Brothers Live Entrepreneurial Dream

By Andrea (Smithson) Benek —

Two recent graduates of the Omicron Chapter at Syracuse University are living proof that ZBT can help dreams come true.

Brothers Ryan S. Blum, Omicron (Syracuse University) ’14, and Douglas J. Messer, Omicron (Syracuse University) ’15, both this year participated with their companies in a high-profile business incubator. Brother Blum co-founded and is now CEO of Study Abroad Apartments, a real estate company that provides furnished, vetted housing for U.S.-based students studying abroad. Brother Messer co-founded and serves as CEO of his company, University Beyond, which matches college students with jobs marketing for top brands.

“We’re in the big city, New York, pursuing our dreams,” Brother Blum said. “And that’s something we want to convey to the ZBT community: If you have an idea, don’t be afraid to start it, even in college. Now is the best time to do it, in your young 20s. It’s OK if you’re sleeping in the basement of your friend’s house for a few months and eating fast food every day. It’s only going to get harder as you get older.”

He said being a part of the ZBT family has helped expand his business and his personal connections, allowing him to better grow the business. His role as an executive officer as an undergraduate directly facilitated his successes today.

“It helps improve your skills and see if you’re really good at what you think you’re good at. You get to try new things in real life situations. You’re able to get involved in a community/org that’s similar to a business,” Brother Blum said. “You become part of a community that’s larger than ZBT at just one school. It’s something I’m realizing the value of — the network that ZBT provides. The support that brothers have had for my vision has just been great.”

The brothers were one year apart at Syracuse, both studying business, a common major among the brothers of the Omicron Chapter. Ryan Blum served as Internal Vice President for the chapter.

“I’m using what I learned from being a leader and a representative of the Fraternity while running an actual company. ZBT was a great start to my business career. I learned the fundamentals of management,” Brother Blum said.

It was while studying abroad his junior year that he was inspired to create Study Abroad Apartments. Founded in 2014 after Brother Blum’s graduation, the company now offers housing in multiple cities across Europe to students from more than 75 universities.

The Study Abroad Apartments team was accepted to the Dreamit incubator earlier this year, one of few companies to be chosen among 1,500 applicants. The Dreamit business accelerator helps startup companies scale by connecting them to customers, capital and community.

“It was one of the first accelerators to create a program for small companies,” Brother Blum said. “They provide resources, connect you with strategic partners and offer networking and feedback opportunities. They provide real value getting you in front of people who can help. It’s been amazing, working with other startups. We learned a lot from them. It’s a great network to grow your connections.”

But one existing connection among ZBT brothers is now stronger because of Dreamit.

Doug Messer is Ryan Blum’s little brother — they bonded over a shared entrepreneurial spirit at Syracuse, Brother Blum said.

“After graduating, we lost touch a little, but he called me at the end of January (2016). He said, ‘Hey, Ryan, you’re not going to believe it — we got into this awesome startup accelerator.’ Here I am, just got into the same program earlier that day. Now we’re working out of the same office,” Brother Blum shared.

Brother Blum is grateful for the opportunities and connections he’s had with ZBT.

“Today I just have such a large network of the ZBT community, not only in New York, but across the U.S. It has been helpful in supporting the business and, more importantly, just getting our brand and our name out there to more people,” he said.