Founder Focus: Inked Sports Connects College Athletes to Brand Opportunities 

By Roya Soleimani Winner, Sunstone Staff Writer 

While Tyler Shooshani was the student manager of the University of Southern California (USC) Football team, he saw firsthand the ways collegiate athletes put passion and dedication into their craft. He also saw the difference between how resources were shared across different men’s and women’s sports, including supporting their visibility. 

So, in 2021, after college athletes were allowed to sign sponsorship deals, Tyler founded Inked Sports to help connect college athletes to brands who want to engage and reach Gen-Z customers. The company aims to streamline brand ambassadorship marketing, creative management, and sponsorship promotions at scale by connecting brands, underserved college athletes, and universities. 

As CEO, Tyler’s main focus has been to help underserved athletes, which he describes as the many college athletes who won’t make it to the professional level, women, and those who aren’t currently being supported by sponsorship management. Tyler notes that he grew up in the vibrant Persian Jewish community of West Los Angeles with two sisters, and strong matriarchs of his family, which led him to “have an additional affinity to equalize gender imbalances and bring equity to the table.” 

What started out as a passion project has now morphed into a company “representing over 700 active collegiate athletes, with a larger, broader network, too,” Tyler said in a recent interview. Currently focused on influencer marketing and brand ambassadorship opportunities, Inked Sports helps serve as a “mini agent” for student athletes who wouldn’t otherwise know how to navigate contractual agreements and the world of digital marketing.  

“To help identify the right athlete to the right brand, we created an Audience Interest Calculator, through a partner API, which is an internal tool that scrapes what each athlete’s followers are interested in, like sports, beauty, fashion, etc., and then helps present the best candidate to work with a brand based on the interests of their network,” Tyler said. Student athletes including USC’s Kait Devir, the senior goalie for the women’s lacrosse team, are part of Inked Sports’ network, and also have a strong community of followers.  

Tyler said it has been transformative to be a part of the Lair East Labs Accelerator program, where Sunstone Management is the capital partner. He said that through this program, he’s become a “better and more precise founder.” He found the speakers immensely helpful, and the Founder AMA’s (Ask Me Anything) sessions to be “the best type of education you can get as an entrepreneur to learn from other’s powerful stories.” 

 The support from LEL and Sunstone also helped facilitate conversations with potential pilot program partners for his company, and for that he is grateful, he said. 

Tyler is currently working on expanding Inked Sports to include a new brand called Maplehouse that will focus on collegiate apparel and authentic Gen-Z brand opportunities.  

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Note: We refer to early-stage technology entrepreneurs as Founders. The information provided here is to inform about the types of small business start-ups that have been selected for participation in certain programs in which Sunstone participates. The information provided here is aspirational and there is no assurance of success. Early-stage investing comes with an inherently high degree of risk, including the loss of some or all of an investment. The information provided is neither an offer to sell or an inducement to offer to buy interests in any Sunstone sponsored fund that may have invested in the Founder.

About Lair East Labs   

Lair East Labs is a startup accelerator based in New York that empowers founders to expand internationally. In the first five years of operation, our portfolio companies have raised over $45 million in funding after completing the accelerator. Our program combines the best of two worlds – learn from alumni founders of top Silicon Valley-style accelerators and gain access to a network of mentors and investors with extensive experience navigating the U.S. and Asian markets. In 2019, Lair East Labs was recognized as one of the “Top 100 Accelerators Worldwide” by Crunchbase. 

About Sunstone Management  

Sunstone Management is a diversified private capital management firm with headquarters in Southern California that provides a range of early-stage venture capital, real estate, and fixed income funds to qualified and accredited investors.  The firm delivers new and exciting options for economic growth through innovative public-private partnerships, making use of its unique experience across government, education, and private sectors. Identified by Financial Times as one of America’s Fastest Growing Companies three years in a row. In the second quarter of 2023, PitchBook ranked Sunstone the seventh most active early-stage venture capital firm in the country, and 18th overall.

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