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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Athlete alumni found Davis-based company

Three UC Davis alumni have used their personal experiences as student athletes to contribute to the niche market of college recruitment through social media.

Fuse Athletics started as an idea for a mobile app, and turned into an online social platform for communication and management between high school athletes and college recruiters. They are now supported by local business accelerator Davis Roots which aims to keep local startups in town.

Having respectively played collegiate level football, swimming and basketball at Davis, the founders Ethan Garrett, Hudson Lofchie and Andrew Ritchart knew how difficult recruitment could be.

Garrett, the chief executive officer of the operation, graduated UC Davis in 2012 with a degree in environmental policy analysis and planning. He played high school football but had never heard of UC Davis until he and a classmate tried out during their senior year.

“I would have never been seen [by recruiters] if I had not come to Davis’ football camp,” Garrett said. “What if I went to a different football camp? It’s all about being visible and in this social world you have to have an online presence.”

Garrett said that they knew that a lot of coaches’ email addresses and phone numbers are hidden from potential athletes, so Fuse Athletics partnered with a company that supplied collegiate information for every division and every league.

“Kids can go and search by sport, state, division, conference, gender or school along with the contact information, which is encrypted like Craigslist,” Garrett said.

Over eight months, they interviewed college coaches and high school athletic directors, built their website and received an initial investment from their co-founder and chief financial officer Doug Coats. In September, they were accepted by Davis Roots, and are now one of four UC Davis alumni startups in the program.

General manager of Davis Roots Alex Rossbach graduated from UC Davis in 2012 with a degree in political science and also swam collegiately. As a former college athlete, he understood the company’s concept.

Garrett mentioned that Davis Roots decided to support the company after calling it a “Linkedin for sports.”

“For me, coming from a swimming background, [the recruitment process] was about who your coaches knew and not about how good you were all the time,” Rossbach said. ”When [Fuse] came to us with their product, team and idea, it really resonated with all of us because it was easy to see there is a problem with this market … and they’re trying to democratize that process.”

Davis Roots, founded in 2012, was created out of a need for economic vitality in the City of Davis.

“One of the big problems we’re tackling right now is that there are no real jobs in Davis for graduates,” Rossbach said. “We see this mass exodus from Davis to the Bay Area because there’s a lot more opportunity there. Our whole mission is to create financially-sustainable companies to help Davis grow and inspire other students coming out of the university.”

Davis Roots is a mentorship program for startups, to aid them through the steps of business development. The founders, Andrew Hargadon and Anthony Costello, provide the companies contacts to investors and local entrepreneurs, office space in Davis, workshops in public relations and marketing and act as advisers to each company in the program.

The idea of social media recruitment tools for high school athletes is not new, and Fuse Athletics faces competition from websites like beRecruited.com, which was founded in 2000, boasts a userbase of one million and is based in San Francisco.

Fuse Athletics is currently contacting athletic directors of local high schools to be part of their beta phase of development for private trials. Dixon High School and Davis High School have already committed.

“There are cases where it could fail, ” Garrett said. “But we see [Fuse Athletics] going well during the beta and we see this getting pushed nationwide.”

Due to internet accessibility, Garrett, Lofchie and Ritchart fear that widespread use may be overwhelming, and with some funds raised through the Davis Roots program, they plan to hire UC Davis students for web programming and customer service. They have also worked with the University Writing Program department to offer writing internships for basic web content.

“We had offers to go to San Francisco, [and also] to bring the company down to Santa Monica, but we want to be here because UC Davis has so many smart kids,” Garrett said. “The ultimate goal of having this is to keep more UC Davis graduates here. We just want people who are excited to dream big.”

According to Anthony Costello, co-founder of Davis Roots and current adviser of Fuse Athletics, it is important, as a business accelerator, to invest in not only a worthwhile business idea but also the team that is executing that idea.

“Companies have to learn how to get comfortable with making mistakes, how to hire the right people, how to ask for help and how to raise money,” Costello said. “But what you really can’t teach people to have is passion for their market or passion for their idea. For me it’s feeling passionately about what you’re trying to do as a business that makes the difference between being successful and failing.”

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