Friday, October 20, 2023

Jerry Bednyak (BS ’01) and Eric Vassilatos (BBA ’01) have a lot in common, so it is no surprise they became friends during their undergraduate days at the University of Iowa. Both grew up in the Chicago suburbs as sons of entrepreneurial fathers, they were neighbors as first-year students in Mayflower Residence Hall, and eventually joined the same fraternity.

But it was a combination of their engineering (Jerry) and accounting (Eric) pursuits, along with a desire to earn spending cash as “broke college students,” that led to the creation of Vivid Seats, a ticket marketplace connecting fans to live events.

Now managing partners of Skybox-Capital in Chicago, Bednyak and Vassilatos are the John Pappajohn Alumni Entrepreneurs of the Year. They will be recognized at the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Honors event Oct. 20.

“Jerry and I became really close with John Pappajohn prior to his passing (on April 22, 2023),” Vassilatos said. “I think John took a special interest in us because we started a pretty successful business coming out of Iowa.”

Bednyak handled the technical side of Vivid Seats, Vassilatos worked on financials, and they collaborated on strategy. Soon, the company that was founded to help two college students reduce credit card debt, was moving tickets. A lot of tickets.

“We saw this was a great place to buy and resell tickets,” Vassilatos said. “The market was inefficient, so that is how we started it.”

Their early success coincided with the birth of the internet. Bednyak and Vassilatos — roommates for four years — even had a UPS ship store in their apartment. Despite the fact they talked often about starting and building businesses, staying in the ticket game was by chance.

“We found a side hustle, the economy fell apart, we dove into this, and never looked back,” Bednyak said.

Fresh out of college in 2001, Bednyak expected to start a job as a consultant for Capgemini, but with the United States economy in recession, that offer was rescinded. Still, the things he learned pursuing his engineering degree came in handy as an entrepreneur.

“It taught me how to work hard, push myself, and push my brain,” Bednyak said.

Vassilatos originally had an accounting job at Ernst & Young.

The two Hawkeyes sold Vivid Seats and started Skybox-Capital, which has two real estate platforms, a property management company, software companies, and several other businesses that they own and manage.

“We are pretty scrappy guys who figured out ways to win,” Vassilatos said.

For years, Pappajohn suggested that Bednyak and Vassilatos return to their alma mater and share the story of their entrepreneurial journey. The busyness of operating a multi-million-dollar company kept that from happening. Coincidentally, the duo will return to Iowa City in October, nearly six months after Pappajohn’s death.

The purpose? To be honored with an award that bears Pappajohn’s name.

2023 Jerry Bednyak/Eric Vassilatos Skybox-Capital
2022 Thomas L. Cardella TLC Associates
2021 David Rodnitzky 3Q Digital
2020 Scott Heiferman Meetup