Steven Farag (BHS '10) wishes Barrington High School’s nationally-recognized Business INCubator program was available when he was a student. “Some of the best ideas these days are coming from 17 and 18-year-olds,” Farag said. “I would have been all over that program!”
Farag’s entrepreneurial light bulb moment came a couple of years after graduating from BHS. It was winter break during his sophomore year at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and he was on a family vacation in Mexico. “I was super bored and being a brat of a college student who didn't want to hang out with my family,” Farag said.
Instead, he stayed up an entire night tinkering around on Photoshop. He began designing festive t-shirts to wear for the upcoming Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day celebrations at the U of I, and building a website for his apparel. Little did Farag know, years later his work would end up catching the attention of billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban.
Farag is CEO and Co-Founder of Campus Ink, a merch platform built for students and athletes providing apparel for universities, fraternities & sororities. The initial concept rolled into motion when Farag returned to the U of I in January 2012, after that family winter break trip. He showed his fraternity brothers some of his St. Patrick’s Day-themed designs and they jumped on board, helping to market the clothing across campus through word of mouth and social media. “Our first year it did pretty well, to the point where I was like ‘holy cow, this could be something.’”
As the demand for his merchandise increased across campus, Farag joked about forming a business partnership with the owners of Campus Sportswear, the tiny mom-and-pop print shop in Champaign where he had his t-shirts made. “I got to know them really well because I was this college kid putting in massive St. Patrick’s Day orders and we would joke every year about me buying out the place.”
By the time Farag graduated from the U of I, his side hustle had made him enough money to pay for his entire college education. On the day he graduated in 2014, he bought into Campus Sportswear. One of the owners, Jedd Swisher, is still his business partner today. “He taught me everything I know about printing and he gave me the tools to be successful,” Farag said.
Fast-forward to 2021. Farag’s business is taking off across college campuses and the company is operating out of a 15,000-square-foot production facility in Urbana. When a law went into effect that allows student-athletes to profit from their names, images, and likenesses (NIL), a student who was working with Farag managed to get the U of I men’s basketball team on board. The team ended up making more than $100,000 during the 2021-22 season through merchandise sold by Campus Ink. "I then thought to myself, how do we replicate this elsewhere? And that's when I decided to contact Mark Cuban," Farag said.
“I then thought to myself, how do we replicate this elsewhere? And that’s when I decided to contact Mark Cuban.”
He emailed the billionaire investor on a Friday night with the subject line “We’re doing this in Champaign, IL and it’s working”. Cuban, who is notorious for responding to business ideas from strangers, sent him a message back, and by the next morning, he had made Farag an offer. “I love the initiative Steven and Campus Ink have taken to fill the needs of student-athletes,” Cuban shared with Barrington 220 in an email. “They are always looking to improve and to make their partners more profitable. That’s a powerful combination!”
Farag says he never would have expected to be venture-backed by Mark Cuban at the age of 31. Since then, Campus Ink has partnered with more than 40 schools across the country and empowered thousands of student-athletes to earn industry-leading payments on their NIL merchandise. The company has even joined forces with Meta to enhance merchandise sales for some of the top athletes around the country. For Farag, the success is more than a decade in the making. “I’m super grateful and we’re just getting started.”