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Cystarters Spotlight Story: Comic Sandwiches

This story is part of a series featuring each of the fifteen startups in the CYstarters 2019 summer cohort. Each team has the opportunity to focus on their startup or business idea while receiving $6,500 or up to $13,000, along with mentorship, accountability, and educational sessions on how to build a business.

Get to Know: Grayson Burgess
Age: 23
School: Junior at Iowa State University, studying mechanical engineering
Hometown: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

When most high school students think about how they are going to pay for college, the first thing to come to mind are part-time jobs washing dishes at the dining center, working at the rec center, or maybe even tending bar at the local watering hole. When Grayson Burgess was challenged by his parents to think of a way to pay for his college, he combined his skills of engineering, design, manufacturing, and a passion for comics, and turned it into his business, Comic Sandwiches.

Grayson Burgess, owner of Comic Sandwiches.

What is Comic Sandwiches?

We create authentic, lifesize prop replicas and collectibles for cosplay and superhero fans. Every piece is handcrafted and made to order. We also provide design and manufacturing for custom props and items tailored to individual clients, whether they are comic related, or not.

How has Comic Sandwiches pivoted since you started it back in 2015?

The first idea I had to make a little bit of money was to create custom frames for comic books, hence the name, Comic Sandwiches. I sold quite a few of those on Etsy and had a bit of success. I was registered to attend my very first Comic-Con to get some feedback on my new comic book framing business, and I decided that I wanted to build a Captain America shield to take with me to the convention. It was clear that people were way more interested in the shield than the comic book frames. I went home and manufactured a few more shields, and within a few months, I had sold well over 85 on my Etsy site. I have since shifted my business to designing and manufacturing custom comic props, replicas, and memorabilia.

Who is your target market?

Comic Book enthusiasts is the short answer, but my customer is really anyone who enjoyed reading comics growing up, enjoys the movies, and wants a high-quality replica or piece of memorabilia to take with them to Comic-Cons or to hang on their walls in their office or at home.

Comic Sandwiches displays product offerings at Comic-Cons.

What kind of success have you had?

Since I started Comic Sandwiches back in 2015, I have had over 1,200 transactions between my original Etsy store and my website. Products range from $15 up to $1,000 for predesigned items, and custom work can go for as much as $2,500. I have had customers ranging from the CIA and Secret Service to Netflix and Paramount Studios.

Do you have a background in entrepreneurship?

My parents started a business a year or two before I was born. They designed and sold business signage. As the industry has evolved, they now design and sell electronic and computer-based signage, kiosks, and other displays.

I learned a lot from my parents’ business. I was involved with the design and engineering of many of the products. I also was able to experience what is it like running a business and being an entrepreneur. The skills I learned growing up in a family business have been very helpful to me in running Comic Sandwiches.

Captain America Shield Replica designed and made by Comic Sandwiches.

What has been your favorite part of CYstarters?

The amount of people that I have been able to meet and interact with has been extremely valuable. All of the mentors, presenters, staff, and fellow cohort members have all been helpful in my business and my entrepreneurial journey. It has been beneficial to meet so many supporters, fellow entrepreneurs, and like-minded individuals throughout this program.

Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurship is not about inventing the next greatest product or developing life-changing software. Entrepreneurship is all about solving problems and improving the way processes are currently done. Designing and manufacturing replicas is not a new industry, but the systems that I have in place and the quality of the products I made is something new to the industry and is why I have had success thus far.

What else are you involved in at Iowa State University?

I currently serve as the president of the Entrepreneur Club at Iowa State University, and I recently joined the executive team of another startup, True 360, which was a member of the second CYstarters cohort. True 360 creates immersive experiences for zoos and aquariums by placing 360-degree cameras inside exhibits. I am designing and manufacturing the enclosures for the 360-degree cameras that will be placed inside zoos and aquariums.

What do you need help with?

I could use some help with a digital marketing strategy and campaign. I would love to work with anyone that has experience marketing custom manufactured consumer goods. Also anybody interested in what I am doing is welcome to contact me.

How should others contact you?

You can visit my website at comicsandwiches.com or email me directly at grayson@comicsandwiches.com.