Tyler Dlugozima: Brewing up business

Mix design smarts, lacrosse helmets and a large mocha, and what do you get?

“Grande white chocolate mocha for Tyler,” the barista calls from behind the Starbucks counter in Wesley Chapel. The tired-eyed, five-foot-something 20-year-old wanders up to the counter, grabs his coffee and heads back to his laptop at a table nearby — apparently just another college kid procrastinating on a homework assignment.

But Tyler Dlugozima has more on his mind than a term paper. He’s got a business to run — ZimaGear, his lacrosse gear company — and Starbucks is his unofficial office.

Eyes glued to the Macbook screen, Dlugozima taps away at the keyboard, occasionally stopping to take a sip of his coffee. Despite the surrounding hubbub, he maintains his concentration. He is trying to mastermind the perfect design for a team’s set of helmets.

When Dlugozima left Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville to pursue his design work, he had no idea how busy he would be.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” he said. “Every entrepreneur wants to be successful in what they do, but the work is constant and it can be overwhelming.”

His entrepreneurial spirit kicked in early. When he was 8, Dlugozima would gather up a bucket, soap and soap mitt to wash cars around the neighborhood; from there he moved onto lawn-mowing. In high school, a friend introduced him to Adobe Photoshop, and he discovered an interest in logos and branding that would lead him to his current career.

Dlugozima had been long interested in lacrosse, an interest shared by his entire family. His father coached a team and his brother, Danny, went on to play lacrosse in college. When a family emergency called his mother out of town in 2009, he and his father stayed at home to plan the upcoming lacrosse season. To distract themselves from the family shake-up, they began working on designs for the team’s uniform.

“I created my first lacrosse jersey mockup for Wesley Chapel High School,” Dlugozima said, “It was my dad’s idea that we make something bigger out of it, and from there, ZimaGear began.”

In 2011, they got their first big customer. Cascade Sports, a leading name in lacrosse helmets, called up the Dlugozimas and asked if they would be interested in designing helmets for the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays during the NCAA Playoffs.

“I was speechless to have the opportunity,” he said, “and it proved to open a lot of doors for me.”

An ESPN analyst tweeted the ZimaGear creation a day before the playoff game. The brand was on the map, and it didn’t take long before calls started coming in from teams seeking a fresh look.

As ZimaGear’s clientele continues to grow, Tyler is in the middle of moving the brand into a bigger office.

“It’s exciting that we are doing well and making progress,” he said, “but the success also brings in other bigger things to consider, like an office, and putting money into something like that is risky.”

So for the time being you’ll find him working at home — or somewhere in the vicinity of an espresso machine.

Carly Hobbs is a 21-year-old USF senior with a passion for politics and the written word, majoring in journalism with a poli-sci minor. Her current position as a server at Texas Roadhouse inspires much of her writing, and she would love to write somewhere like Politico one day. She plans to move to Chicago after graduation and hopes to end up runnin’ free in NYC. —Daniel Figueroa IV

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