15 Feb IU Angel Network invests in IU alumni-founded collegiate clothing company Homefield
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The kick was good.
Some Indiana University football fans might still be stewing over the controversial ending to the 2015 Pinstripe Bowl in New York City, which saw IU kicker Griffin Oakes “miss” a potential game-tying field goal in the Hoosiers’ ultimate 44-41 loss to Duke. Replays seemed to indicate Oakes made the kick, which sailed over the goalpost, but an NCAA rule prevented the officials’ call from being reviewed. (Judge for yourself.)
For one diehard Hoosier fan, though, not all was lost.
As he watched the Hoosiers fall short of a bowl victory, Connor Hitchcock was still an IU student, as well as the founding owner of Hoosier Proud, a designer and distributor of T-shirts and accessories celebrating the Hoosier state. While in his basement, where he came up with many of his designs, Hitchcock hatched the idea for a new piece of company merchandise. His partially tongue-and-cheek T-shirt, emblazoned with the words “The Kick Was Good,” sold several hundred copies.
Inspired by his turning of defeat into triumph, in 2018, Hitchcock and his wife, Christa, launched a new venture, Homefield, with $200,000 in funding. Since then, the Indianapolis-based company, which “The Athletic” recently called one of the “hottest brands in collegiate sports,” has steadily increased its marketplace share with a wide variety of premium, officially licensed and vintage collegiate apparel.
With Homefield now focused on expanding its workforce and ensuring the company’s long-term success, it will now have the backing of the IU Angel Network, one of the major investment programs managed by IU Ventures, IU’s early-stage venture and angel investment arm. The network, whose members include IU alumni and friends from across the nation and world wanting to support high-potential startup companies or small businesses, has invested an undisclosed amount in Homefield to help the company carve an even bigger share of the sports apparel marketplace.
“Homefield is a prime example of the kind of company IU Ventures and its growing network of angel investors are excited to support,” said Jason Whitney, chief venture officer of IU Ventures and executive director of the IU Angel Network. “From day one, Connor identified a gap in the collegiate apparel market by providing designs for underserved colleges and universities, which, in turn, enabled his company to gain enough traction to get contracts with larger schools. As our team visits other universities around the country, it’s amazing to see Homefield products in all of the major bookstores.”
Over the past four years, Homefield has become one of the biggest brands in the college athleticwear market, generating rave reviews for the quality and comfort of its clothes, as well as for its throwback designs, which are inspired by the company’s archival research into the histories and traditions of colleges and universities across the country. Homefield’s licensing agreements extend across the nation and more than 150 schools — ranging from small institutions to traditional college sports powerhouses, including IU and many other Big Ten universities. Fans can search for their schools’ gear on Homefield’s website, where 90 percent of the company’s business is conducted. Homefield products are also available in more than 100 bookstores and on the major online retailer Fanatics.com.
“When we first started poking around on this new venture, there were licensing people who told us that we wouldn’t be able to do what we’ve done — to create a single brand for high-quality vintage university apparel that connected fans, while also letting them stand out from the crowd,” Hitchcock said. “There were collegiate apparel companies, of course, but no vintage brand, and no one brand that designed thoughtful gear for such a wide variety of schools — large and small.”
Hitchcock credits much of his company’s success to his IU education and the university-affiliated connections he has made — both as an IU student and alumnus. After graduating in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing from IU’s Kelley School of Business, at the suggestion of one of his business professors, he pivoted from an internship at Target to a job at a small company in Greenwood, Ind., that sold reading glasses online. While there, he expanded his knowledge of e-commerce and began building a network within IU’s entrepreneurial ecosystem of startup founders and investors.
“The connections I’ve made, including with members of IU Angel Network, have been invaluable, especially now, as we look to build out our design, marketing and merchandising teams,” Hitchcock said. “We’re also looking to go deep into college fan bases across the nation and learn even more about what they most want in terms of design and product delivery.”
Hitchcock is proud that Homefield has maintained its Indiana and IU roots, even as the company has expanded its licensing agreements nationwide. Homefield continues to house its operations in Indianapolis, and nearly all of the investments it has attracted have come from Indiana- and Midwestern-based sources.
“Our plan is to expand Homefield’s ecosystem with people who are closely tied to college sports, who have a knowledge of sports and strong business acumen, and who, most importantly, are fans themselves,” Hitchcock said. “In that regard, building our business here in Indiana, which is the epicenter of college sports, and partnering with the passionate alumni and fans of IU Angel Network, makes absolutely perfect sense.”
About IU Ventures:
IU Ventures invests in and supports IU-affiliated early-stage companies. Its investment programs include the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund, IU Angel Network, Shoebox Fund and Innovate Indiana Fund. It further supports IU founders through the Executive in Residence Program and IU Founders and Funders Network. Student support is provided through a variety of engagements, including the new IU Venture Fellows Program. Each program takes unique approaches to accelerate and support the positive impacts that entrepreneurs affiliated with IU already achieve across the world. IU Ventures is a recognized leader in increasing opportunities for diverse and historically underserved entrepreneurs and investing in Indiana startups with a shared commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Emily Atkinson, Ph.D.