Delane Parnell is a young entrepreneur born in Detroit. He is well-known as the founder of PlayVS. PlayVS is a company that specializes in amateur esports competitions, primarily for high school and college students.
Early Life and Schooling
Delane Parnell was raised in a single-parent family in Western Detroit. Unlike other entrepreneurs, Parnell’s expertise in business was not an inspiration he got from his parents. This is because his dad had been killed a few months before his birth. In addition, Parnell experienced several difficult situations during his childhood. He witnessed his mother struggling to get by and had to live with a family friend with drug abuse tendencies. He also had to maneuver a gang-dominated neighborhood to avoid getting influenced into criminal life. The death of some of his family members and most of his friends were gang-related.
”I didn’t grow up in an ideal family environment.”
Delane Parnell graduated from high school in 2010. He was then admitted to University of Michigan. However, he eventually dropped out of school because he found it difficult to balance schoolwork and his businesses. Even before Parnell dropped out of school, it was evident he had a knack for entrepreneurship.
Parnell’s environment forced him to choose his career path in his early years. When he was thirteen, he finally moved in with his mother. He was lucky to get a job in a MetroPCS cell phone store owned by one of his mother’s friends. His duties in the store included counting inventories and mopping the floors.
“I had one goal in mind: How can I get as rich as possible to get my whole family out of this situation?”
Seeing Parnell’s interest in entrepreneurship, his boss showed him all the basics of running a business. Besides teaching him how to run the store, Parnell’s boss also taught him how to sell cell phones and identify phones with more value than the others. However, he did not necessarily have a liking for mobile phones.
“It didn’t matter what I was learning, whether it was cell phones, technology, or business. Just the opportunity to learn and do something productive was meaningful, given how limited the opportunities are for people who come from where I am from. I made sure I attended work every day after school, and if I didn’t have school, I attended work from open to close.”
Parnell spent most of his time working at the cell phone store because he knew he would otherwise end up in a gang. Additionally, he did not want to end up like most of his friends who endangered their lives by taking part in criminal activities.
“I did not want that life.”
He found himself so engrossed in his work. Darnell saved the money he earned from the cell phone store until it was enough for investment. He partnered with two other young people and bought a cell phone store.
“They were pretty young too, but not as young as I was. I was still in high school, but they were young and motivated to make something of their lives.”
By the time Parnell was 17, he was among the owners of three cell phone stores. However, he later sold his shares in the cell phone stores and decided to invest in Executive Car Rental.
Later, Parnell realized his passion for technology when he read about a startup company called Groupon, which started in Detroit. He found out that the company was using software technology to serve its customers better.
“I fell in love with tech, head over heels.”
One of Parnell’s friends helped him get an invitation to the Startup-Centric Launch Festival in San Francisco. This was the first tech event he attended. He was very excited to meet new business executives and learn as much as he could about the tech space. He ensured he interacted with as many people as possible at the event.
“I talked to everybody. Every person I could find.”
Shortly after his involvement in Executive Car Rental, he decided to look for other sources of income. He moved from one job to another, all of which were in the tech sector until he got a job at IncWell Venture Capital. Working at IncWell Venture Capital made Parnell the youngest black venture capitalist in the United States. During his time working in different tech companies, his reputation and connections in the tech industry grew. He looked up to and got counsel from established entrepreneurs like David Anderson and Amanda Lewan, the founders of Bamboo. Bamboo was one of the largest companies in Detroit at that time.
Some of the companies Parnell worked for were crucial in helping him learn about the gaming industry. He decided to quit his job in 2015 and form a Call of Duty team. Delane Parnell became an esports team leader and was immensely invested in learning everything he could about esports games. However, his love for esports began way back in his childhood. Video games were among the things that kept him, his brother Daelon, and his cousins Emmanuel, Emil, and Jalen out of the streets of Detroit when they were young. However, just one year after forming his team, he sold it to a leading esports organization.
Parnell met Peter Pham at a networking party at South by Southwest. Little did he know that Peter would be his source of inspiration for the founding of PlayVS. Parnell had a lengthy conversation with Peter Pham about esports on the day they met. Peter Pham asked Parnell if he had put high school esports into consideration.
“I was like, no, of course not. At that point in esports, everyone thought about pro and the layer immediately underneath pro. When he said high school, my immediate thought was there were already a bunch of esports companies in high schools, like the North America Scholastic Esports Federation and the High School Esports League, and none of them had any success.”
Peter Pham paid Parnell a few visits and convinced him to move to Los Angeles. He allowed Parnell to meet and spend time with people who had successfully built companies from scratch. This was an excellent opportunity for Parnell because he was interested in starting a tech company. Within three months, he had already decided to move to Los Angeles.
“I’d never seen the apartment I was moving into, but I gave away everything I owned and moved with just a suitcase.”
It was not easy for Parnell to recognize the niche in high school esports. The market was already saturated with different esports companies that seemed to have already filled all the gaps in the field. For the first few months in Los Angeles, Parnell dedicated himself to learning the industry. Luckily, he came across the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). The company was looking to employ esports experts. He decided to learn as much as he could about the organization.
A meeting was scheduled, and he explained his goals to the organization, which were in line with the organization’s objectives. A few days after the meeting, he was called and informed that NFHS would partner with him. Most people who owned established organizations did not understand how a one-man organization could get a lucrative deal.
“They trusted me, and they stayed true to the commitment.”
Establishment and Achievements of PlayVS
In January 2018, Delane Parnell made his business official. His partnership with NFHS was then made official. This was the first partnership PlayVS earned. Within a few months, the two partners added several games to their platform. These included Rocket League, FIFA Smite, and League of Legends. They mainly targeted high school and college students from Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.
Parnell hopes that his company will grow further and have a lot of impact on students. His main goal is to give an opportunity to students with no talent or motivation in field sports.
“We won’t be happy until we have adoption at literally every high school and college in the country,”
Apart from being the CEO of PlayVS, Delane Parnell is also a partner at Detroit Venture Partners. Parnell is also currently among the principal consultants at NHFS, where he oversees the popularity of esports.
PlayVS has raised about $106.2 million in funding from 28 investors. However, Parnell does not believe that he was the only one who contributed to the company’s immense success.
“I owe it to my supporters, investors, and family. I owe it to the millions of other black kids who need to see somebody like me to know that they could also do this.”
More high school students got involved in esports because more states sanctioned esports. About 8,600 high schools have created esports teams on the PlayVS platform since 2018. However, 13,000 schools are yet to use the PlayVS esports invention. Since it was founded, PlayVS has grown from being a company managed by one person to a company with a team of 42 employees.
“This is my first round, and I raised the largest Series A in consumer internet by any African-American. I don’t have the audacity to not go out and work hard.”
Delane Parnell was able to completely transform the gaming industry that had been stagnant for years at a young age, despite his harsh childhood.
This is what makes Delane Parnell part of our Black Founders50 Series. Download the complete 2023 BBVA Founders50 list here.