LAWRENCE — Playing college football and multiple high school sports before crowds of cheering fans prepared Austin Barone for a different kind of audience: more than 600 of the region’s top innovators and entrepreneurs at a major event in Kansas City, Missouri.
Barone, a senior finance and accounting major at the University of Kansas, is co-founder and managing partner of a year-old startup company – Just Play Sports Solutions – that offers a web-based learning tool for high school and college athletes.
On Oct. 7, Barone participated in a “pitch” competition at the Bioscience & Technology Business Center (BTBC) in Lawrence. The competition featured five KU student-led startup companies, each pitching before a panel of judges. The companies are participants in The Catalyst, a new KU student business accelerator managed at the BTBC by the KU Center for Entrepreneurship in the School of Business. Student-led startups are competitively accepted into The Catalyst, gaining office space, mentoring, education and assistance in launching and developing a successful company.
Barone won the competition, which was part of KU Innovation and Collaboration’s “Celebration of Innovation: A Startup Showcase.” On Jan. 21, he will represent KU as its top student entrepreneur at the Pipeline Innovator of the Year celebration. Barone will pitch his company before a seasoned audience of national experts, entrepreneurs and investors. The top student entrepreneur selected by the University of Missouri-Columbia, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Washington University in St. Louis will also pitch.
Prior to the event, Barone and the three other student entrepreneurs will receive coaching from a team organized by Pipeline, a not-for-profit community of entrepreneurial leaders organized in Kansas in 2006. Pipeline broadened into the Midwest in 2010 through support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Each year, Pipeline invites 10-13 new entrepreneurs to become Fellows. They participate in a unique and rigorous yearlong business leadership development program that blends workshop modules, advice from national experts and extensive opportunities for networking.
"Our four university partners are demonstrating their own entrepreneurial spirit,” said Joni Cobb, president and CEO of Pipeline, “with the tremendous support they are giving their students and faculty to pursue entrepreneurial ventures. We are so excited to be able to spotlight their initiatives and talent for the first time at our annual gala in January.”
Barone’s team of coaches will include Pipeline national adviser Nathan Gold and two experienced Pipeline entrepreneurs: Davyeon Ross with ShotTracker, Inc. in Overland Park and Kyle Johnson with Bixy in Lawrence.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Barone said. “It’s very rare to be able to be pushed by and learn from a successful group such as this. I’m grateful to KU Innovation and Collaboration and the School of Business for making this possible and to Pipeline for giving me this opportunity to present at Innovator of the Year.”
Just Play Sports Solution’s first product, Just Play, is an app that gives football and basketball coaches the ability to combine the playbook, game plans, diagrams, video, presentations and other material in one location. Players can access that information anywhere on any device. It is designed to save coaches time and give them a more dynamic teaching tool.
Barone’s athletic background includes letters in multiple sports at St. Mary’s Colgan High School in Pittsburg. He was a walk-on kicker with the KU football team for three years but did not see action.
“The app is unlike anything on the market," says Barone, “because it so focused on individualized learning. It helps players increase their knowledge so they make fewer mistakes on the field or court. They play with more confidence, resulting in more wins for their program.”
Just Play was the official playbook of the 2015 USA Men’s National Football Team Development Games. It is also in use by the nationally ranked University of Sioux Falls (SD) football team and the KU men’s basketball team. Other clients include Blue Valley High School in Overland Park, KS and Bishop Miege High School in Shawnee Mission, KS.
“Austin will be a great representative of KU at the Pipeline event,” says Julie Nagel, interim associate vice chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship at KU. “He has worked hard to develop his company and has successfully leveraged the many resources available at KU to entrepreneurial students.”
KU Innovation & Collaboration is the bicampus technology commercialization office of the University of Kansas. It manages KU’s intellectual property, licensing and start-up company activities, and it leads the university’s economic development mission.