Entrepreneur Spotlight: Delane Parnell

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

PLAYVS (PLAY VERSUS)

If you asked Parnell to sell you a pen, you would walk out with a new iPhone with 2-year warranty, a phone case, AND a pen. Delane Parnell is not your typical story of a tech CEO. He wasn’t well versed in coding, social media, or anything regarding technology because he didn’t have internet growing up. Growing up close to the infamous Detroit “Eight Mile Road”, Parnell spend most of his youth working at a MetroPCS where he gained valuable sales experiences. Raison d’être: What excites you? What gets you out of bed? What is your purpose? I first read about Delane Parnell in Inc Magazine and found his story compelling. His ability to build out PlayVs impressed me and I wanted to find out what made him tick: what was his mission in life, what were his intrinsic values? For Parnell, it was his mission to “get as rich as possible to get my whole family out of this situation.” With this mission in mind, Delane Parnell enrolled at the University of Michigan but dropped out within his first semester. Unable to find the time to juggle school and work, he went straight to building his connections and dove straight into the game. Parnell was inspired by 2 local Detroit natives who created the powerhouse Groupon. Groupon utilized tech to create a useful tool to raise engagement for retail locations, and Parnell wanted to follow in their footsteps to create a similar company. That’s when Detroit native Jon Triest of Ludlow Ventures gave Parnell a ticket to Launch Festival in San Francisco. It was not only luck that allowed Parnell to have this opportunity; he never turns down a conversation and conversation quickly turns into connections. After the event, he returned to Detroit with the inspiration to recreate not only the events but the spirit of entrepreneurship. He was able to organize several great fireside chats and panels with Charles Adler (founder of Kickstarter), Alex Ohanian (co-founder of Reddit), and Brian Wong (founder of Kiip). Whilst bouncing around different jobs, he started seeking professional guidance; he began to reach out to respected figures in the entrepreneurial sphere, such as Amanda Lewan and David Anderson.

COMPANY PROFILE: PLAYVS During SXSW 2017, Parnell ran into an old friend and venture capitalist Suzy Roo who made the introduction to Peter Pham of Science, a Los Angeles-based incubator and investment firm. Parnell went into great lengths about his work and the gaming industry, which he had been studying for months. Pham and many others were intrigued and through multiple revisions, Parnell finalized his concept. AN ESPORTS PLATFORM FOR HIGH SCHOOLERS Within the same time frame, The National Federation of High Schools Association(NFHS) was interested in adding esports to their roster of sports offered in high schools. “We were finding through our research that there are more students gaming than there are on our athletic fields,” says Mark Koski, CEO of NHFS Network. Parnell was introduced to the board of NFHS after developing his platform. After being flown to Atlanta, Parnell gave a pitch that led to an exclusive deal between PlayVS and NFHS. Now located in Santa Monica, PlayVS has more than 15 full-time employees and is finishing up its Series B. PlayVS has already received an investment of $25 million from Compass and $18 million from Cadre Real Estate firm on top of a $30.5 million round from investors that include Adidas, Samsung, Sean Combs, and the LA Dodgers. Investors agree with the vision that Parnell has encapsulated in PlayVS: complete control over the pipeline that will feed into the growing esports pro league. “I don’t care if you’re gaming on your phone, on a console, or through a cloud service,” Parnell says. “Gaming in high school, even if it’s tic-tac-toe, will run through us.” If he succeeds, PlayVS will become the household name in gaming. It took the NBA two decades after its first draft to start recruiting players from high schools. History is looking to repeat itself with PlayVS.

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Woody Kim

Product Designer at Kessel Run, and Apprentice at DAF/MIT AI Accelerator