How Drew Brees Is Helping Teen Entrepreneurs Score Success
By Sonya Stinson
Drew Brees has a Super Bowl MVP award and a name sports reporters usually pair with the phrase “future Hall of Famer.” But as a student at Purdue University, becoming a football star was the furthest thing from his mind.
“I never thought that football would ever take me anywhere,” Brees said. “I played football because I loved to play. I was going to the university to get that degree—to graduate from business school and then go off to the business world, take one of my crazy ideas and try to turn it into a business.”
But then the NFL came calling, and Brees put his business dreams on hold. He’s now been in the league for 14 years, the last eight with the New Orleans Saints, a team he led to its first-ever Super Bowl in 2010. Still, his entrepreneurial spirit never died, and his football fortune has now enabled him to start several businesses. Brees franchised six Jimmy John’s sandwich shops in the New Orleans area and started lifestyle apparel company Nine Brand with his wife, Brittany, in 2012. Nine percent of Nine Brand’s net proceeds go to the Brees Dream Foundation, which seeks to assist cancer patients as well as children and families in need.
Since 2009 the Brees Dream Foundation has also provided financial backing to aspiring high school entrepreneurs through a business pitch competition called the Trust Your Crazy Ideas Challenge, developed with local business incubator The Idea Village. This project extends the foundation’s commitment to helping children to focus on education and career preparation. It also allows Brees to connect with kids who share his longtime interest in business ownership.
This year the nonprofit group Junior Achievement of Greater New Orleans took over administration of the program, merging it with their own Junior Idea competition. Before entering the contest, participants in the 2014 Crazy Ideas Challenge had to complete Junior Achievement’s seven-and-a-half-hour entrepreneurial education curriculum, which includes writing a business plan.
In December of 2014, Brees attended the announcement of the challenge’s 16 semi-finalists, known as the “Sweet 16.” These contenders, teams of between one and four members, will compete for a spot in the “Final Four” on March 21 during The Idea Village’s New Orleans Entrepreneur Week. The team that comes out on top will share a $10,000 educational scholarship. Another $5,000 will go to the team’s school. Smaller scholarships are also up for grabs for the three runners-up. Drew and Brittany Brees will serve on the panel of judges.
Students in the semi-final round are spending the winter months honing their ideas and being mentored by local business professionals, said Jack Brancewicz, president of Junior Achievement of Greater New Orleans. Brancewicz fully expects the competition to help launch one or more for-profit businesses with a high school student at the helm.
Last year’s Crazy Ideas contestants had to come up with ideas that would inspire students and teachers at their schools. A six-person team at Isidore Newman School won the competition in March 2014 for its design of “Uber for Teenagers,” a smartphone app that would let students access rides from fellow students who complete a safe driving course. The Brees Foundation donated a $10,000 grant to the school. The winner of the 2014 Junior Idea contest was Madi Hannan of Mount Carmel Academy, who received a $10,000 scholarship for her concept of a clothing company that makes custom high-waist shorts out of recycled jeans.
While the winners of competitions like the Crazy Ideas Challenge get to take home cash prizes and bragging rights, those who don’t make the cut still gain some important lessons from the experience.
1. How to build confidence. Brees said one of the most rewarding aspects of his involvement in the Crazy Ideas Challenge over the years has been watching students transform from the beginning to the end of the competition.
“Regardless of whether they win or lose, I think the experience in itself helps to build so much confidence and self-esteem within the kids,” Brees said. “And I think it allows them to maybe find things out about themselves that they didn’t know—their true interests.”
In addition to learning new skills, that confidence boost is something that “carries forward forever,” Brees added.
2. How to handle failure. If there’s one major lesson that Brees can take from the football field to the business office, he said it’s that “you’re always going to have to fight through adversity.”
“In many cases, failure ends up being the greatest teacher,” Brees continued. “When you read the bio of just about every successful person in the business world—and in the sports world for that matter—it’s laced with these themes of adversity: having to overcome adversity, having to overcome failure when many people said you couldn’t do it.”
For Brees, the real winners are not individuals who never fail but those who learn to bounce back. Ultimately his motivation to start the Trust Your Crazy Ideas Challenge was really about sharing that lesson of resilience with kids, “that stick-to-itiveness, that belief, that faith and that drive,” he said.
Sonya Stinson is a writer for print and web publications, businesses and nonprofit organizations. She writes about higher education, careers, small business, retirement and personal finance.
This article originally appeared on Northwestern MutualVoice on Forbes.com.