Paintball, caviar and higher education: The story of a serial entrepreneur

Paintball, caviar and higher education: The story of a serial entrepreneur

By Marlen Lebish

Paintball, caviar and higher education: The story of a serial entrepreneur

By Marlen Lebish
Nicolo Bates, who received a B.B.A. in economics from Miami Herbert in 2016, knew there was only one career path after college—to be his own boss.

Nicolo Bates ’16, comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. His father, a successful real estate developer who began his business in his early 20s; and his mother, who in her early 20s came to the United States from Venice, Italy, to go to school in New York, and later started an international design firm. The pressure was on.

“Growing up, my sister and I were always told that we would not be accepted into the family businesses, and we were responsible for paving our roads, which has been the best advice we could have received,” said Nicolo.

He started his first business in high school, buying and reselling high-end paintball equipment through online forums. When the sport of paintball was rapidly growing between 2008 and 2014, manufacturers of paintball equipment were releasing new equipment and technology at a rapid pace. And much like Apple product enthusiasts, paintball players wanted to have the latest and greatest equipment to give them a competitive edge during matches. Some paintball equipment cost upwards of $2,000, and most players could not afford to pay that and be responsible for selling their previous year’s equipment since online stores did not do trade-ins at the time.

“I saw the opportunity for trade-ups – I would buy the older equipment from customers, and they would receive cash toward the latest equipment. I would then resell the previously used equipment to mid-market buyers, generating a decent premium on the transaction. I did this for a few years, until the larger online stores caught on and I focused more on my academics.”

Since then, Nicolo has mostly created businesses revolving around software development and digital marketing, focusing on real-time data collection and analysis. However, the two most important companies to him, both from a professional and personal standpoint, are TEDU and Velikiy. He has dedicated most of his time to these two businesses, as they and their missions are important to him.

TEDU is an education technology company that partners and integrates with universities and other educational institutions around the world to address the need to upgrade outdated and inefficient academic support infrastructure with sophisticated software.

“The idea for TEDU first came to fruition during a late-night study session at Richter Library on campus,” said Nicolo. “Because of my rigorous work schedule during my senior year at UM, I had to take late-night classes and do most of my studying after hours like many students in college. One evening, I saw a student struggling with their assignment, and her hired third-party tutor canceled on her last minute with the assignment due the next morning. She had nowhere to turn because, like most universities, academic assistance centers were closed at night or required appointments well in advance.”

He set out to help the night owls and distant learners receive academic assistance at any time, safely, from another qualified student from their campus. The TEDU platform enables universities to provide an internal infrastructure where students can safely receive 24/7 academic assistance from other registered students or university assistants in-person or virtually.

After nearly four years of technical development, TEDU is launching January 2021 with an international group of universities; just in time to help alleviate the remote learning challenges faced by the education industry due to COVID-19.

His other business is a no-kill caviar company, Velikiy, which aims to change the perception of how caviar should be harvested and save endangered wild sturgeon. Its mission is to promote and standardize the environmentally cautious non-invasive, no-kill harvesting methodology of Siberian sturgeon roe (for those who are unfamiliar with the world of caviar, roe refers to fish eggs). They use a relatively unique technique of massaging the ripe eggs from a mature female sturgeon. This non-invasive harvest method results in a smaller but cleaner yield of product, prevents the harvesting of premature and damaged eggs, and avoids lasting adverse effects on the sturgeon.

“We strongly believe in supporting this delicate environment and this vulnerable species; so, we chose to farm and harvest in a manner that allows us to replenish the healthy population without affecting the sturgeon’s native Volga River.”

After two years of developing the company, Nicolo and the co-founders are excited to finally begin distribution within the United States this fall.

Running two businesses is more manageable when you surround yourself with the right people, Nicolo said.

“In 2018, Jack Ma gave a speech at the World Economic Forum, and there were a few soundbites that stuck with me. Ma said that as a leader, he would always make sure everyone he worked with was smarter than him, and his job was to make sure that all the intelligent people worked effectively and efficiently together. That made accomplishing his vision easier and less strenuous on himself and the business.

“I believe if you take that approach to life, whether it’s the right business partners, friends, employees, and especially significant others, you can create a great balance to not just only accomplish what you want in business but also enjoy a great life. I am blessed to have come across all those types of people throughout my life and honestly owe them a great deal of gratitude for the support and love they continue to provide.”

His years at Miami Herbert helped him develop a global understanding of business, and the discipline needed to be an entrepreneur.

“The faculty’s international background allowed me to learn from a global perspective versus a more nationally driven view, he said. “And the rigorous academic schedule helped develop my discipline and work-school balance, translating well to work-life balance post-graduation.”

Nicolo credits Dr. Alejandro Ruelas-Gossi and his strategy course as single-handedly changing his perspective on how to create a successful company and product in today’s shifting economic landscape.

Orchestration theory, which Dr. Ruelas-Gossi championed, became the backbone of all my decision making and I owe TEDU’s success to the strategies learned in that course.”

Nicolo’s advice for current Miami Herbert students: “If you keep your ear to the ground, you can always hear what is coming,” something his grandfather always told him. “If you take that approach to life, you will notice when there is an opportunity to change something or prepare for something coming. Oh, and take Dr. Ruelas-Gossi’s class like three times.”