Are Athletes the Next Generation of Tech Entrepreneurs?

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What happened in Vegas earlier this month is not staying in Vegas as over 150,000 people flocked to CES 2018 ready to see all things tech. With everything from IoT trends and autonomous cars to 5G and smart homes, CES had all the coolest gadgets across industries. It was amazing seeing companies that are really making a difference in this space, and how they take care of each other. The sense of community among the tech entrepreneurs is strong. And speaking of entrepreneurs…by far, the most exciting part of CES for me was sitting down at the sports innovation lab with some “double threat” entrepreneurs, like NFLPA president, Eric Winston of the Cincinnati Bengals, and board member, Russell Okung of the Los Angeles Chargers.

Eric and Russell are both crucial team members, alongside many other select NFL players, helping to drive the OneTeam Collective (OTC). OneTeam Collective is the first such venture to provide rights to sports based intellectual property, highlighted by the NFLPA’s exclusive group licensing rights and unparalleled access to more than 2,000 active NFL players for insights, activations, investment and brand endorsements. They are comprised of founding partners, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), BlackRock, Harvard Innovation Lab, Intel, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, LeadDog Marketing Group, Madrona Venture Group and Sports Innovation Lab.

As OTC gears up in 2018, NFL players that are part of the OTC Athlete Advisory Board along with the accelerator’s founding partners have identified five sports tech developments to watch in the new year: Artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, block chain, customer experience, and consumer product innovation.

Always Seeking Knowledge: a conversation with Eric Winston

Eric serves as the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) President. He has played in the NFL for over a decade and is bringing that experience to his business career. When I talked with him, it was apparent that he has strong motivations and is willing to learn.

Eric was passionate about engaging the next generation to get involved and doing this through “learning what we don’t know.” One of the companies OTC is supporting is WHOOP, wearable tech that calculates daily strain of an athlete so that they can see how much recovery time they need to help reduce injury. He sees tech like this as a way to continually better yourself.

Lessons that he has learned through his time with OTC are to, “Surround yourself with different types of people that will help you build a wealth of knowledge” and, above all, “Be kind and treat everyone as you want to be treated.” He credits a lot of the OTC support and business growth to VC Kleiner Perkin. “They have been generous with us and I’ve learned a lot from them,” Eric said.

And, just for fun, we talked about the one piece of technology he couldn’t live without if he was stranded on an island. Eric said it would be his smartphone.

The Juggling Act: a conversation with Russell Okung

Russell sits on the Athlete Advisory Board, which provides strategic input on portfolio companies and new prospects. The board is made up of both active and former NFL players, and gives them business skills through working with VC’s. Russell told me that working closely with Madrona Venture Group in Seattle has been a great experience.

He said of all the great companies and ideas OTC is currently working with, he is most excited about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it is being applied for the fans. One of the companies OTC works with is called StatMuse, which uses AI to answer stats queries from sports fans. StatMuse launched for iOS as well as Alexa apps, and has a voice library of over 60 NFL players.

I also talked with Russell about his busy schedule serving on the advisory board. He told me how the OTC team meets biweekly, even during football season when he will call into the meetings from the road – that’s dedication! It sounds like a lot of work, but he may have time to do some reading in his down time – when I asked about the technology he couldn’t live without stranded on an island, he said his Kindle.

More Information on the OTC: Year One Stats

It was quite humbling to learn more about these two players. Eric Winston is a veteran player and a grounded NFLPA leader, as well as savvy entrepreneur. His drive to learn from others, like VC’s, is admirable. Russell Okung leads an inspiring life, juggling between being a player, newlywed, part of OTC, and a devoted Christian. His exemplary life of faith brought him to where he is now. I’m really excited to have met both of these entrepreneurs, and am looking forward to seeing more NFL players – and other athletes – at other tech conferences in the future.

To learn more about OTC, check out their infographic on Year One stats below.Follow me @MsSonicFlare ; Credit of infographic: OTC; Credit of Photos: Ivo Lukas & 24Notion

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