Fall is a season of leaves changing into maroon, gold, or orange, the smell of chili in the crockpot, and the start of football season. Many football traditions start with a well-planned, festively decorated, family-filled tailgate before kick-off, filled with great memories and selfies. Alumnus Matthew Sheldon ’19 and business partner Greg Fean ’18 created a business while in college, dedicated to quality tailgates, resulting in a successful post-college corporation.
“During my junior year of college, my business partner (Greg Fean ’18) and I started a company to throw tailgates for people at the University of Notre Dame. It was called Touchdown Tailgates. We grew the business during the 2018 football season and realized that there was a huge need for our services,” notes Sheldon. “After a successful first season, we were approached by a company that was the Official Tailgate Partner of Soldier Field. During the winter after our first season, we negotiated a merger deal with the company to join forces and operate as one company, Exclusive Event Experiences.”
In his last semester at Holy Cross, he and Fean finalized the merger, negotiating terms to pay themselves salaries to move to Chicago and operate both the Chicago and University of Notre Dame tailgate markets. The duo grew the business 100% at Notre Dame and accomplished 50% growth in Chicago during the 2019 season.
“As you can imagine, our business took quite a hit during COVID with no fans in the stadiums. We felt the struggles and were forced to get creative to stay alive,” said Sheldon. “We started another company 2gthr Curated Experiences to produce virtual and socially distanced events. Luckily, we did well enough to stay alive and make it through to 2021.”
With plans to get back to in-person events in the fall of 2021, they have aggressive plans to grow the business across the Midwest.
“We have launched into a total of 12 markets and have been selling packages for the fall. Additionally, we purchased a company called Irish Express. It provides same-day transportation from Chicago to Notre Dame, with food and beverages throughout the day and a 4-hour tailgate in South Bend. People can also purchase single and group tickets aboard the Irish Express,” shared Sheldon. They also launched Shamrock Shuttles that provides transportation only passes from Chicago to Notre Dame for every game day.
The team lived in Chicago for about a year and a half before recently moving back to South Bend to work and live full-time in Michiana. They have grown their business team to six full-time employees, with 4 being Holy Cross College alumni.
Finding this niche
“We were part of the Applied Entrepreneurship Program run by Regional Innovation and Startup Education (RISE),” said Sheldon. “RISE is a regional leader in best practices for entrepreneurship education. The idea for Touchdown Tailgates was sparked while we were in the program. We continue to support RISE today and try to stay involved as much as possible.”
Holy Cross affects
“Holy Cross College gave us the confidence and network of supportive individuals to help us get to where we are today. The faculty and staff were incredibly supportive and have still been supportive of our business even after graduation,” commented Sheldon. “Personally, I feel that I always have a family of individuals that I can rely on. I try to keep in contact with all of the Holy Cross alums and faculty that I have a relationship with.”
“I think the capstone project was one of the most influential classes I took. It helped me reflect on my four-year career at Holy Cross and connect with what I accomplished in school to what I took from it moving on past college. I also got to strategically pick and plan who my capstone committee was so I could have as much impact as I wanted to tell my story. Adam DeBeck has been a huge role model and support system through capstone and after college,” said Sheldon.
“My plan is to grow the tailgate businesses throughout the Midwest, to hopefully be one of the largest and most recognized tailgate companies in the country. Additionally, I have a passion to invest in real estate in South Bend and hope to start a property management and investment company here within the next year or so. Ultimately, I have the end goal to do well enough to be able to donate to the school to empower future students to have as good an experience as I had,” notes Sheldon.