VCU Startup Launches Innovative Marketplace for Sneakers & Apparel

By Alan Rodriguez Espinoza

Venture Creation University

Venture Creation University is VCU's strategy for ensuring all students are exposed to innovation and entrepreneurship and have access to entrepreneurial pathways. To find out more about this effort, and to learn about innovation and entrepreneurial programs offered at VCU, visit:

Bryce Johnson and Herman Asberry IV met in 2007 while camping outside of a store, waiting for the release of a much-anticipated pair of sneakers. Asberry, a self-proclaimed “sneaker connoisseur”, was wearing a different limited edition sneaker on each foot that day. Johnson, recognizing the coveted brands, pointed them out. Conversation ensued, and 10 years later, the two friends still share their passion for sneakers

The secondary market for sneakers has exploded over the years, fueled by brands such as Nike and Adidas, who strategically release limited runs of certain sneakers. This low supply drives up their relative value astronomically, and for enthusiasts like Johnson and Asberry, who are lucky enough to get their hands on a pair, they’re then able to turn around and resell them for a premium on sites like Ebay. However, despite their love for shoes, the two sneaker-enthusiasts recognize the flaws within this market, the primary problem being knock-off merchandise in particular. Seeing an opportunity to help solve this problem, Johnson and Asberry have come together launch HNTR.

Johnson describes HNTR as “the ultimate verification marketplace.” Seeing that the current environment for selling and buying sneakers has been failing the community, Johnson and Asberry took it upon themselves to create “the go-to market for those that want quality-assurance, speed and the right product.”

With the help of VCU’s pre-accelerator program, Johnson and Asberry have put together a platform that will house not only the sale of sneakers, but also streetwear as well, with a flat-shipping fee and an extensive authentication process.

Johnson was first introduced to the pre-accelerator program via an email from VCU’s Innovation Economy office. Given his political science major, he was initially surprised to have received an email offering a program related to business. Fortunately, he was informed that the pre-accelerator program was available to all VCU students, regardless of their major.

Although both Johnson and Asberry have had previous business experience, they say that the pre-accelerator program has given their start-up a significant push. Johnson describes the learning opportunity as one “you’re not going to be able to get on your own,” and Asberry praises the program for its role in connecting the two to other student entrepreneurs at the University.

Counterfeit sneakers have come to represent close to a half-billion-dollar a year market. Most fake shoe manufacturers take advantage of the lack of verification systems within online selling platforms to scam consumers. “I’ve probably lost about $5,000 on fakes,” Asberry says. “I don’t want anybody to ever have to deal with that because it was a harrowing experience.”

In the case of sites that do offer authentication services, those services are often flawed, many times verifying shoes that are actually indeed fake. Johnson stresses the fact that under HNTR, there will be “no verification hiccups.”

While fake sneakers are made a certain way, authentic pairs “have a slightly different touch to them.” Sometimes identifying this touch can be a meticulous process where one has to consider the spacing of certain elements, really honing in on the little details. “It’s those little details that make the difference,” Johnson says. “And those little details are the ones that we’re going to be stressing on new incomers as far as those who are going to verify product for us.” Asberry jokingly compares HNTR’s process for finding the right employees to the Hunger Games. However, the employment process itself is no joke. He says that employees will undergo “rigorous training.” When it comes to verifying product, HNTR is “striving for perfection.”

HNTR also expects to demonstrate an advantage over their competitors in regards to speed of delivery, where they guarantee a maximum waiting period of 10 days. With other online marketplaces, it can take up to a month and a half for sellers to receive their money and buyers to receive their product.

This poses issues for sellers who depend on that money coming in to acquire new merchandise. “As for the buyer,” Asberry says, “people want their item today.”

Given that HNTR will be the platform where buyers and sellers interact, a major competitive advantage will be in the fact that it won’t own any inventory. The business will also benefit from the globalizing nature of e-commerce, since it won’t be limited to the local market.

The two co-founders are “thankful for the entirety of the [pre-accelerator] program” and says that it has helped them shape their business and given them a clear direction of where to take it.

HNTR has currently launched a beta version of their marketplace, which you can check out at

About VCU Pre-Accelerator

VCU’s Pre-Accelerator Program provides students with promising business ideas a $5,000 stipend from VCU’s Quest for Innovation Fund, as well as access to a three-month experience that guides them through the challenging early stages of launching a company. The programs first three cohorts included 22 teams that have collectively raised $1.5 million in revenue, investments and grants, and created 31 full- and part-time jobs.