Central Ohio residents are invited to participate in video chats with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium's Jack Hanna and country music artist Phil Vassar.
Those chat sessions benefit wildlife conservation and children's charities, respectively, thanks to a new social venture called Heroes2u.
Business partners John Weiler and Jeremy Meizlish launched the site called Heroes2u in mid-February. It's a platform designed to connect inspirational people with their followers through live video chats in an effort to raise funds for charity.
"We are the platform for the next generation of givers," Weiler said.
He said the mission of the social enterprise is to give every person the opportunity to meet amazing people and have unforgettable conversations about meaningful causes.
Anyone interested in video chatting with a hero pays $5, of which $4 goes to the hero's charity. The participant creates an account, allowing access to the video chat.
Eight randomly chosen ticket holders will speak with Hanna and Vassar face to face during the video chat, and others will get to watch the live conversation and post comments that could be seen by the hero.
Those who are chosen to chat live with a hero must have a webcam, standard high-speed Internet service and Google Chrome's latest browser.
The video chat with Hanna, the zoo's director emeritus, will occur at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 9, kicking off a three-part series featuring animals and the people who have dedicated their lives to them.
Proceeds raised from the $5 tickets will be donated to The Wilds, a wildlife conservation center and partner of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
Vassar's video chat will be at 8 p.m. Sunday, April 27, and will benefit an A Kid Again event called A Giant Time Out.
A Kid Again strives to enrich the lives of children with life-threatening illnesses and their families by providing times of healing through activities and destination events. A Giant Time Out is a new fundraiser to raise $500,000 for A Kid Again. It will take place from 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday, May 17, at the new Ohio State University basketball practice facility at the Schottenstein Center. Vassar will perform at 9:15 p.m.
Weiler said Heroes2u was incorporated in June 2013 after raising a seed investment.
Tony R. Wells, a local philanthropist and entrepreneur, is the company's investor.
"We've been testing and building out our platform the last six months," Weiler said. "When it comes to heroes, we look to see if they have an interesting story, if have they accomplished something and do they have a charitable history."
Vassar is coming to Columbus to serve as an honorary chairman with Barbara and Thad Matta for A Giant Time Out, so Weiler saw an opportunity to promote that event and do a video chat.
"A lot of these guys have their own foundations or causes they're passionate about," he said. "They typically have a history with a set of causes that have affected them or someone they know. We start out every chat asking who's a hero to you."
Vassar will do his video chat while on tour.
"He has Wi-Fi on his tour bus," Weiler said. "He can raise money for charity, and he doesn't have to go anywhere to do it."
A highlight of Hanna's chat might include tales of his most recent adventure in Africa.
"This Heroes2u chat will be a lot of fun," Hanna said in a press release.
A ticket to Hanna's chat can be found online at Heroes2u.
Weiler and Meizlish have partnered on various projects since they were sophomores in college. They're both 25 years old and graduated from Gahanna Lincoln High School in 2007.
While working on their startup business, they've moved back home with their parents. They're using Gahanna's fiber-optics network, with chats being broadcast from their office at 181 Granville St. in Gahanna.
Weiler graduated from Ohio State University in 2011 with a degree in economics, and Meizlish graduated from Capital University with a degree in English.
"Prior to this, we worked on a video chat dealing with health and fitness," Weiler said. "We thought it would be cool to video chat with someone you wouldn't be able to meet face to face.
"Then we thought about how we could interest people like Jack Hanna. It just became a perfect fit. A lot of them are already passionate about causes. It's a half-hour of their time, and they can engage with their fans."
Eventually, they said, they hope to involve corporate sponsors in an effort to pass along 100 percent of the ticket costs to charity.
In April, Heroes2u has video chats scheduled once a week, including one with Kurt Coleman, former All-American for the Ohio State Buckeyes and safety for the Philadelphia Eagles. He's raising money and awareness for his foundation, Coleman4ACure. His father, Ron Coleman, founded the foundation after battling breast cancer, a rarity in men.
"We want to scale up and do two a week," Weiler said. "It has been a cool journey."