By Graham Kilmer
Dr. George Koonce, Vice President for Advancement at Marian University and former linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, has been named a finalist in the 12th annual Wisconsin Governors Business Plan contest for his business initiative, Athlos 360. Koonce and Athlos 360 are the last African-American team left in the competition.
Athlos 360, a Milwaukee based company, is an online service designed to help college athletes make the transition from college to the job market said Koonce.
He said the service will utilize technology and operate similar to a dating website.
“We’re trying to find that perfect job for the student athlete,” said Koonce. The online database will allow student athletes to create profiles and connect with potential employers. The service will also connect student athletes with individuals from Athlos 360 to work with them on “soft skills” and possibly job placement, said Koonce. The need to interface personally with the studentathletes is important to Koonce. He believes that student athletes respond best to a figure in front of them, such as a coach, helping them every step of the way with the process of finding employment.
Koonce feels that student athletes are at more of a disadvantage to network and work towards a career outside of their sport than some of their peers because they have rigorous practice and travel schedules to balance on top of their course load.
“A lot of these students are disciplined, smart and well-rounded individuals,” said Koonce.
On April 9, Athlos 360 was announced as one of 24 finalists still remaining in the competition since the field of competitors was whittled down from its original 238 entries. For the third phase of the competition, the remaining teams will submit a 15 to 20 page business plan to be judged in early May.
The inspiration for Athlos 360 came to Koonce while he was at Marquette working on his dissertation. During that time he interviewed over 1,000 former football players about their experiences transitioning from athletics to “regular life”.
He said the overwhelming majority of those he interviewed shared the same goals for their future: they just wanted a job and a chance at the American dream.
Much of the research that Koonce worked on for his dissertation eventually became the book titled, Is There Life After Football: Surviving the NFL, which he co-authored with Richard Jones and James Holstein.
Koonce believes that Athlos 360 has the ability to place Wisconsin, “at the forefront of this complex issue.” The Wisconsin Business Challenge represents a vehicle to connect to the right people to help his company tackle this issue and “really make a difference,” he said.
Koonce said he is thankful for the opportunity to participate in the competition this year.
“It’s been a great opportunity to really submit the idea,” said Koonce. Since the creation of the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Challenge in 2004, around $2 million in cash and in-kind prizes have been awarded.