OSWEGO — Entrepreneur Jeff Knauss, SUNY Oswego class of 2007 and co-founder of award-winning digital marketing agency The Digital Hyve, will speak at the college’s December Commencement — exactly a decade after he crossed the same stage to receive his bachelor’s degree in public relations.
Commencement will take place at 10 a.m. Dec. 16, in Marano Campus Center convocation hall and arena.
More than 500 candidates for undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificates are eligible to participate in the ceremony.
Now leading a company recognized as CenterState CEO’s 2017 Business of the Year under 50 employees, Knauss expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to address the graduates.
“Not often am I one without words,” he said, talking about college President Deborah F. Stanley’s invitation to speak. “It came as such a shock and such an overwhelming, humbling ask, that I just didn’t know how to respond. It’s such an honor because I get to be a part of the conversation to help students culminate such formative years, where they’re about to embark on this new adventure. Until you embark on it, you just have no idea what it’s like.”
Following his own graduation, Knauss spent eight years in broadcast television before starting The Digital Hyve with his business partner and friend from SUNY Oswego, Jacob Tanner.
The company, with offices in Syracuse and Rochester, has grown to 23 full-time employees.
Along with the CenterState CEO honor, The Digital Hyve this year was recognized among the Central New York Business Journal’s Best Places to Work and won a Small Business Excellence Award from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“It’s really exciting to me to impart some very practical knowledge (at Commencement),” said Knauss, who was among the first graduates to have Commencement in the new Marano Campus Center in December 2007. “I’m going to try to not be too fluffy — I want it to be inspirational, but I also want it to be real. I’m 10 years out of school. One of the reasons I think I was asked is that I’m relatable. I’m not 30 years into my career. I can relate — it feels like yesterday.”
Inspired by alumni
Since his earliest days following graduation, Knauss has been an active alumnus for SUNY Oswego, participating recently as keynote speaker for the college’s inaugural Launch It entrepreneurial business plan competition, as a Career Connector for students following the Lewis B. O’Donnell Media Summit and as a guest speaker in classes on behalf of the Alumni-In-Residence program.
SUNY Oswego and numerous alumni helped put him on his career trajectory, Knauss said.
One in particular, class of 1983 alumnus Frank Palumbo of Nielsen ratings service in Florida, motivated Knauss, then a second-semester senior, to get moving on post-college plans following Palumbo’s keynote speech at the annual Communications Dinner in 2007.
“To hear from a guy who accomplished so much — it just lit a fire under me,” Knauss said. “I just was kind of going through the motions. Seeing someone who had been so successful really started my fire for finding a professional career.”
After earning his degree, Knauss said, faculty and alumni of SUNY Oswego reached out to help.
“Right after I graduated, I had so many Oswego alumni who were great mentors, like Rick Yacobush at iHeartMedia,” Knauss said. “‘Giving back’ is a great phrase, because I got so much value out of that. I really wanted to ensure that if I could help or impact one person like Frank or Rick had done for me, then it’s all very much worth it.”
Knauss also is engaged with the community as a board member of the Food Bank of Central New York, which serves as the main food distribution hub for hundreds of partner agencies that comprise the emergency food network in its 11-county service region; the Loretto Foundation, a not-for-profit organization established to advocate for elders and to raise funds to help sustain Loretto’s role as an innovator in long-term care; and Byrne Dairy, a fourth-generation, family-owned producer of dairy products.
While attending SUNY Oswego, Knauss studied in Nice, France, where he met his wife, Heta, a native of Finland.
Now living in Camillus as parents of a 3-year-old son, Max, and 4-month-old daughter, Lila, the couple shares another Finnish connection: The word “hyve” in Digital Hyve is a Finnish word meaning “virtue.”
SUNY Oswego’s Commencement will stream live, available from a link on the college homepage, oswego.edu. Spectrum (Time Warner) customers in Central New York with regular digital boxes can tune to Channel 96 for the live broadcast, while those without set-top boxes can view it on Channel 97.3.