July 14th, 2024

Professional football players see parallels between their sport and tech investment

By John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press on July 9, 2024.

Toronto Argonauts linebacker Henoc Muamba celebrates after being named the Grey Cup's Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Canadian after defeating the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 109th Grey Cup at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. Muamba didn't have much use for his degree in information systems over the course of his 12-year CFL career but now that he's retired from playing, he's finally getting to put his education to use.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO – Henoc Muamba didn’t have much use for his degree in information systems over the course of his 12-year CFL career.

Now that he’s retired from playing, he’s finally getting to put his education to use.

Muamba was a speaker at Toronto’s Collision tech conference last month, an annual networking event that will be moving to Vancouver next year. He said that his passion for innovative businesses never left him, he just had to shelve it while playing professional football.

“As a football player you do all you can to become the best that you can be, but there’s always time that’s leftover,” said Muamba, standing on the floor of Toronto’s Enercare Centre at the conference. “What I’ve been preaching in the last five, six years of my career, as one of the vets in the locker room has always been to develop and grow outside of the game.

“Find certain things that you’re passionate about outside of just football and it just so happened for me that it was business and that got me into tech.”

Muamba was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but grew up in Mississauga, Ont., and went to St. Francis Xavier University before getting selected first overall by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, where he played for three seasons, in the 2011 CFL draft.

He went on to play one season for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts before returning to the CFL with the Montreal Alouettes (2015), Saskatchewan Roughriders (2016-17), Montreal again (2018-20) and the Toronto Argonauts (2021-23).

Muamba was the CFL’s most outstanding Canadian in 2017 while with the Roughriders and won a Grey Cup with the Argos in 2022, when he was named the championship game’s MVP and most valuable Canadian.

The 35-year-old Muamba, who is also a commentator on TSN, said that the tech world “is completely different” than when he graduated from St. F-X.

“It’s just been really learning on the go, learning through experience,” said Muamba, who is on the board of directors for BILI, a social commerce platform that connects brands with social media creators.

“A lot of it has been learning on the fly and leveraging my years in football and my network really to continue to help the business.”

BILI announced an exclusive partnership with the CFL Players’ Association in November.

Muamba is not the only pro football player exploring the tech space. NFL running back Austin Ekeler was also in attendance at Collision to promote his Eksperience social media platform designed to help athletes build more meaningful relationships with their fans.

Ekeler said he enjoyed walking the floor at the conference and taking in all the startups looking for investors.

“It’s like an ocean of AI. It kind of reminds me of the crypto craze, when that was going on,” said Ekeler, who signed with the Washington Commanders in March after seven years with the Los Angeles Chargers. “It’s like, ‘OK, what’s actually going to stick, you know?

“I can see as an investor how you could actually be excited to invest in AI but also at the same time, very, extremely hesitant because (…) I’m hearing the same type of concept over and over, like, well, how is yours different?”

Ekeler has 4,355 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns as well as 3,884 receiving yards and 30 TDs in his seven NFL seasons. The 29-year-old American said he was drawn to entrepreneurship before he was drawn to the NFL.

“I was going to school for business and using football to pay for my education, little did I know that I was playing football well enough to get an opportunity to go play in the NFL,” he said. “My entrepreneurial side never left me, still hasn’t left me, but it’s actually helped me be a better football player because of how you immerse yourself in your projects as an entrepreneur.

“It’s the same thing with football. I’m immersed. This is me.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2024.

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