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Latane Meade ('01)
Latane Meade ('01) can't be categorized into a particular genre. The 6-foot-5 frame and shock-top blonde hair guarantee that he stands out wherever he goes. His vision for life and business are uniquely intertwined. And his company, a booming sports and social club, is about as traditional as its owner — a Ping-Pong playing, trucker-hat wearing free spirit with one goal in mind: Bring fun to life.
Meade, a 2011 finalist for Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year (presented by Entrepreneur Magazine) is the president of VAVi Sport & Social Club in San Diego. And he's finding success by doing things his way — letting the results speak for themselves and allowing the world to see what a little energy boost can do for a growing business.
The COB alum left Washington D.C. — and a promising position at PricewaterhouseCoopers — in 2003 and set out for the West Coast to begin his career as an entrepreneur. He hooked up with VAVi (at the time a start-up) shortly after arriving in San Diego. Meade, who concentrated on marketing information systems and finance as an undergraduate, relied on his background to help guide VAVi through its first years.
"As a JMU student, I didn't know what I wanted to get into," Meade admitted. "I always was interested in starting my own thing, and the professors [at Madison] were great — the classes very engaging. It wasn't just about teaching; it was about allowing us to work with others."
Citing COB 300 as a specific example, Meade believes his student experience armed him with the tools to tackle a project as massive as helping start a business from scratch. There were realistic challenges to face — namely how long it would take to cultivate relationships with clients and partners, and for Meade, that meant looking at the total landscape of a sport and social club in the greater San Diego area, pinpointing a target audience and finding the right balance of services to provide.
Fast-forward eight years, and VAVi — which today serves more than 50,000 participants and netted $2.2 million in revenue in 2010 — has grown into a company that hosts numerous sports leagues and large events. It has expanded to include dance, cardio classes and adventure fitness — including hosting race series. There's even a public service focus, with VAVi pushing members to participate in the San Diego Serve-a-thon, opportunities through the local Ronald McDonald Charity House and the county chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters.
"We weren't creating something new," Meade said. "But we certainly were doing it our way."
That's a recurring theme for Meade, who — in addition to moving out west and taking a flyer on helping start a company at age 25 — also decided to take a different approach with his final entry video for the Emerging Entrepreneur award. Not 30 seconds in, Meade — wearing a black T-Shirt and playing Ping-Pong — admits to ignoring the advice of a PR expert who told him to be "very professional" in the video, pokes fun at himself for being too tall for most clothes, and challenges the audience to ask themselves "if a little craziness is a bad or good way to run a business."
The answer — based on VAVi's success and Meade's emergence in the industry — is obvious.
"The most rewarding thing is having a vision and figuring out how to make it work," Meade said. "The word 'can't' is not one we agree with. It's amazing to look back and see what we've accomplished."