The light bulb went off in his head, and in 2010, the summer after his high school graduation, East Coast Lacrosse was officially born.
“I literally started out of the back of my car,” Berger admitted. “I went to one lacrosse tournament that summer, sold a couple of pairs of shorts there, got some good feedback and decided to keep going with it.”
From there, Berger created his own website, www.eastcoastlacrosse.com, and decided to manufacture his clothing through the process of sublimation, where images and designs are dyed into the fabric rather than printed on top of it.
“I make my designs on Photoshop and they get transferred onto the garment,” Berger explained. “[Sublimation] lets you do things that aren’t usually possible, and it’s just a really cool process that makes you able to print anything.”
Berger received sublimation samples from manufacturing companies in North Carolina and Los Angeles, made them his primary distributors and with that decision, began his freshman year as a business major and lacrosse player at Skidmore College.
“I figured, what better time to start a business than in college?” Berger said. “Because if I failed miserably there’s really not that big of a downside—there’s my initial investment, but that’s it. I didn’t really have any responsibilities, I’m not providing for myself.”
Berger continued to work on his new project throughout his freshman year, waiting until the summer to attend big lacrosse tournaments to sell his clothing line and begin taking custom orders for sports teams.
As the summer ended and he headed into his sophomore year at the university, Berger began to realize the potential his young company possessed.
After deciding to enter Skidmore’s Kenneth A. Freirich Business Plan Competition and becoming one of the final six contestants, he began to work even harder at his business, winning $5,000 in last year’s Freidman Student Entrepreneurship Initiative contest and doubling the size of his client base by the end of last summer.
A big break came for East Coast Lacrosse when Berger designed an American-themed shooting shirt last June and sent it to a popular lacrosse blog, asking them to post his design.
“It had a big eagle from the presidential seal on the front, and on the back it said USA Lacrosse and had some stars on it,” Berger explained. “When I designed it, I wasn’t even thinking about the Fourth of July and the Olympics happening and everything, and then [the blog] put the shirts up and within five minutes I had 10 sales. From there I think the brand has gotten some recognition.”
Since then, Berger has sold items on his website all around the country, from Florida to California and Washington State. He’s done work for high school sports teams in Missouri, several schools in his home state of Vermont, and St. Michaels College and New England College. He even made shirts and shorts with the Skidmore logos on them, which are now being sold in the Skidmore Shop on campus.
Now he is back in the Freirich Business Plan Competition again, determined to get his hands on the contest’s top prize: $25,000 to invest in his business.
After losing out in the final round of the competition last year, Berger is back to compete again, this time with clearer goals and an even stronger resolve to be crowned the winner.
“Up until now, I’ve just kind of been along for the ride—I started with four different designs of shorts and said, ‘Hey, if they sell, they sell and if they don’t, I have a lot of lacrosse shorts,’” Berger said with a laugh. “But through this past summer I’ve been able to see the real viability of this business and the real opportunity I have from the feedback I get from people all over the country saying they like my designs and that my product is really good.
“Going into the business competition this year, and with the feedback I’ve gotten from the judges running it and from my mentor—they’re helping me realize this is a real possibility,” Berger added.
Berger said coming up with a new business plan for the competition has helped him decide that he wants to continue operating and growing the business, even after he graduates next year.
“The judges don’t want to just see a two-year business. They want to see it as something you can actually make a living off of and support yourself from,” Berger said. “Last year I did $40,000 in revenue, and doing my projections for the business competition makes me realize that this is something I could really do, so at this point it’s something I’d like to continue after college if this upcoming summer goes really well.”
Winning the competition would be a huge step for his company, Berger said.
“I’d be happy, that’s for sure—it would be a long journey from starting it last year and then going all the way to the finals and then trying to get back again,” he said. “I think it would be huge for my business to be able to have that prize money to invest and take it from a one person operation to having employees and just a bigger operation that has a large regional, if not national, visibility.”
Berger said the support from his family and friends helps inspire him to keep the business going.
“My parents loved [East Coast Lacrosse] and thought it was a great idea, and my friends were pumped too because they figured they’d all get free shorts and stuff—and some of them do, I have my ‘sponsored athletes’ who I’ll give free pairs of shorts to,” he said with a laugh. “But everyone has been really supportive and that’s helped a lot.”
That kind of support is necessary when running a business while trying to be a full-time student and athlete.
“Some days it’s just constant work that never ends,” Berger admitted. “I’ll get an email in the middle of class from a customer, and I pride myself on good customer service so I’ll have to reply in the middle of class—which gets in the way every now and then, but I think I do a pretty good job of keeping the two separate and it works out well.”
As far as differentiating East Coast Lacrosse from other lacrosse clothing companies, Berger said the fact that he still plays lacrosse makes his company unique.
“It’s my connection to the game of lacrosse—there are lot of other companies out there doing similar things to what I do, but they’re run by guys in their 30s or 40s who only see it as a business opportunity,” Berger said. “I just started it because it’s something I liked to do and it’s very intertwined with my personality and who I am.
“Being somebody who is still playing, I talk to people in the summers and when they find out I’m still playing they think that’s really cool, so my biggest asset is being so tied to lacrosse still.”
As for his next steps, Berger is going to continue working on his business plan for the business competition with his mentor Jim Rossi, managing partner of the Saratoga Polo Association. The final round of the competition will take place on April 12, with seven judges narrowing the contestants down from six to three based on their short presentations of their business plans. The top three contestants will each receive prize money to invest in their businesses.
“Lacrosse is definitely something very special, and as the sport grows it still somehow remains a really small and tight-knit community,” Berger said. “I like that about it.”