The Old College Try
With OurBuckeyeHub.com, Maurice Womack has his eye on the immense universe of Ohio State University fans. Beyond that? All of college fandom is in his sights
FEW COMMUNITIES ARE as passionate about their shared interest as college students and alumni — and few such groups can compete with partisans of The Ohio State University for their devotion to their school. Harnessing that excitement and commitment and channeling them into a broad-based social network is Maurice Womack’s OurBuckeyeHub.com.
“Hubs are more about what you care about, not who you know,” says Womack, 33, a Youngstown, Ohio, native who began his college career on an academic scholarship from OSU. “We’re not just a sports blog — we’re a hub for current and former students to share information.” That includes not just opinions about the football team but also career services, photo and video sharing, community blogs and more.
Womack got a degree in mechanical engineering technology, skills he employed in developing OurBuckeyeHub. (In his day job, he’s a mechanical engineer for the Defense Logistics Agency in Columbus.) Although he’s focusing strictly on OSU for the moment, Womack’s plans are as big as the entire college universe. Currently in development are OurGoBlueHub.com (for Ohio State’s hated rivals, the University of Michigan) and — in an indication of the scope of his ambition — OurCollegeHub.com. “The battle of the social networks is over, and Facebook has won,” he says, sanguine about the potential for a business model like his. “Welcome to the age of the hub.”
To help attract attention to OurBuckeyeHub, meanwhile, Womack has enlisted numerous former Buckeye stars, including hoops standouts Scoonie Penn and brothers JJ and Jared Sullinger, as well as controversial former running back Maurice Clarett. He’s always on the lookout for notable Buckeye fans, whether former athletes or not, to help him build his business. “I’ve tried to reach out to John Legend, who I hear is a big OSU fan,” Womack says. “So if you’re reading this, John, hit me up!”
The idea for OurBuckeyeHub.com makes you say, “Such a good idea, I can’t believe no one is doing this on a major scale.” Why do you think no one else is pursuing this in quite the same way you are?
I had initially tried something similar, but focused on Youngstown, Ohio, my hometown. The success of that site prompted me to ask, “How can I take this concept and expand it to a broader audience?” People haven’t pursued an idea like this because too many are afraid of competing with Facebook. What they don’t realize is that we’re approaching it completely differently. Facebook lacks the ability to address smaller, more fanatical groups. Practically everyone is a devotee of one college or another. No one has harnessed that fanaticism and efficiently channeled it online. We plan to do that.
How did you first get hooked up with Maurice Clarett? Has his involvement caused anyone to look askance at your business, or is he pretty much rehabilitated in the court of public opinion?
I actually know Reese from Youngstown. His involvement has been very beneficial. The posts he has written on OurBuckeyeHub show his growth as a man. He has owned up to the mistakes of his past, and he is a model for urban youth across America. His perspective brings needed attention to a very controversial topic: the intersection of college athletics and big business, and the delicate balance required to maintain equity. Reese is definitely rebuilding his image. The fans also realize that without him, OSU would not have been national champs in 2002, and they love him for that.
Your main challenge would seem to be awareness — that once people are clued in that OurBuckeyeHub exists, they’ll be drawn to it. How has the response been so far?
The response has been fantastic! My main challenge is, yes, awareness. I’m not a marketing guy at all. That’s why the money from 100UE is so important: It will allow me to hire some badly needed marketing expertise.
What’s the latest on your plans for OurGoBlueHub and others? Would you someday consider a site called OurBigTenHub or OurSECHub, or do you intend to keep it school by school for the foreseeable future?
I’m still developing OurGoBlueHub. It should be ready in another month or so. I have taken the philosophy of “nail it, then scale it.” Once I have the formula perfected with OurBuckeyeHub, then I’ll accelerate the launch of other sites. I probably won’t do an “OurBigTen Hub,” but I do have plans on OurCollegeHub being the “mother” site. That will act as an aggregator of what’s happening with the smaller Hubs.
How is Columbus’s entrepreneurial scene?
It’s growing quickly. Sometimes, however, I feel like I’m on the outside looking in. A lot of cities are trying to be the next Silicon Valley, but what they lack is an atmosphere that understands entrepreneurs and the challenges that go with that. The archetype of an entrepreneur in Columbus is different than the archetype that you imagine when thinking about Silicon Valley — here, the model is more a thirtysomething white-collar professional. It’s more acceptable in Silicon Valley to be inexperienced; it’s almost an asset. But here in Columbus, [investors] seem to search more for seasoned entrepreneurs.
In addition to Clarett and the Sullinger brothers, what other Buckeye notables are you actively engaged with to help you build the business?
I recently got Scoonie Penn to sign up and post. Scoonie is a former standout OSU basketball player who led the Buckeyes to a Final Four appearance about 10 years ago. I met him while out at the movies with my wife and daughter. I approached him, gave him a card and asked him to check out the site. He contacted me a day later and told me he liked what we were doing and that he would support it. I seem to be gaining some traction, and hopefully by this time next year, OurBuckeyeHub will be the de facto social Hub for Buckeyes everywhere. I’ve also tried to reach out to John Legend, who I hear is a big OSU fan. So if you’re reading this, John, hit me up! •