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Tiffany Kelly, a former college athlete and ESPN data scientist, is the founder of Curastory, Jerome Williams, the founder of Alumni Pros Global Sports and former NBA athlete, and Derrick Thomas, the founder of Pro Shark Sports.

How 3 former athletes are founding startups to capitalize on the 'Wild West' of the NCAA rule change that will allow student-athletes to strike deals with brands

December 8, 2020

In the coming weeks, the NCAA will conduct a vote that will ratify the new rules governing one of the biggest legislative shifts to occur in the Association's century-long tenure, allowing student-athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness (NIL) rights for the first time in history and ushering in a new era of college athletics.

Although the specifics of these new policies are still being formalized, a key set of "guardrails" stipulate that, among other regulations, the schools themselves will be forbidden from facilitating contracts between student-athletes and brands, opening the door for a wave of third-party businesses hoping to manage the deal-making process between interested parties.

These companies are hoping to capitalize on the brand-new business ecosystem this rule change will create, as the updated NIL policies essentially "unlock" the earning potential of thousands of NCAA student-athletes. While some of them will likely want to manage their own entrepreneurial activities, student-athletes seeking professional assistance represent an opportunity for companies that are well-positioned to serve them.

Curastory, Alumni Pros Global Sports, and Pro Shark Sports are three new businesses, all launched in 2020 by former professional and collegiate athletes who say their mission is to help empower student-athletes. The different business strategies represent three of the possible ways that entrepreneurs can get involved in the emerging market of student-athlete monetization: enabling student-athletes to monetize themselves; connecting student-athletes with brands; and helping student-athletes find representation.

The uncertainty surrounding the specifics of the rule change, combined with a constantly evolving technological landscape that routinely gives student-athletes new ways to monetize their reach, makes the market a challenge to predict; Tiffany Kelly, the founder of Curastory, called the situation "a Wild West."

Still, for entrepreneurs willing to brave its unpredictability, the brave new world of student-athlete monetization represents an exciting and potentially lucrative universe of opportunities.

Curastory gives student-athletes the tools they need to make and monetize social media videos.

Using Curastory, student-athletes can create videos that brands bid to sponsor, and then the student-athletes accept a bid and share the video on their personal social media.

To facilitate the video-making process, Curastory sends a kit including a high-quality camera, lighting, and microphone equipment for less than $50; students also receive free access to editing software and a library of over 90,000 songs.

Founder Tiffany Kelly, a former student-athlete and data scientist at ESPN, compares Curastory to Cameo and Anchor, in that it's a single-use platform that student-athletes can use to make money.

"We're able to help student-athletes that are that top 1%, but who still have one-off videos that they created that they want to monetize and post to their social media channels," said Kelly.

Kelly has likened the landscape of NIL monetization to a "Wild West," as businesses and entrepreneurs scramble to prepare for the opportunities created by the policy shift. Tiffany Kelly

Alumni Pros Global Sports acts as a marketplace, connecting student-athletes and brands.

The founder of Alumni Pros Global Sports, former NBA athlete Jerome Williams, launched the company in March in the hopes of capitalizing on the need for brands and student-athletes to find and conduct business with each other.

Williams and his team have created a proprietary algorithm that measures what they call an "IP score," a metric that reflects a student-athlete's social media reach, strength of personal brand, and a variety of other factors. The team then categorizes student-athletes by their IP scores and pairs them with brands looking for student-athletes that fit their needs.

"We aim to give student-athletes a more in-depth perspective about their intellectual property and to look at the industry and help them monetize their IP and their brands," said Williams.

Williams, a former NBA athlete, touts his experience as a key selling point. The company's slogan is "We made it, we played it, now you do it." Jerome Williams

Pro Shark Sports helps student-athletes manage their brand and find agents.

Derrick Thomas, the founder of Pro Shark Sports, launched his company in hopes of helping student-athletes control the narrative of what he calls their four core aspects: representation, brand, money, and data.

Pro Shark Sports works closely with student-athletes to help manage their name, image, and likeness rights, as well as works with undergraduate athletes seeking representation. Just as professional athletes work with a stable of business managers, high-profile student-athletes will also need to build out a team of professionals to help them manage their entrepreneurial activities, and that's what Pro Shark Sports aims to help with.

"We're here to revolutionize the player-recruitment and representation process," said Thomas. "Our mission is to support, activate, and optimize different areas in that space to ensure that players are successful."

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