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TMCNet:  New South Florida business customizes mortarboard messages

[March 23, 2012]

New South Florida business customizes mortarboard messages

Mar 23, 2012 (The Miami Herald - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- When he graduated from Indiana University 15 years ago, Marc Goldberg wished he had some way to distinguish himself from the sea of fellow students.

He wanted to decorate his graduation hat to thank his parents for their support, but the only options he knew of were glitter and glue.

"You see all these kind of girly gems and diamond shapes," he said. "I looked at it and said 'Yeah, I'm not going to do that.'" It took him all these years, but Goldberg, 36, finally turned his idea into reality.

He launched his Miami Beach-based Tassel Toppers, in October. The toppers -- square-shaped pieces of thin plastic that stick to the top of a cap with removable adhesive -- are available ready-made with some university logos or Greek symbols for $19.95.

They can also be customized online at www.tasseltoppers.com with pictures, logos or phrases of a graduate's choice for $22.95, and can be used for everything from kindergarten to graduate school graduations.

LaShae Dent, 22, was planning to paint her own cap when she graduated from Florida A&M University last year but found Tassel Toppers when she looked online for ready-made options.

She ended up getting the words Veni, Vidi, Vici -- Latin for "I came, I saw, I conquered" -- in her school's orange and green colors.

"I have it on my desk," said Dent, who grew up in Miami but lives in Tallahassee. "It was just such a better idea than making it yourself. I don't even know where my cap is; I just have my top." For her December graduation from Florida International University's graduate program in social work, Helen Muniz Bermudez and eight friends ordered their toppers to spell the phrase "Free @ Last" in blue and gold, the school colors.

"We wanted to feel united because we kind of went to graduate school all together and it was pretty stressful and pretty intense," she said. "We created our own support group." Muniz Bermudez also personalized her top with a peace sign, a heart, a martini glass, a paw and the words "Thank you, babe" in a shout-out to her husband.

She said the range of options led to much discussion between the graduates.

"We have a 47-email thread," she said.

Goldberg, who lives in Miami Beach with his wife, said he spent about eight months working around the clock -- and some $50,000 in startup costs -- to get Tassel Toppers up and running. An entrepreneur, he also has a business that resells networking equipment.

For Tassel Toppers, he contracts with graphic designers, Web development consultants and other freelancers as needed while keeping his number of employees to a minimum. He prints orders on his industrial printer, though large volumes are handled offsite.

Goldberg is trying to get the word out to more students with social media campaigns, including a contest that encourages people to submit their own designs on Facebook. Top vote getters will win an iPad each month.

He has also sent samples to deans at 250 schools.

"For a product that no one's ever seen before, that's the biggest challenge -- getting the word out there," Goldberg said.

So far, he said, 15 universities have placed orders of at least 2,000; another 15 are pending.

Recently, he said, Nova Southeastern University in Davie ordered 2,000 Tassel Toppers.

They'll be sent to students who have been accepted at Nova, said Michael Maucker, assistant director of marketing and communications for the university's office of undergraduate admissions.

"The purpose behind them was so people could show their pride in where they were going to school after graduation," Maucker said.

To encourage grads to keep showing pride, the company also sells souvenir display stands for $4.95.

Said Goldberg: "School spirit starts the moment you get accepted to your school and never ends your entire life." ___ (c)2012 The Miami Herald Visit The Miami Herald at www.miamiherald.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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