The Athlete365 Business Accelerator, and support from the Italian NOC, helped Enrico to identify his niche, plan his business and pitch to prospective stakeholders.
Enrico’s mentor helped leverage his status as an Olympian to get him noticed by investors, business partners and clients.
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I got the idea for the Future Champions Academy in 2018. I was working in a camp in Italy, where I was one of the athletes helping to train young, up-and-coming fencers. It was a good camp but it was missing something. People would come for a few days, then they’d go home. And I thought, there is so much promise here. I wanted to share something of value with these young athletes, to create a real, long-term relationship, not just a short-term business relationship.
The Future Champions Academy operates as a top-level academy. The elite courses will have no more than 12 or 15 athletes. They will get lessons with top coaches, mental coaches, physiotherapists, nutritionists, training partners; all tailored to their own individual training plan. We also train junior athletes at our Cantera, but they train in groups. At their age, they need to be able to sustain relationships with other people, to share and evolve together as athletes.
I see the Future Champions Academy as a solar system. The sun at the centre of this system is the main camp in Tirrenia, near Pisa, a residential site that is also the home of the Italian Olympic Training Centre. But there are camps around the world, all orbiting this sun. We have had regular camps in Los Angeles, Mexico City, Barcelona, Toronto, West Virginia, Paris and in other parts of Italy. I am in the process of setting up a camp in China, which will be opening at the end of July 2022.
The Athlete365 Business Accelerator was absolutely crucial in the development of the Future Champions Academy.
The Athlete365 Business Accelerator was absolutely crucial in the development of the Future Champions Academy. I had a mentor and was lucky that he was based in Milan. It meant we saw each other very often. He still works with me and provides advice for free. I didn’t study economics, so he showed me many things – putting together a business plan, a road map, how to behave with business partners, how to negotiate.
The most important thing I learned was how to create a pitch. How you present yourself to others, and how you inspire confidence, is crucial in any business. My mentor definitely helped me with this, and it was instrumental in me being one of the winners of the Athlete365 Business Accelerator pitch competition – an award for the best-presented and most convincing pitch among the businesses that have been helped by Athlete365. That is a tremendous honour, and something I am grateful for. I think it shows that we are doing a good job at the Future Champions Academy.
Being an Olympian means that potential investors and business partners listen to you.
Being an Olympian certainly gives you some leverage. Fencing does not give you fame – because I won a medal, some Italian people might have remembered my face during the 2016 Olympics, and in the weeks afterwards, but they soon forget. But it means that potential investors and business partners listen to you. If you are pitching a business idea as a normal entrepreneur, they might only be half-listening. If you go in as an Olympian, they listen 100 per cent. It opens more doors.
Any athlete setting up a business has to be prepared for many challenges. Your business model will constantly be tested and might change more than a dozen times. As athletes, we are used to thinking on our feet and making decisions with confidence, and sometimes that skill is crucial in business. This has happened a lot while setting up in China – there will be some COVID-related change in Chinese regulations, and you have to think quickly and change much of your business plan.
I am still competing as a top-level athlete, so it is challenging to run a business at the same time. When I am training, I think about the business; while I am running the business, I think about training and competing!
As athletes, we are used to thinking on our feet and making decisions with confidence, and sometimes that skill is crucial in business.
Opening doors to fencing
In many European countries, particularly in places like Italy, France, Hungary, Germany, Russia and Spain, fencing is a traditional sport. It is often associated with rich men, aristocrats and royalty. In other parts of the world, like North America and China, it doesn’t have those connotations. In China, I’ve noticed that people get into fencing because they want to be more than just a number; they want to be somebody. In the United States, a lot of fencers are trying to get sports scholarships for the best universities.
I want to make fencing accessible to all. I’d say it is currently about 60:40 male to female at our camps. For us, social responsibility is very important. In Mexico, we have gone into partnership with a concrete company and we are trying to get more people from poor neighbourhoods, especially women, involved. The concrete company talks about the “pink hard hat project” to address the gender gap in Mexico and encourage women into professional roles; we are calling it the “pink mask project” to attract more women into fencing.
You probably could apply the model of the Future Champions Academy to many other sports, because the basics of sport are always the same. But I want to give back to fencing.
The more popular fencing becomes globally, and the better established my Future Champions Academy becomes, the more I will be in the strange situation where I am no longer just cheering on Italian fencers – I will be cheering on fencers from all over the world who have trained at my camps.