EY and espnW today released a new report examining how sport prepares women to build successful businesses in the high-stakes world of entrepreneurship.
The report, “Why female athletes make winning entrepreneurs,” highlights the skills women develop as athletes and how those winning behaviors contribute to entrepreneurial success. Through a series of in-depth interviews with women entrepreneurs, including Olympians, elite, professional and collegiate-level athletes from nine countries and 11 different sports, the study explores how competing in sport — and learning key behaviors from those who play at the highest levels — can help women entrepreneurs without sports backgrounds build market-leading companies.
Athletes like Maria Sharapova have taken their business acumen beyond endorsement deals and to launch their own companies. According to Bloomberg, the 30-year-old spent $500,000 to launch Sugarpova, a premium candy line, in 2013. Sales skyrocketed in the first three months and today Sugarpova is expanding into chocolates. She’s held the title of highest paid female athlete for years and her foray into running a company puts her in good company with other athletes turned entrepreneurs such as fellow tennis star Venus Williams, soccer’s Mia Hamm and volleyball’s Gabriel Reece.
“We’ve long known that entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, and our study underscores that female athletes have a unique combination of qualities gained through sport — confidence, resilience, passion, leadership and unwavering focus. These qualities have proven essential in breaking through the barriers everyone faces in founding, leading and scaling their business,” said Beth Brooke-Marciniak, EY Global vice chair – Public Policy and founder of EY Women Athletes Business Network (WABN).
The report identifies five winning traits developed through sport that provide an advantage as entrepreneurs:
- Confidence: Athletes are confident in their ability to perform and their confidence is visible to those around them. For entrepreneurs, who are required to build passionate internal teams and attract loyal customers and proud sponsors, a confident image is an essential success factor for scaling.
- Single-mindedness: With unwavering focus, athletes turn barriers into motivators and disregard destabilizing influences. This focus is vital for female entrepreneurs when seeing projects through from start to finish.
- Passion: Athletes are programmed to compete and are driven to win. The competitive fire learned through sport proves to be invaluable in the business marketplace.
- Leadership: Playing sport helps athletes understand the importance and nuances of teaming, and building high-performing teams is essential for female entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.
- Resilience: After a loss or a disappointing game, athletes must rebound and get ready for the next challenge. This resilience enables female entrepreneurs to lead through uncertainties and overcome business setbacks.
The report also details winning behaviors of athletes that women entrepreneurs — with or without sports backgrounds — can adopt and apply in their roles as founder leaders:
- Setting daily goals: Nearly all of the female athlete entrepreneurs surveyed set daily goals and most have a tiered approach to goal-setting, starting with annual goals and breaking them down into quarterly, monthly and daily targets.
- Prioritizing time: The demanding training schedules of athletes teach them to become highly efficient at prioritizing and closely managing how they spend their time as business leaders.
- Working with the right coaches: Almost half of the female athlete entrepreneurs surveyed seek advice at least once a week from experts outside their industry to get a different perspective. Entrepreneurs who succeed typically assemble a group of advisors who coach them, provide valuable input and extend their networks.
- Reducing pressure and stress: In order to stay motivated during difficult or busy periods, it’s important to identify what alleviates stress and other pressures of work, something many entrepreneurs overlook in the around-the-clock effort it takes to launch their companies and lead their teams.
“Combined with our first-ever study in collaboration with EY, this latest research further solidifies our long-held belief that sports play an integral role in the success of women in business. We now see that female entrepreneurs also benefit from the skills they learn through sports as they apply them to their own businesses. Whether in the boardroom or running a start-up, women whose formative years were impacted by sports participation are uniquely suited for success in the workplace,” Laura Gentile, senior vice president, espnW & ESPN Women’s Initiatives, said.
This research builds on the decade-long foundation EY has identified in working with women entrepreneurs across the globe. The EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ program identifies and celebrates high-potential female entrepreneurs and can provide them with personalized, one-on-one business insights and advice, as well as insider access to strategic networks of established entrepreneurs, executives, advisors and investors. Unlike other programs that are focused on helping women start businesses, EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women supports women with existing enterprises in scaling their companies and becoming market leaders.
“As an entrepreneur, I draw quite a bit on the confidence I built up through my physically challenging time as a professional dancer. I’ve channeled this confidence into thinking big and being bold, one of the fundamental lessons of Entrepreneurial Winning Women. And thanks to my athletic foundation, I’m not deterred by the hard work required of entrepreneurship. I’ve learned that I can take on anything, from founding a company, to raising capital and rapidly scaling,” Katie Warner Johnson, CEO and founder at Carbon38 and EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women Class of 2016 member, said.