Alumnus Evon Onusic shares entrepreneurial journey with Penn State community

September 01, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Since graduating from Penn State World Campus in 2013, Evon Onusic has worked in product development for a startup in Silicon Valley, created an entrepreneurial-minded home for students and young professionals, and co-founded a successful data-driven marketing company.

Onusic’s startup career path seems logical, in retrospect, but when he was a junior at Penn State majoring in economics, he was just focused on getting good grades in order to graduate and then secure a good job. Passing his Chinese language class was his most immediate challenge, and his immersive approach to solving that problem provides a glimpse into what fueled his success as an entrepreneur.

To best learn Mandarin, Onusic decided he should live in China. Fully committed to learning the language and intrigued by China’s emergence as a world economic power, he thought, “What better way to learn than to fully immerse yourself?” That decision led Onusic through a series of experiences that ended with his accepting a job in Silicon Valley as a product development manager for Zulu Inc., a startup working to use inaudible sound frequencies to populate data on mobile phones.

Onusic’s knowledge of Mandarin and Chinese culture prepared him to travel to Beijing on behalf of Zulu to coordinate with the technology development team behind the startup. Zulu didn’t last as a company, but Onusic made a lot of great connections in Silicon Valley and came away from the experience wanting to enter the vast entrepreneurial ecosystem.

While working in Silicon Valley, Onusic and his friend Eric Simons saw how difficult it was for young entrepreneurs to get their start there and decided to open the Webster House, a home where young entrepreneurs could hang out, rent a bed, and work on their innovations alongside like-minded peers.

“We started teaching basic programming and business development skills to high school grads, college dropouts, and others to help them incubate and grow their ideas,” said Onusic.

At Webster House, Onusic helped create a company called SongHop, which he described as “Tinder, but for music,” matching users with song samples. Onusic didn’t think the idea was very promising on its own, but at a minimum it was an opportunity to further expand his entrepreneurial network. He met Matt Michelsen, an investor who, after six months of courting back and forth, was ready to invest in SongHop — until Onusic stopped him.

The company had flatlined and Onusic didn’t feel comfortable taking Michelsen’s investment. This kind of honesty struck a chord with Michelsen, and so he invited Onusic to join him on an eight-month quest to build out new ideas.

“When I first got to Silicon Valley, I spent hours finding other Penn State alums. No matter what, fellow Penn Staters always answered the call. It was an amazing experience to include a ‘We Are’ shoutout in an email and get an almost instantaneous response.”

— Penn State alumnus and entrepreneur Evon Onusic

During that time, they created Algo, a real-time data analytics platform powered by the most advanced machine learning techniques available. The startup was a success, and the Norway-based software company Meltwater purchased Algo in 2017.

Amidst his bustling career, Onusic returned to Penn State to give back, volunteering time to speak at Penn State Startup Week about acquisition and investment strategies. He also acted as a mentor to Penn State student teams in the 2017 IdeaMakers Challenge.

“When I first got to Silicon Valley, I spent hours finding other Penn State alums,” he said when asked about his commitment to Penn State. “No matter what, fellow Penn Staters always answered the call. It was an amazing experience to include a ‘We Are’ shoutout in an email and get an almost instantaneous response. That is the real superpower of Penn State — the connective tissue that holds the blue and white together.”

After his success with Algo, in 2019 Onusic turned his sights to digital marketing and set out to create a company that would use its success to benefit others.

Using his experience from Algo, he co-founded DeltaSift, a data-driven marketing company providing standardized measurement around digital campaigns. DeltaSift enables companies to refine their messaging for greater connection with their target audience.

“During this uncertain market, we aim to place efficient ad dollars as we help customers achieve new return on their investment,” Onusic said. “In comparison to other ad agencies that have a ‘set and forget’ strategy, we are constantly deploying content to learn and determine the ads that resonate with our audience the most."

DeltaSift scored its first contract in August 2019 — further validating the product and enabling Onusic to put money toward partnering with nonprofit organizations to help them establish a stronger brand and greater reach in their important work.

DeltaSift has partnerships with nonprofits such as the Hearst Castle Preservation Foundation, the Rodney Cook Sr. Peace Park, the Millennium Gate Museum, and others. DeltaSift’s data-driven marketing intellectual property allows the company to build websites and manage social media advertising for these organizations in a way that will drive the right traffic to donate or purchase items to help support the institutions.

“DeltaSift’s success in the for-profit sector will ultimately help smaller organizations compete in what is typically a noisy environment,” he said. “The more we can invest in our infrastructure, the more we can help be an agent of change for nonprofits.” He’s practicing what he calls “conscious capitalism.”

Onusic’s commitment to conscious capitalism doesn’t stop there. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he developed a new company to bring medical-grade KN95 masks to the U.S. His first shipment of 2,000 showed up in late May and went straight to Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh.

The company, StaySafe, acquires reusable masks, sells them to the public, then uses a portion of the profits to acquire and donate personal protective equipment for health networks in need. Medical-grade masks from StaySafe are also on their way to health networks in Altoona, State College and Philadelphia.

As he continues to grow and develop DeltaSift, Onusic points to the power of the Penn State network for a source of his success. In giving back to the Penn State community, Onusic recently volunteered as a guest speaker for the 2020 Summer Founders program, where he discussed investment 101 topics with student entrepreneurs. Onusic continues to seek new ways to give back and engage with Invent Penn State programming.

To explore Invent Penn State's entrepreneurial resources, visit https://invent.psu.edu/tools/resource-navigator/.

Last Updated September 01, 2020