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Alumni Success

40-plus businesses have been started by Miami students while still in college

Mad Rabbit Tattoo’s co-founders discovered their shared passion early

Oliver and Selom receiving their RedHawk50 award in 2024
Oliver Zak (L) and Selom Agbitor (R) receive their RedHawk50 award earlier this year.
Alumni Success

40-plus businesses have been started by Miami students while still in college

Oliver Zak (L) and Selom Agbitor (R) receive their RedHawk50 award earlier this year.

This is the third of a three-part series on Miami's Entrepreneurship program. Read Part One / Part Two

The vast majority of students who take Entrepreneurship classes while at Miami University or minor/co-major in ESP at the Farmer School of Business never actually start their own business, choosing to use the knowledge and experience gained to help their careers in other ways.

But more than 40 businesses have been started by Miami students while still in college, from Emil Barr’s StepUp Social, to Tyler Storer's OxVegas Chicken, to Kamilah Dotson’s KCD Cosmetics.

And then there are Oliver Zak and Selom Agbitor, co-founders of Mad Rabbit Tattoo, an aftercare company founded in 2019 that ranked No. 4 on the inaugural RedHawk50, the 50 fastest-growing Miami RedHawk-owned or Miami RedHawk-led businesses in the world.

The two met their first year at Miami as members of the business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi and discovered a shared passion for starting businesses.

Oliver and Selom on graduation dayFor Zak, it stemmed from watching his father, who was a skilled surgeon, reinvent himself as an entrepreneur after a serious car accident made it impossible for him to operate. Entrepreneurship gave Agbitor an outlet for his creativity, while not abandoning his immigrant parents’ wishes for him to pursue a respected, financially secure career path.

“I got to know Tim Holcomb pretty early on. He invited me into his office one day, and I ended up doing the RedHawk Accelerator that he and Mark Lacker put together. We keep in pretty constant contact with Tim,” Agbitor said.

Zak said, “I took a digital branding-centric path in the Interactive Media Studies program that I think really helped open my eyes to what good branding can be and all of the important things such as brand voice and what it takes to be a memorable brand.”

Their first company together involved drop shipping products from China.

“We were the middleman between manufacturers in China and creating a storefront and a point of sale for swimsuits. So we ran that for basically one summer, made a couple of thousand dollars, ended up selling it for $8,000 right before winter because we were like, ‘I don't want to deal with the seasonality of this,’” Zak said. “We ended up using some of those funds to ultimately fund our first purchase orders from Mad Rabbit.”

They settled on the tattoo aftercare product after looking at the marketplace, or more precisely, the lack of a marketplace.

“I’m baffled how underserved the tattoo aftercare market is when you consider how ancient tattoos truly are. Tattoos are becoming more normalized. As many as 43% of people have a tattoo, a number that’s projected to increase 8% every year, and the overwhelming majority plan on getting more,” Zak said. “Given our skill sets at the time, we thought, ‘We can definitely take this market by storm,’ so that's how we settled on it.”

The name came from a desire to stay away from trendy names and allude to their all-natural ingredients.

“In recent years, there's been an affinity for companies to kind of go with sleek and sexy names. We wanted to evoke feelings of all natural and more of a grassroots vibe. Mad Rabbit alludes to the jackalope, which is a mythical horned rabbit from American folklore. It kind of plays on our brand edge,” Zak said.

They created Mad Rabbit’s first balm — which moisturizes tattooed skin to prevent discoloration and keep tattoos looking vibrant — in a crockpot in their High Street apartment using ingredients such as beeswax, shea butter, and cucumber.

Product being cooked“We got our neighbors involved; they were helping us ship out packages. Some professors were our very first customers. It really took off from the start, which helped us solidify our theories about the need for this product. We started with $300 each in January 2019, and we were lucky enough to be profitable from week one,” Zak said.

“My mom has years of apothecary experience, and she helped us come up with the original seven-ingredient balm. We've kept that product development mantra the same. We like to keep it simple, all natural,” he said. “It's been a great method for us, no unnecessary ingredients and no chemicals. It really just goes a surprisingly long way.”

Agbitor and Zak graduated from Miami and accepted traditional jobs — Agbitor to Wichita for a two-year rotation with Textron; Zak to Manhattan doing mergers and acquisitions consulting for EY-Parthenon.

Both enjoyed their jobs, but that wasn’t the end of Mad Rabbit. They invested all their non-working hours growing the company, which surged from $400,000 in sales in the first year to nearly $3 million the next.

“We were looking to be the first real brand to market. In order to do that, we have to pump out content. We’ve got to spend a lot of money. We’ve got to get the product in people's hands,” Zak said. That meant raising capital to partner with influencers like well-known tattoo artists, models, and athletes, and to invest in tattoo education and research.

That led to Zak and Agbitor appearing in 2021 on the ABC show “Shark Tank,” where entrepreneurs make presentations to a panel of five venture capitalists called "sharks" on the program, who decide whether to invest in their companies.

“I was pretty confident until we walked onto the stage, and my legs started shaking. I’ve never really been a public speaker,” Agbitor said, ”So having my first attempt with a million people watching was kind of frightening.”

Panelist Kevin O’Leary noted during the broadcast, “I have a lot of respect for you dudes. You’re not even full-time yet, and you’re killing it.”

In the end, the pair received two offers, and they accepted Mark Cuban's proposal to invest $500,000.

Agbitor soon left Textron, while Zak followed a few months later, to make Mad Rabbit a full-time business. If you ask them if they miss those jobs, you’ll get very different answers.

Mad Rabbit Balm“I was doing consulting and it allowed me to see all levels of problems from all sizes of businesses, particularly large corporations. And I think it gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to speak with executives, which kind of informed how I operate as an executive in my company,” Zak said.

He also misses stability, at least somewhat.

“I think as an entrepreneur, the highs feel very high and the lows feel very low, and it's definitely more of a roller coaster than a corporate job is. So sometimes you kind of miss just being on flat ground, if you will.”

And Agbitor’s response? “1,000% no,” he said. “I would get home after work, and I was excited to work on Mad Rabbit because it felt like I was playing a video game. So I had that adrenaline rush to get home and work on it because my regular job was basically copy and paste, every single day.”

Now five years on, Mad Rabbit has continued to grow, with $10 million in sales in 2021, $13.5 million in 2022, and $16.7 million in 2023. Their product line has increased from one balm to nearly 20 products, not including branded clothing.

“We have been on a path to profitability over the last couple years and 2025 will actually be our first year,” Zak said. “We're really excited for it. It's been a long journey.”

Both men said they found that the environment at Miami — inside and outside of the classroom — helped foster and support their entrepreneurial journeys.

“It was a really good resource for me to spend time with like-minded people who cared about school, who cared about business — some with corporate, some with entrepreneurial aspirations," Zak said. "Just being able to find that community, which I think that's something Farmer (School of Business) did a very good job of pushing.” 

“Being able to network and talk to other people, meet new people who are all open to share their experiences” he said. “People aren't gatekeeping what they're good at and they share their ideas with you. Everyone's pretty open.”

Zak added, “Obviously the Entrepreneurship department is fantastic and award winning, but I think what that trickles down to the students is that in entrepreneurship, trying and failing is cool, it's a good thing to do, and there are lessons to be learned from both,” I think that kind of messaging made it a much more free-thinking environment.”