Student-run social media business taking off

Jackson French

Hangout Creative, a company owned by two WKU graduates currently stationed in Innoplexx, the university’s Student Business Accelerator, will soon be moving to a new location.

Blake Blackburn, a 2012 WKU graduate, said Hangout Creative was founded in the summer of 2012 and will be moving from Innoplexx to its own office building sometime in February.  

He said he and his business partner, 2011 WKU graduate Joel Nivens, are the company’s sole employees and take on all necessary responsibilities.

“I pretty much wear every hat,” Blackburn said. “I’m the engineer, networker; I do it all.”

Blackburn said Hangout Creative has a different approach than other marketing companies that sell social media, explaining that other companies emphasize “likes, comments and shares” on social media websites. Hangout Creative focuses more on the sales side of the business.

“I feel that small business owners really need our product because these new avenues of marketing, they’re underutilized or there’s not a lot of knowhow,” Blackburn said. “And I wanted to be the business that understands and that gives small business owners the ability to be competitive in an expensive marketing field.”

Hangout Creative has over 25 clients from Kentucky, southern Illinois, Indiana and Tennessee, including Nat’s Outdoor Sports, the Medical Institute of Kentucky, Overtime Sports Bar and Grill and Hilligan’s.

Doug Rohrer, associate vice president of Research and Development, said the Student Business Accelerator is intended to help students who want to start their own companies.

“We give them some help getting started and they don’t pay rent,” he said. “That’s where Hangout Creative actually got started, as a student company that has shared space in a room called the Innoplexx.”

Jeff Hook, director of the Small Business Accelerator said Innoplexx’s goal is to “foster and support student entrepreneurship.”

He said students can be a part of Innoplexx even after graduation.

“They (Hangout Creative) are engaged in the same way,” Hook said. “I would say they’re more independent in that they’re out in the marketplace, they’re getting customers, they’re spending more time executing their business model than discussing their business model with us internally.”

Nivens said Hangout Creative will remain a part of Innoplexx despite the change in location.

“We kind of feel like we’re a part of them now,” he said. “And I don’t think we’ll ever really leave that even though we’ve both graduated.”

He said an incentive to stay connected to Innoplexx was the assistance the program provides.

“We get guidance and help from Jeff and from Doug and all those guys over there,” he said. “They‘ve all done this. They all know what the next step is.”

Nivens said Hangout Creative will soon be pursuing a venture in Gulf Shores and is also looking to expand the company’s operations to Nashville.

“We’re kind of just looking to grow now,” he said. “That’s our big next is just growing into a bigger company.”