Athlete Technology Group Founder Randy Osei on the Evolution of the Athlete Entrepreneur
The Drawing Board is a new series by Bay Street Bull that surveys industry leaders on topics of transformation, innovation, and the road ahead.
Live entertainment spans a multitude of industries, ranging from sporting events and tech conferences to fundraising galas and the performing arts. But what happens when you take the live experience out of the equation? How do we define these experiences when their most critical component is missing?
Without a doubt, the live entertainment and hospitality industries have been among the hardest hit as a result of COVID-19. But these are industries made of resilience and fortitude. If the pandemic has proven anything, it is our capacity to innovate, adapt, and act quickly.
Randy Osei is the founder of Athlete Technology Group, an events and media company, and Rozaay Management, a creative marketing and branding agency. A former varsity athlete himself, Osei recognized early on that an opportunity existed between the world of sports and entrepreneurship, which led him to eventually founding his companies. In the COVID-19 era, the culture of sports (and what it means to engage with it) has become a big question mark that has left many scratching their heads. Here’s what he thinks it means for the evolution of the athlete-entrepreneur, and how he pivoted his company in 2020.
How have you seen innovation manifest in your space?
Randy Osei: The event industry has definitely taken a hit in terms of bringing people together due to the global pandemic. With restrictions around people gathering, we have seen technology step in and allow for people to still come together regardless of social distancing rules put in place to help curve the spread of COVID-19. Such apps and platforms like Hopin and Zoom are two of my favourites as they bring people together seamlessly. Another innovation we have seen is the growth of e-sports, which, in my opinion, is becoming the new social media channel where people go to connect and build relationships. Fortnite launched Fortnite Hub, a place where gamers can go and just have general conversations about anything they’d like. Digital transformation was on its way in the next five to 10 years, and it is has been sped up to four to six months. We are not done seeing the transformation.
Can you describe an instance of out-of-the-box thinking with your company or industry that has demonstrated a savvy business pivot?
Randy Osei: InnovateHER is an event created to uplift, empower, and educate diverse women in entrepreneurship. Slated to happen on March 21, 2020 at Artscape Daniels Launchpad, we had sold 132 out of our 200 tickets and had to cancel the event due to the pandemic. All of our sponsors pulled out except for Staples Canada , and we had to make a choice to see if we could still host the event and bring people together while the world kept us apart. Leaning on technology, I did some research to find an event platform that would help us bring women together to collaborate and hear from some of their favourite women bosses. We decided to use the Hopin platform, which was exactly what we needed. We decided to split up the conference into two consecutive Saturdays [in June] and brought together over 800 women over two days. We had 20 speakers, five panel discussions, 90 minutes of networking, six vendors, and tons of connections made at the event that I created. I think the best thing about the event was the fact that we were able to have guests attend from other parts of the world.
In what ways has the reality of COVID-19 made your business better or forced you to problem solve and approach your work differently?
Randy Osei: The reality of COVID-19 has made my business better by forcing me to transform my offerings to be digital and essentially COVID-proof. There is a strong focus on user-generated content due to this change and we have adapted with our engagement strategies. We launched an Instagram Live series, #TechSummitUnplugged , which ran for 15 straight weeks every Tuesday evening. We had athlete entrepreneurs join us on IG live for a 25-minute conversation around entrepreneurship, adversity, sports, and culture. COVID-19 has allowed me to connect with a lot more people and hold more meetings. Cutting down travel time to and from meetings significantly has allowed me to meet with a lot more people in less time.
Are there any positive changes to your industry and the sports landscape that you think will remain once we are out of the woods with the pandemic?
Randy Osei: I think a very positive change to the industry is how athletes view themselves. As the pandemic took over the world, we saw a lot of athletes become more entrepreneurial: launching YouTube vlogs, finding new ways to engage with fans and communities, creating streaming channels via esports, and much more. With the pandemic and pause of sports, a lot of athletes were no longer being paid their professional salaries. In my opinion, it was a good thing because it made them think more perpetually, as opposed to transactional. I think that is huge. Hence, we re-branded and pivoted the Athlete Tech Summit (a conference) to the Athlete Technology Group, an events and media company that serves athlete and tech entrepreneurs.
What have you discovered about the human connection and the impact it has on creating community in events?
Randy Osei: Any connection is better than no connection. The human connection has definitely changed since the pandemic. Building a foundation of healthy coping, doing everything we can to stay connected to each other, to reach out and care for each other is imperative. We have seen a large growth in many online communities and groups. The growth of apps like Zoom, Webex, Google Meet, Skype, and many more shows that people are staying connected constantly, whether it is for social or work purposes. People are always finding ways to stay connected, which is great. I’ve been to about seven zoom birthdays, two zoom weddings, and one zoom baby shower, all from the comfort of my home. [Moving forward,] I think a huge positive is that everyone has become more resilient and innovative in their own way. People have also put a huge emphasis on health and wellness, which is amazing.
Who do you think will be the winners that come out of COVID-19 when it comes to those who have been able to innovate in the events and hospitality industry?
Randy Osei: I believe [it will be] the businesses that put a huge focus on becoming completely digital and COVID-proof while being nimble enough to activate in-person experiences when it is safe to do so. Also, the businesses that also put a strong focus behind digital marketing initiatives around content to continuously connect and engage with their customers and audience. Lastly, the businesses that have a CSR strategy that tackles social issues and creates space for equality will be winners.
Any concluding remarks?
Randy Osei: Paying attention to trends will be huge for entrepreneurs who are looking to pivot and innovate. Ensure that you are now looking at the world from a multi-cultural lens. Hire and collaborate with people outside of your immediate circle. People will be surprised at how talented the citizens of the world can be. Our service to others is the rent we pay for our time here on earth.