Student-athletes’ lives often revolve around their sport. In college, while other students are participating in clubs and internships, student-athletes are practicing and working out. For the athletes who don’t go into professional sports after college—which means the vast, vast majority—life abruptly changes.
Kyle Mumma, Founder and CEO of Durham-based startup NextPlay, wants to help student-athletes better transition into the post-college world.
“Athletes build their identity around sport from a young age with their confidence, skills, and relationships primarily stemming from sport participation,” Mumma said. “By the time they turn 22 and graduate college, if not before then, that foundational element of their identity disappears for 99% of athletes.”
Mumma saw this issue firsthand as an undergraduate in college, working as a manager for the Duke basketball team. During graduate school at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, he was also on staff for the team, and then worked for the football team as well.
He often heard recruiters using the phrase “make a 40-year decision, not a four-year decision” to try and draw athletes in. Although the sentiment was coming from the right place, Mumma felt like more could be done to make the phrase ring true.
“College sports has a lot of positive impacts,” he said. “Kids go to Duke who wouldn’t otherwise go to Duke, and there’s great opportunities. But I think college sports as an institution can do a lot more for student-athletes.”
The issue, he said, stems from an incentives problem. College coaching staff are incentivized to take care of their athletes in a physical sense and ensure they’re able to perform in games while in college. Mumma and NextPlay, on the other hand, are only incentivized by career development for the athletes’ post-college lives, and can therefore close the professional gap for athletes.
His Own Career Turn
After graduating from Fuqua last spring, Mumma had a full-time job offer from Deloitte, one of the nation’s four biggest accounting firms, and he was set to start in the fall.
Then August came and Mumma made a sharp turn, as if he was one of the wide receivers on the football team. Instead of taking the job, he decided to take the path enabling him to make the biggest impact on the world: Mumma founded NextPlay.
The company, currently made up of three full-time employees, started with Duke’s football team, and then expanded its reach to include Campbell University and Davidson College.
More contracts are currently in the works with other similar schools, Mumma said.
NextPlay can be hired by schools to come in as consultants for sports teams, where the company will cater a school-specific program for the student-athletes.
The first step in the program is the discovery phase, where Mumma and his team determine where the school is lacking and what can be improved. The next step, the design phase, entails creating a customized plan, including things like guest speaker events and resume workshops. The final step is the delivery phase, where the events actually happen.
Turning Up The Tech
Currently, the startup is trying to increase its use of technology to become more scalable. The goal is to create a mobile app for the athletes to use. The app will be similar to LinkedIn, but just for the specific school’s athletics department, Mumma said.
The student-athletes will be able to interact with the NextPlay team in between sessions, as well as connect with former athletes. The alumni connectivity is one of the most important factors, Mumma said. The athletes are more apt to trust other athletes who have been in their shoes. It also can keep former athletes involved with their alma mater, which can translate into more alumni donations for the schools, Mumma said.
The company has no direct competitors, he said, as the other similar career development companies only offer some of the components that NextPlay offers.
NextPlay is currently raising its first seed round, hoping to reach $500K. So far, the company has raised about half of the round. They’re targeting primarily individual and angel investors. The plan is to help NextPlay hire more employees, and then in the next 12-18 months pursue institutional investment in a larger seed round. It probably doesn’t hurt that Mumma knows at least one person who’s an expert on funding—his dad Mitch, the Managing General Partner of Durham’s Intersouth Ventures.
That funding would help Mumma continue down the path he rather suddenly took last summer and bring NextPlay to more student-athletes around the country.