Our Founding Story

How two refugees built a design studio based on friendship and shared values.

Est. 2001

From Hyperakt's founding partners, Julia Zeltser and Deroy Peraza:

Our stories share common heartaches: The loss of our homelands, sudden separation from loved ones, growing up around polarized politics, and helplessly seeing our people suffer from afar. They are also stories of hope and opportunity. Coming to the US afforded our families safety and livelihoods, and gave us the possibility to pursue creative careers, and build a successful business aligned to our values – privileges not enjoyed by many who were born here and many whose paths have led them here.

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We believe everyone, regardless of their identity, should be able to safely pursue their dreams without fear. We've dedicated our careers to working with others who feel the same way.
Julia

Julia Zeltser

I emigrated from Ukraine at the age of 15. As Jews in the former Soviet Union, my family had been trying for more than 10 years to find a way out of Ukraine, a country that had grown suffocating and dangerous. A refugee resettlement agency named HIAS, who would later be one of our clients, helped move my family into a tiny apartment on the Upper West Side in Manhattan.

To me, the founding story starts long before Hyperakt was born. In 1996, after moving to the USA from Ukraine 2 years earlier, I attended Parsons School of Design on a scholarship. As a recent immigrant with a thick Russian accent and second-hand clothes, I wanted to assimilate and blend in more than anything. I remember the early days of freshman year when I reluctantly wore my mother’s unworn sneakers that never fit her in the first place. Yet, she carefully moved them across multiple borders like a precious dowery for me. They were patriotically colored and looked a bit like old bowling shoes. That day during 2-D fundamentals class, in a room that smelled of rubber cement and freshly unpacked color-aid packages, one of my college classmates, long haired with bell bottoms and a purple beret, had come up to me to say, “those are cool shoes.” After a few exchanges he asked where I was from and shared with me that he was born in Cuba. This was the start to my near-life-long friendship with Deroy.

At Parsons, Deroy and I were fierce competitors and attentive collaborators. We grew up together over for the next few sleepless years. We shared a common background: both former refugees from communist countries, both creative, both hardworking, both were given a chance to get an education at a top art school and a chance at the "American Dream."

Upon graduation and a few freelance stints later, we joined forces. In 2001, Hyperakt was born. At first, we designed everything for everyone, including the world of advertising, which we were both not very fond of. In those professionally formative years, Deroy and I realized how much we enjoyed helping local arts, human rights, and activism organizations. We were eager to elevate their stories, help them increase their donations, empower them with better design. As the studio grew, we envisioned using design as a tool to create a world where everyone has a fair chance – like we did so many years ago. Today we're surrounded by extraordinary, talented people at Hyperakt who have joined us on this mission.

Deroy

Deroy Peraza

I was born in Havana, Cuba. My parents and grandmother had been trying to escape Castro’s communist dictatorship for 5 years. Our family in the US was somehow able to pull strings to bring us to Panama and later Miami, where they helped us settle in. Ten years later, as I was receiving scholarships to attend Parsons School of Design with the support of grant-making institutions, the devastating impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union had led 35,000 desperate Cubans to take to the sea in makeshift rafts to try to reach US shores – many would never reach them.

Hyperakt is the product of a great 20+ year friendship built on shared values. In our very first foundation year classes at Parsons, I bonded with another student who shared the same work ethic. She was quiet and reserved, which I definitely wasn’t. She was also totally unconcerned with being cool and just wanted to make awesome work, which I admired tremendously.

Julia and I, both immigrant kids from communist countries, knew that our families had worked hard and made enormous sacrifices for the opportunities we enjoyed. This was the foundation of a lifelong friendship and partnership. Together, and with the help of many others, we have built a company around the mutual respect and admiration we have always had for each other.

Hyperakt was born in September of 2001, shortly after we graduated and just as we were all wrapping our heads around the tragedy of 9/11. We had a lot to learn, but ignorance makes you fearless. We took every project we could get our hands on and learned how to run a business the hard way – slowly. This proved to be invaluable.

When Barack Obama entered the scene and social justice began to once again meaningfully enter public discourse, the economy was in a freefall. It was indeed time for change.

Julia and I decided our effort would be most useful supporting local arts and social justice organizations. We were eager to elevate their stories, and empower them with better design to further their impact.

Hyperakt is the product of what brought us together to begin with – we’ve built a design practice around shaping a future where everyone has a fair chance – like we ourselves had so many years ago. Today, we are proud to be surrounded by a diverse, talented team who are all driven by this passion.

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