Detroit-based ‘e-autograph’ startup Fangage signs Super Bowl deal with NFL

While the duo didn’t invent the virtual autograph, they were among the few who refused to believe the concept was a bust.

Founded in 2011, a Seattle-based company called Egraphs first tried to commercialize the “e-graph,” with support from three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez. The startup ran out of money and folded within two years. Even tech giant Microsoft dabbled with the idea, launching its Social Autograph interface in 2017. It was positioned more as a marketing tool for its Surface tablets, though, and didn’t generate mass appeal.

While others jumped ship, Bryant kept working on Fangage at a shared office in southwest Detroit, where GAA Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management provides space for a dozen minority-owned startups and businesses owners at a discount.

In 2018, Bryant pitched his idea to Dan Gilbert and other business executives at the Quicken Loans Detroit Demo Days, but no dice.

“They weren’t vibing to the concept,” Bryant said. “Right now, they’re more fuel to my fire than anything just because I’m a super competitive person.”

So, Bryant cast a wider net. He moved to Boulder for a few months and participated in the Boomtown Accelerators program, where his idea netted $200,000 from investor Tony Kerrigone. Bryant declined to say what percentage of the company he sold but said he remains majority owner at 55 percent. Sanders also has a stake, as well as some friends and family.

Bryant said he is looking to add to the full-time staff of three, including himself, by hiring a handful of sales and social media associates. He also contracts six web developers based in the Ukraine.

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Shortly after the Super Bowl gig, Fangage plans to launch a Series A round with a goal of raising $5 million.

Keeping the company based in Detroit and hiring local is a priority because he wants to set an example for kids, said Bryant, who moved to Michigan in 2010 to start a family with his wife Laynie, a metro Detroit native he met at SMU.

“Detroit’s not known as a tech town. I’ve struggled talking to investors from up here,” he said. “A lot of tech companies are leaving Silicon Valley and moving to Austin. I think Detroit’s next.

“There’s a lot of bright young talent in the city, but they get stuck,” Bryant continued. “The majority of people in sports tech are white males. I go to these pitch competitions, and I’m the only one who looks like me. We realize now we have an opportunity to change the narrative.”

In the meantime, Bryant hopes to dispel the negative connotation of e-autographs being inauthentic, which doomed the startup pre-pandemic. When fans fill up seats again and in-person autographs are no longer deemed a safety hazard, he wants Fangage to still have a spot at the table.

“We have to show that this is real,” he said. “If we can change that negative connotation, then we’re gonna be able to outlive this pandemic.”


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