The Intersection of Business and Athletics—Celebrating Four Olympian Entrepreneurs
By Emma Steiner
The 2021 Summer Olympics are beginning today, Friday, July 23rd, and that means it’s time to celebrate the incredible athletes who represent their sports on the world stage every four years. But there is so much more to these talented women and men that just their athleticism; many Olympians are also innovative entrepreneurs who transport the grit required in sport to the business world. In celebration of their hard work and dedication, we’re highlighting four inspiring athlete entrepreneurs.
Serena Williams is known for being one of the best female tennis players in the game. She holds 39 Grand Slam titles, is a five-time winner of the WTA Tour Championships in the singles division, and has four Olympic gold medals. She is also the highest-earning female athlete of all time. But, besides being an incredibly decorated and celebrated athlete, Williams is highly active in the entrepreneurial world, having solidified several successful business ventures.
After earning popularity for her on-court fashion, Williams has designed clothing lines for Puma and Nike. She also founded her own designer apparel line, Aneres, in 2004. In 2009, she launched a collection of jewelry and bags, which can be purchased on the Home Shopping Network.
In addition to fashion, Williams has a passion for nails. She earned her certification to become a nail technician in 2010 before the launch of her own polish collection in partnership with HairTech.
In 2018, Williams founded a line of sustainable fashion called S by Serena. The clothing line seeks to promote not only ethical sourcing practices, but inclusivity among races and ethnicities, and body type and size.
Besides staking her claim in the fashion world, Williams is on the Board of Directors at SurveyMonkey and Poshmark. She and her sister Venus are also minority owners of the Miami Dolphins, making them the first Black women to claim ownership in an NFL franchise.
Gwen Jorgensen is a professional distance runner, triathlete, and MOTM alumna (episode 4). She is known as one of the world’s most accomplished and talented female triathletes–at one point in her career, she won a record 13 consecutive World Cup races. Gwen is also a decorated Olympian, having competed in both the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics. In fact, she won the USA’s first-ever gold medal in triathlon at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
However, what many don’t know about Gwen is that she was never meant to be a professional athlete at all. She grew up swimming and running for school teams, but she didn’t entertain the idea of competing at the professional level. After college, Gwen worked for corporate tax group, Ernst and Young in Milwaukee.
“I have always enjoyed numbers and learning about business,” Gwen told Forbes in an interview. “Something about the order of debits and credits really intrigued me. I love trying to figure out the tax puzzle. I find it challenging and satisfying.”
But Gwen would find her passion for challenge elsewhere when USA Triathlon identified her as having potential to be great in the sport. After looking at her times from competing in high school and college races and swim meets, USA Triathlon encouraged Gwen to re-enter the world of athletics. And, well, they were right. Gwen is now one of the world’s most well-known and accomplished athletes. Let’s just say she’s left the corporate climate far behind.
John Henwood is a world-renowned long-distance runner, and a former MOTM guest (episode 122). He competed for New Zealand in the 10,000 meters at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Now, Henwood is one of the most popular running and strength coaches in New York City. He’s coached top athletes like Mary Cain and Jane Vongvorachoti. You, too, can be coached by Henwood—he’s the founder and head coach at his own running group, Henwood Hounds.
Des Linden is one of America’s most talented long-distance runners. She is best known for becoming the first American in 33 years to win the Boston Marathon in 2018. On the global stage, Des competed in both the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympics. Most recently, Des broke the women’s world record in the 50k with an epic time of 2:59:54. On top of all that, she is also a former MOTM guest (episode 164)!
Working to become one of the world’s most successful long-distance runners takes a lot of grit…and caffeine! Des and her husband Ryan founded their own boutique coffee company, Linden X Two in 2018. The company was inspired by Des’ and Ryan’s passion for coffee, and their pursuit to find the perfect cup. Linden X Two roasts the highest quality specialty beans in small batches to ensure incredible taste and sustainability. You can shop all of Des’ products on her website.
Olympic athletes have so much more to offer than their sport. In many cases, Olympic careers only last a few years, and many sports require early retirement. So, what’s left for these athletes? Building businesses is a great outlet for Olympians to share their passions both within and outside of sports with their audiences. It’s also a key step in ensuring a lasting legacy and career outside of training and competition. So, as we quickly approach the 2021 Summer Olympics, let’s appreciate the contributions these talented athletes make to the world both on and off the track, field, mountain, and court.