Scoring big in business: OHIO athletes train as entrepreneurs

After the roar of the crowd fades and the final whistle sounds, some college athletes may face a new opponent: transitioning from competitive sports to a professional career. Fortunately, Ohio University is equipping its athletes with the tools and knowledge they need to thrive beyond the field.

Gabe Preston '06 | April 11, 2024


Director for the Center for Entrepreneurship Paul Benedict worked closely with other members of the athletics department at OHIO to develop a series of workshops that give players access to step-by-step instruction on building their personal brand. Being a Division I athlete in the NCAA doesn’t just mean players are a step closer to a professional career in sports, it also means they have more visibility, giving them access to business ventures outside of competitive sports.

“It’s about empowering our current student athletes to explore their own opportunities and potential,” said Benedict.

Empowerment in this case means knowing how to leverage both their popularity as a collegiate athlete as well as their OHIO education and alumni resources. With the advent of NIL legislation, athletes now have the right to profit from their name and image, allowing them to develop entrepreneurial skills and build a personal brand. 

OHIO Athletes learn about entrepreneurship at College of Business workshop

A shared vision delivers business success

Recent grads Xavior and Ilyaas Motley, former student athletes and co-founders of Armadillo Protection, LLC, presented the first workshop on the challenges of launching a business. Their Ohio-based company produces a glove formulation that acts as a second layer of skin. The Motley brothers have firsthand experience as entrepreneurs, and during the workshop they talked about the power of a shared vision.

"We’ve been able to develop a team of 11 individuals who believe in the vision of the company. We were around so many businesspeople, marketers, engineers, and we were able to take those lessons and apply them to our business model,” (Xavior) Motley said.

The second workshop focused on branding, with special guest Preston McClellan, CEO and co-founder of Golf Space Collective, a marketing agency with a focus on growing and shaping golf brands. McClellan, who also works as a social media consultant, understands the challenge of building a personal brand from the ground up. “You have to be intentional with your brand online. In today's world, you don't have the chance to make a first impression. People will already know a lot about you based on your online presence. Leverage that as much as possible,” he said. He added that his time at OHIO pursuing an MBA helped him build a strong social net.

The OHIO network is unlike anything that exists in sports, and if you genuinely try to provide value to others in the network, it will come back to you.

Preston McClellan, co-founder of Golf Space Collective

The response from workshop attendees (currently just the football team) has been very positive.

“The workshops Paul and the other guests provided have been great. The tools and resources they went over are very useful and they inspired us to apply them,” said senior cornerback Roman Parodie.

But it’s not just current players who are able to contribute. Former collegiate athletes who’ve made the jump to professional sports can share experiential wisdom. AJ Ouellette, OHIO football alumnus and CFL running back for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, spoke with current OHIO football players about the need for authenticity when building your brand. “Before my last game of the (college) season was over, I was already thinking about what made me unique as a player and an individual, then focused on highlighting those things through social media and my community,” he said.

Paul Benedict instructs at entrepreneurial workshop for student athletes

"We're student-centric. We focus on developing (students) as people, professionals, and athletes."
–Paul Benedict, Director for the Center for Entrepreneurship

Ouellette added, “Don’t align yourself with brands you don’t believe in. I’m not going to wear a product or attend a camp for someone I don’t relate to.”

The workshops themselves, which were kicked off this year as a pilot, are designed to be highly interactive and engaging.Athletes participate in hands-on exercises, brainstorming sessions, and even personalized consultations.

OHIO leads the MAC with full-service agency support

Ryan O’Connor, associate athletics director for external engagement, has had a big hand in helping to develop the curriculum and shape the workshops. He even mentioned an exclusive group licensing agreement with The Brandr Group, a full-service NIL agency that facilitates licensing, sponsorship, and content licensing opportunities.

“We were the first MAC team to enter into that agreement, and it's designed to be a more efficient solution for current student athletes," he said. "The business planning that goes into merchandise monetization can be a really good skill developer for students,” he said.

The Athletics and Center for Entrepreneurship teams plan to expand the workshops to other sports in the spring and summer, including the volleyball, soccer, and basketball programs.