Sometimes Gary Solomon, Jr. finds it tough to describe exactly what his company does. On any given day, the staff at Solomon Group might be designing an interactive submarine installation for the World War II museum, installing the external lighting system at New Orleans' Superdome, or even building the broadcast booth for this year's Super Bowl.
"We're very schizophrenic," says Solomon. "But at the heart of it all is storytelling."
At its most basic, Solomon Group can be described as a live event and multimedia installation production company, but the four-year-old start-up does much more than just construct stages and rent out microphones. It handles every aspect of events and exhibits, from concept development and design to construction and event management. For its very first job, for instance, Solomon Group even wrote, directed, cast, and choreographed a full-length musical for the World War II Museum.
"I very rarely say no to anything," says Solomon, the company's president. "I'm hungry for work."
Before starting the company, Solomon was a theater and lighting design student at New York University. After graduating in 2008, however, he made the peculiar decision to ditch the bright lights of the Big Apple and move back home to the Big Easy, a city with a comparatively tiny production industry. He began working at a staging and rental company, where he met the two men who would be his future co-founders, Jonathan Foucheaux and Steve Fink. Foucheaux had spent years operating Six Flags theme parks' entertainment technology. Fink had been head of production at the Superdome. Together, Solomon thought, they could be a powerful team.
"Our backgrounds intersected in an interesting way. We had the creative, the operations, the tech, and as a result, the markets we could serve would be pretty wide and diverse," says Solomon. "I said, 'What if we took this opportunity to do more than just rental and staging?' So we set out with the goal of creating a firm that can do the technical and creative work all in one."
Solomon, whose mother, father, grandfather, and great grandfather were all business owners, raised $750,000 from his family and financed the rest of the company with bank loans and tax incentives. Today, Solomon Group has $10 million in annual sales, 35 full-time employees, 65 part-time employees, and a 40,000-square-foot fabrication facility, where it builds all its scenery. Its one-stop-shop approach, it seems, is what other event industry professionals find so appealing.
"Solomon Group represents a new breed of companies doing this type of work in our industry. They are cutting edge, resourceful, talented and highly skilled professionals. They are also very entrepreneurial," says Doug Thornton, senior vice president of stadiums and arenas for the venue management company SMG. "They made a major capital investment into a fabrication warehouse for set-building, and they have purchased a large inventory of high-quality production equipment that can be rented. This has given Solomon an edge over other competitors in the marketplace."
Solomon says the company's long-term approach to growth will be to capitalize on the increasingly busy event industry in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, and grow with those clients as they move outside New Orleans. That strategy appears to be working. Last year's Final Four NCAA tournament was held in New Orleans, and Solomon Group was chosen to design and build the broadcast set for CBS Sports. This year, CBS once again commissioned Solomon Group for the set, but this time, in Atlanta. The early work for CBS also helped the start-up land its biggest gig yet--the Super Bowl.
"I was beyond excited when I learned we won the Super Bowl business. I knew it would put our work center stage," he says. "The icing on the cake for us is that now, the best projects are calling us."
2012 Jeremy Johnson of 2tor, Ben Milne of Dwolla, Lucas Buick and Ryan Dorshorst co-founders of Hipstamatic, Zach Sims and Ryan Bubinski, co-founders of Codeacademy, and Amy Jain and Daniella Yacobovsky, co-founders of BaubleBar join our illustrious annual list. Plus the start-up stories of Pinterest, Spotify, GiveFoward, and Back to the Roots.
2011 Read about Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger of Instagram, Matt Mickiewicz of 99designs, and Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp of Birchbox. Plus the start-up stories of Quora, Onswipe, Dropbox, Foodspotting, and Gemvara.
2010 Meet Alexa von Tobel of Learnvest, Naveen Selvadurai of Foursquare, Jack Abraham of Mint.com, plus the founders of Rent the Runway, Airbnb, Crowdflower, Posterous, LivingSocial, and Urban Escapes (now part of Living Social).
2009 Pete Cashmore of Mashable, Elliott Bisnow of Summit Series, Danielle and Jodie Snyder of Dannijo, Jamail Larkins of Larkins Enterprises were included on our 2009 list, as were the teams behind ModCloth, Thrillist, IdeaPaint, Foodzie, and Justin.TV.