ZCHS senior raises $1.5 million in venture capital for company

·6 min read

Jan. 4—Izzy Branam, a senior at Zionsville Community High School, is a lot busier than most seniors. In addition to his school work, he also has to run his company, Fia.

Fia is an automated and streamlined recruitment process that helps employers seek out sales talent and helps them identify high performers that would be good fits for their companies. Branam is more than a senior in high school about to enter the world. He's been in the world and has already cemented himself in the field he wants to work in before he's graduated from high school. But his entrepreneurship journey didn't start in high school.

"I've always been that kid that's selling stuff, you know?" Branam said. "Whatever I could get my hands on and make a quick buck."

In sixth grade, Branam bought a wholesale lot of sunglasses and sold them to his classmates for around 20 times what he bought them for. This was when he realized he liked being an entrepreneur.

"I thought I was the richest man in the world," he said.

Branam said selling those sunglasses was fun. Although it was a challenge, he viewed it as a game and had a lot of fun doing it. He compares his selling to someone competing in a sport.

In middle school, Branam was involved in the music scene up in Chicago where he started to DJ around the city. He admits was not very good at that, but being involved in that scene garnered him a lot of connections with local artists. He used what he learned as an entrepreneur selling sunglasses to start marketing those artists.

"There were a lot of really talented teenage musicians in the space, but they didn't know how to market themselves," he said.

From that idea, Branam started his own record label, and by the time he was in eighth grade, his label managed more than 100 artists. In eighth grade, Branam and his family moved to Zionsville, just before his freshman year of high school.

While in high school, he became interested in artificial intelligence in the digital marketing space. Branam learned about Facebook Pixel, a piece of code that tracks who is likely to buy a product and who is not.

After learning how to use Pixel, Branam thought he could use the software to help companies search for job candidates. He said a lot of companies waste money trying to hire the right person but his company takes an analytical approach to the hiring program.

"I have never hired anybody in my life," Branam said. "I've only been hired for a fast food job one time. In this space, you might think this is a terrible idea and you may be right, but at the end of the day, I think that's actually one of our biggest strengths that we don't have the bias of the way it's traditionally been done because clearly, the way it's traditionally done doesn't work well enough."

Today, Branam runs Fia with his business partners Krishna Thiru and Emma Hamilton, who are both seniors at Brebuf Jesuit Preparatory School.

Fia officially became an incorporated company in April of 2021. In the early stages, Branam and his business partners were not well-connected in the business space so they spent time going to networking events and getting their names out in the digital marketing community of Indianapolis.

Back in April, Branam and his team won the Innovate WithIN competition, a competition for high school students to pitch their business ideas. Afterwards, they applied for the Origin Program through Elevate Ventures, a venture capital and entrepreneur development company based in Indianapolis.

The program put them through training on how to pitch their ideas effectively and other aspects of running a startup. The three decided they wanted to take their business to the next level and submitted an application to another venture capital competition not expecting to win anything. They ended up being one of the winners of the competition, securing $1.5 million in investment for their company.

Branam and his partners did a lot of prep and practice for their final pitch. The team prepared a slideshow to help walk their audience through their pitch, as well as practiced the public speaking aspect of their presentation.

The main piece that he believes helped his team win was all of the mock pitches they did with their business mentors. They would pitch to their mentors, who have all been in those situations before, and then receive feedback on what they did well and what they needed to improve on.

"That was incredibly valuable," Branam said. "I don't think we could have done it without them."

On the initial day of the competition, Branam skipped his pre-calculus class to go present his pitch. On the day he was making up the quiz he missed at school was when he learned they had won the money.

It was four or five days after I pitched, I was making this test up and I had to put my phone up while taking the test," Branam said. "I went and grabbed my phone after finishing and I'm walking out of school and I see I have an email and I read it in the middle of the school hallway."

It was there, in the hallway of the school he's about to graduate from, that he found out his pitch won the competition. After leaving school, Branam and his business partners all went out for food to celebrate.

Branam and his business partners becoming some of the youngest venture capital-backed CEOs of a company in the United States means a lot, obviously.

"It's a phenomenal honor we get to hold that title," he said. "I mean, I can't take too much credit for it in terms of my actual contribution or my hard work. I've kind of just walked through the doors that have opened to me and just been driven enough to continue on, even when it's difficult."

Although he's still in school and running his business, he said ZCHS has been supportive of his business venture. He gets the last two periods of school off so he only works in school during the morning hours, and then works at a co-working space the rest of the day.

As far as post-graduation, Branam has not made any specific plans but says he's still thinking about what to do post-high school to help himself and Fia move forward.

Branam encourages everyone to pursue their dreams.

"I want to urge anybody that feels like they want to take a shot at something like this, just go for it," Branam said. "A year ago, when I had the idea, I remember telling somebody that I didn't think I could pull it off and they told me there's only one way to find out."