Countless talented high school football and basketball players dream of making it to the professional leagues, nonetheless, according to the NCAA, only 0.08% make it to the NFL while an equally disappointing 0.03% make it to the NBA. These statistics motivated Cortni Grange and Sam Sesay, the founders of FLYE (Future Leaders and Young Entrepreneurs), to equip young men of color with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to succeed in any arena of life through comprehensive programs that help them envision themselves managing businesses beyond their sport.
FLYE has grown to now work with young men and young women and invites student athletes to participate in a year-round curriculum designed to create leaders and entrepreneurs for successful businesses. In just two years, FLYE has made great achievements. Most recently, co-founders Cortni Grange and Sam Sesay were recipients of the 2015 Luminary Award by The National Urban League Young Professionals of the Greater Washington Area, Washington Wizards All-Star Guard John Wall and Sean John outfitted some of their FLYE seniors with tuxedos for their prom, and in April, FLYE student athletes attended a roundtable discussion at the White House.
BlackEnterprise.com had a chance to catch up with the founders of the organization about how they started, what they’ve accomplished thus far, and where they are going next.
BlackEnterprise.com: How did the idea for the organization come about?
FLYE: Sam and I randomly ran into each other at an LA Fitness, in September of 2013. We hadn’t seen each other since 2002. After a few reps and some inspiring conversation, we found that our passions to give back were similar and decided it was time to do something about it. We met at a coffee shop a few days later and from there we began. We originally pitched the idea of FLYE to our alma mater, Eleanor Roosevelt HS in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the principal said, “Can you start yesterday?!”
What is your vision?
We are dedicated to changing how youth in urban communities perceive themselves, their potential and success. We do this by embedding year-round curriculum into athletic programs. Our programs provide hands-on educational exposure to student athletes in the areas of entrepreneurship, financial literacy, health and wellness, community and self-discovery. Our focus is intended to redefine how our athletes perceive success, how they go about obtaining it on numerous paths, and strategies geared toward remaining successful.
What are some examples of how your programs work?
Basically, we take the concepts of athletics—certain principles and traits for basketball, football, and all different sports—and we infuse principles of entrepreneurship, professional development, behavior, and leadership into them. For example, we may focus on “The X’s and O’s of Effective Relationships” and we’ll explain to students “If you’re on the defense for a football team, you have to know how to read and react to certain formations and sets that come up from the offense.” We’ll teach them to know how it compares to life, as in “This is how you would react to a conversation with a woman” or say “You would react to authority in this way” and “This is how to get the best results.” They learn how to maximize their output based on what they do.
How does the entrepreneurship aspect of FLYE work?
We have a 4-phase program that we implement over a specific time frame. The phases include, in this order: How to successfully create an elevator pitch, marketing and sales and organizational development/ how to build an effective team. All of those different contexts lead up to them being more prepared to learn about entrepreneurship, which is the fourth phase that comes in their second year in the program.
We relate the entrepreneurship classes to their sport, so for football we call the first class “The All Out Blitz.” Just like in football, a blitz is when the defense goes all-in and everyone attacks. We teach our students that you have to be the same way about your business. You have to be committed and go all-in for your idea. Further, just like teams have different identities, we tell our student athletes, they need a specific identity for their company so their potential donors and customers can have a clear understanding of their product.
We also teach them about how to do a market analysis, as they have to know their opponent and their competition in sports and in business, how to properly charge for their products and more. Phase 1 ends with an elevator pitch competition with real judges and real rewards, which we call “The 2 Minute Drill.” Just like when an athlete is in college entering the NFL and they have to show everything they have done and present themselves in front of an audience, that’s what we do with our students during the elevator pitch competition.
What is the impact the organization has had so far?
After two years running our programs with student athletes, we saw a 21.2% gain in entrepreneurial knowledge. We had as high as 50%, 90%, and 130% increase in some student’s knowledge of the fundamentals of entrepreneurship.
Post program surveys and interviews revealed:
- 100% of students wanted to learn more about entrepreneurship
- 100% of students increased their entrepreneurial knowledge
- 96% have learned to make better decisions
- 79% have become better leaders
- 100% enjoyed participating in this program
(All data derived from exams, presentations, and surveys from teachers, students, and parents)
How did the White House invitation come about?
This event came about from a connection we have with Derrick Heggans, founder of Team Turnaround and managing director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative. We were able to attend a roundtable discussion about the state of the minority male athlete.
What’s next for FLYE?
We definitely want to expand. We wanted to start with one beta school and make it scale-able, so that we can have a package, and train someone to be able to implement it at their school. We are still focusing on programming at one school until we receive funding to expand because we don’t want to short change any other schools. We want to be able to provide them with the same tools they are getting at Eleanor Roosevelt.
In addition to starting a program at additional schools, FLYE is also looking to implement FLYE Summer, which will be under the School of FLYE (SO FLYE), for middle school students. It will take on the model of a summer camp where parents will be able to drop their sons off during the day. Half of the day will be athletics and skills training, led by FLYE alumni, and for the other half, students will be led through our entrepreneurship curriculum. After we receive the initial seed funding, our goal is to have this program be self-sustained. It will allow us to continue to bring in resources and have a pool of candidates for the high school program every year.
To learn more about FLYE’s programs and how you can help them assist young students visit FLYE.org. Also, be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @FLYEORG.