Delane Parnell likes video games for many reasons. For one, they appeal to his personality. “I’m super competitive,” he says. For another, when he was growing up, they were a great way for Delane, the second youngest, to bond with his brother, Daelon, and his cousins Emil, Emmanuel and Jalen. They’d all sit together in his grandmother’s basement, passing around the controllers for Nintendo 64 games like Donkey Kong and GoldenEye. “It was a lot of fun,” he says. “We’re a long way from those days, but it was a lot of fun.”
Most important, Parnell credits video games with keeping him off the streets of his Detroit neighborhood. Parnell grew up on the west side of Detroit in a neighborhood called 7 Mile and Burgess. According to census data compiled by Data Driven Detroit, the current median household income in 7 Mile and Burgess is $25,458—less than half the average in Michigan—and 81% of households with children are led by a single mother. Fifty-five percent of children live below the poverty line, and nearly everyone is eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch.
It’s not the traditional background for entrepreneurs, who often come from money, but through hard work, savvy networking and relentless curiosity, Parnell was able to reinvent himself over and over, from retail employee to cell phone franchise owner to esports competition team leader to venture capitalist to founder of PlayVS, a company that has now raised $96 million and has 42 employees. As if his trajectory weren’t impressive enough, he already has his sights set on another goal: growing PlayVS into a company worth $50 billion to $100 billion.