidates enroll in the Smith School focused on their degree, utilizing beer as a relaxing distraction. However, Matt Fleischer, MBA ’05, came to the University of Maryland with beer on his brain, and now co-owns Hook & Ladder Brewing beer with brother Rich. Matt attributes much of his success to the Dingman Center’s resources. A scholarship he was awarded during his second year helped to get his first barrels of Golden Ale and Backdraft Brown out of the fermenting tanks and onto store shelves. The Fleischer brothers have also found a way to give back to the firefighting community from which they’ve borrowed their name—for every six-pack and barrel sold, Hook & Ladder makes a donation to local firefighter burn foundations. 

Innovation Born from Tragedy [www.alertustech.com]

To say Jason Volk ’04, MBA ’06, had an eventful stay at the university would be an understatement. In 2001 the university felt the emotional shockwaves of the Sept. 11 attack on the nearby Pentagon, and less than two weeks later it was dealt a debilitating blow from a tornado that claimed the lives of two students and left parts of the campus in ruins. The lack of a streamlined emergency notification system troubled Volk, who decided to take the creation of such a system into his own hands. With backing from the Dingman Center, the Hinman CEOs student founded AlertUs Technologies, which creates and provides radio-based integrated audio/visual building notification systems. The systems are wall-mountable and can be attached to plasma screen monitors and sirens. They will also send messages to registered mobile phones and e-mail addresses. The messages displayed are fully customizable, and will inform the surrounding population as to the nature of the alert, and what they should do next.

Find more Smith businesses at the eAlumni Network. Submit news about your business to the editor, editor@rhsmith.umd.edu.

  SMITH BUSINESS Magazine

Copyright 2008 Robert H. Smith School of Business