An Entrepreneur Brings His Pet Retail Startup to Life Tapping into Incredible Michigan Ross Alumni Connections
For Luke Silverman, EMBA ’19, the alumni network at the Ross School of Business has yielded more than just a support system. It has helped this recent Executive MBA graduate turn a bold business idea into a reality.
In support of his startup, Bark Social, which he co-founded with friend Jeff Kurtzman, Silverman has been able to leverage both the strategic and investment power of more than a dozen Michigan Ross connections. He said these connections have led him to opportunities often unheard of in the startup world: $500,000 in secured funding and an alliance with John Rotche, BBA '90, of Franworth, the prominent franchise-focused growth equity firm — all before his first location has officially opened.
“The network, support, and financial resources from the Michigan Ross and U-M community significantly changed Bark Social’s timeline and enabled my dream to become a reality," said Silverman.
Silverman’s idea for Bark Social, a network of membership-based dog parks serving beer and coffee in prime locations, was born while he was completing his Executive MBA at Ross. A dog owner himself with a background in marketing, he had a long-held ambition to start his own business and was familiar with inventive dog park concepts, but saw potential in a better customer experience, increased operational efficiencies, more strategic park locations, and a membership-based business model.
As he began pursuing his business idea, Silverman was at the Ross Los Angeles campus when he happened to sit next to national commercial real estate broker, Paul Bartlett, MBA '19. Bartlett was not only willing to offer advice, but was interested in working with Silverman on his business plan and secured meetings with senior executives at some of the largest commercial real estate companies in the country.
"I was incredibly fortunate to meet Paul through the Executive MBA Program," Silverman said. “Paul was first a friend, and then he offered to partner with me. His involvement took Bark Social from a good idea to an innovative business with a massive opportunity."
From there, he went on to make connections with corporate executives, angel investors, and fellow entrepreneurs who all had affiliations with U-M and Ross. For example, he was put in touch with Arie Abecassis, a tech entrepreneur and investor with family connections to U-M who has been able to provide investment and guidance.
In addition, Silverman said he used networking tools facilitated by the Zell Lurie Institute to get in touch with Ross alum Austin Wright, BBA '08. As a leader at the largest pet grooming company in the U.S., Wright offered Silverman industry-specific advice and identified opportunities for business collaboration. Vice president at Cogent, Greg Goldring, BA'08, provided guidance on Silverman's social media marketing strategy and concept launch, while Alina Verdiyan, EMBA '20, helped connect Silverman with additional angel investors. The list of connections goes on.
Silverman credits the power of the alumni network to the quality of students Ross attracts, and the weight of the school's brand: “The impact of this network is immediate — there are no barriers. Everyone is not only extremely intelligent, but has a ‘how can I help?’ attitude.”
It's this focus on "the team, the team, the team" that Silverman believes will be one of his company's most important differentiators. He's been able to bring together the wisdom, resources, and investment power of a wide range of successful business leaders who are not only able to help, but are willing and eager to do so.
“That’s just part of the Michigan Ross difference,” said Silverman.
Bark Social is set to open its first location in Federal Realty’s Pike & Rose development in Bethesda, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., this September.