The Power of Will
NFL Veteran Isaiah Kacyvenski Overcame Long Odds to Raise a Venture Fund
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Isaiah Kacyvenski is one of the most decorated Ivy League football players of all time. While at Harvard, he won Ivy League Rookie of the Year and then followed that up with All-Ivy League first-team honors over his final three seasons. He received the Nils V. “Swede” Nelson Award, which is given to “best, most academically talented” football player in New England, and also the Harvard University Male Athlete of the Year following his senior season.
After Harvard, Kacyvenski was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in 2000, becoming the highest draft pick in Harvard history (fourth round, No. 199 overall). Beyond his contributions as a linebacker, he was a pivotal player on the Seahawks’ special teams and helped in their run to Super Bowl XL. More impressive than any on-field accomplishment, however, is what Kacyvenski overcame just to have the opportunity to play football in the first place. He dealt with bouts of homelessness as a kid and the tragic loss of his mother during his senior year of high school.
That power of will is what keeps driving him in the next phase of his professional career. Last year, Kacyvenski announced a $55 million dollar early-stage venture fund focused on health, wellness, media and content; the fund is called Will Ventures. Along with fellow former Harvard football player Brian Reilly, as well as other Harvard student-athlete graduates Kirby Porter and Alexis Nicolia, Kacyvenski is seeking out “relentless entrepreneurs with the will to change the world.”
In our conversation . . .
- Kacyvenski reflects on his NFL experience and how it fulfilled a childhood dream: “For me, always going back to that 9-year-old kid inside me that wanted to play in the NFL, that dream to play in the NFL, and how grateful I was every single day to go to practices, to go to meetings, to go to lifts, every single aspect of it… How cool is this, looking around at everybody, playing alongside Jerry Rice, it was just like nuts, guys that I idolized growing up as either playing against or playing with. I thought that was cool.”
- He discusses the importance of being an entrepreneur prior to launching a career in venture capital: “Getting out of business school, being an entrepreneur first is the best way, when you are eventually [going to be] an investor, to truly understand what it’s like to be an entrepreneur with your back against the wall and building a business.”
- Kacyvenski describes what drew him to investing in human performance: “It’s what I call the unified human performance story; which is that elite athletes might be really, really motivated to perform at their best and feel their best or recover quicker, but in the end we all want that, right? I started drawing those parallels.”
- He shares his experience raising a first-time venture fund and how he eventually convinced institutional funds to buy into him and his partner as emerging managers: “A discipline approach around . . . ownership percentages and entry points. We’re a seed stage entry point, right? So you’re being really, really disciplined around how we enter with some flexibility, but enter with [more meaningful] ownership percentages… As an institutional fund, how do you drive top-tier returns?”
- You can follow Isaiah Kacyvenski and Will Ventures on Twitter (@isaiahkaz and @willventures).
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About The Game Plan
The Game Plan is a weekly SportTechie podcast hosted by venture capitalists Jay Kapoor and Tim Katt. The show features professional athletes and their business interests beyond sports.
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This article was written by Jay Kapoor and Tim Katt for www.sporttechie.com on February 1, 2021.