Connecting College & Youth Athletes, Cara Bognar (Founder of Top Tier Lessons)
Roll back the clock to the day and time when you were traversing across a college campus, taking 15 hours and wondering how you were going to get your homework done, write a paper, and study for a Statistics test in the span of twenty-four hours. Now, take that and add on 5:30 a.m. swim practice and competing regularly as an NCAA Division I athlete. Now, take all that and add the responsibility that comes with being the CEO of a tech startup such as raising capital, addressing application stability as well as future upgrades, and everything in between. That would be the life of University of Illinois swimmer and Top Tier Lessons CEO, Cara Bognar whom I recently had the pleasure of speaking with.
In the last couple of years, Cara has built Top Tier Lessons to help college athletes take advantage of the ability to earn revenue while leveraging the Name Image & Likeness (NIL) rules that have swooped across the country allowing student-athletes an ability to generate revenue for themselves. Prior to NIL taking effect, it was difficult for college athletes to make money due to so many guidelines from the NCAA, however, that has changed and with some governance at the school and NCAA, college athletes can report their deals and do things to help improve their lives, such as give lessons to young athletes. Currently the application has been launched only in a few cities to date, however, Cara is working through bring additional cities online asap. What I found during our conversation is there is a lot that goes into connecting college athletes with young athletes such as the need for facilities, insurance, scheduling and the payment itself. The Top Tier team works to have those pieces in order so when an instructor passes the background check, it’s a seamless process to begin working with their student and helping them get better in their particular sport.
Cara is not your typical college athlete. She has interned with a startup and understands how to acquire capital to grow the business along with comprehending failure as an opportunity to make her application better and the user experience the best it can possibly be. My biggest takeaway from our twenty-five-minute conversation came about after asking, “How do you run a business, go to school and train?” Her response made me appreciate the discipline learned through competitive sports. Cara shared that her routine of getting up early to train, eat, go to class, and work through her day has helped her endure the trials and tribulations of being an entrepreneur, student, and Division I athlete. As a parent, I know the time invested for our kids to do what they love comes with hours and hours of commitment and to hear how Cara has leveraged the structure created over a lifetime to thrive in all areas of her life put a smile on my face because she is living her best life preparing to embark on a heck of a ride.
Keep it growing, Cara, you’ve got a great business model and I’m confident you’ll succeed!