All-Star to Tech Star: Why Black Athletes Need to Get in the Startup Game

Athletes-turned-startup founders call for a transition from the stadium to the Valley

First hand, we’re seeing the situation improve. A handful of African-American investors contributed over 25% of the $2 million dollar seed round closed by one of our startups, SendHub, in April 2012. Kenneth Chenault, CEO and Chairman of American Express, is backing a startup called Urban Compass, which is led by an African- American founder and months ago announced an $8 million seed round. We are convinced that the best strategy for positioning minority communities to benefit from the wealth and jobs created by the innovation economy is to bring more diverse investors to the table.

This is exactly what FundersClub and others are doing. To date, the website has funded six companies two of which are led by African-American CEOs. This is an encouraging trend which suggests that a rising tide of investors may lift more startup boats, including those led by minority founders.

Professional athletes who want to learn more about the startup game, within a controlled and low-pressure environment, might consider attending an upcoming Demo Day put on by YCombinator or 500 Startups in Mountain View, California. Ashton Kutcher and MC Hammer are regulars. Demo Day is almost equivalent to the NFL Scouting Combine except, the room is filled with less anatomically impressive people and everyone is talking about user traction, instead of forty yard dash times.

Ronnie Lott, who has demonstrated a remarkable level of deft throughout his career—on and off the field—captures our sentiments best. He noted, “Just like Jackie Robinson explored the possibilities of playing in the big leagues, we also need to explore the possibilities of playing where innovation and economics collide to transform the future. We cannot afford to miss this game!”

Ryan Nece is a co-founder of StraightCast Media, former NFL player and Super Bowl champion. Nece graduated from UCLA and participated in the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Programs at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Harvard Business School.

Garrett Johnson is a co-founder of SendHub, a venture-backed startup and YCombinator alumnus. He is a graduate of Oxford University, as a Rhodes scholar, and also Florida State University where he won two NCAA championships.

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