The three letters “N-F-L” that represent the National Football League are also recognized to stand for “Not For Long”. Professional football players’ careers will not last forever, but Ryan Nece exemplifies how to shift his impact from on the field production to off the field success.
For this reason, the 2002 Super Bowl Champion of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is being recognized by The Aspen Institute as one of the twenty-two 2018 Henry Crown Fellows. The prestigious Henry Crown Fellowship annually recognizes a group of leaders, primarily entrepreneurs, who have made a substantial impact in the world of business, while also creating a better society. Through the fellowship, they are provided with tools to advance their skills and talents to further impact the world, their communities, and the sphere around them.
Nece’s recognition as a Henry Crown Fellow is the culmination of the early examples set by family and influences that steered him in the direction of his football career, business ventures, philanthropy, and his servant leadership throughout it all.
Growing up, young Ryan Nece watched his father, Ronnie Lott, earn the reputation as one of the NFL’s greatest players and most feared tacklers of all-time. Lott was a warrior on the gridiron, but he also proved himself as a savvy businessman and was very philanthropic as he transitioned following his career.
Nece’s great-grandfather also exposed him to business and entrepreneurship through his ownership of a restaurant. He learned many of the basic principles of business by watching and learning from his great-grandfather. Those business seeds were planted early.
For college, Nece headed to UCLA to play football and major in Business and Economics. There, he was a four-year starter for the Bruins before signing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002.
Once in Tampa, he made a point to get out and connect with his new community by serving in it. In 2006, Nece founded the Ryan Nece Foundation, which works to empower teens to become leaders and embrace the Power of Giving through volunteerism and inspirational leadership programs.
In 2010, Nece embarked on his first business venture in the world of tech with his former teammate Jeb Terry. The duo wanted to create a medium that would allow fans to have enhanced access to their favorite athletes.
Instead of athletes’ messages being told by media personnel, the athletes would have an opportunity to manage their own brands, tell their own stories, and provide the fans with unparalleled access via real-time video and audio updates. This platform was called StraightCast Media.
After making waves with the “Gridiron Grunts” mobile app and the FOX NFL Sunday segment “On the Bus”, StraightCast was acquired by FOX Sports Digital in 2015.
Following the deal, Nece saw an opportunity. The acquisition of StraightCast led to other tech startup founders to reach out and ask for advice on how to succeed. This sparked Nece to start Next Play Capital, a venture capital firm he launched in 2015.
Nece envisioned creating a community of individuals in a number of sectors such as sports, business, and media who were seeking to put money to work in venture. Next Play has successfully done so by connecting their community of individuals within the sports industry and beyond with opportunities to successfully invest their money.
In Nece’s words, Next Play’s mission is, “to provide our diverse investor community [of family offices, influencers, athletes, team owners and strategic corporations] risk-adjusted investment opportunities in tech through access to the very best venture funds and their portfolio companies.”
In addition, the educational component of Next Play has been essential. They are creating opportunities for their community to gain exposure to the business and to gain an understanding to make smart decisions with investments.
One person who has benefitted from Nece and Next Play’s efforts is current Offensive Tackle for the New York Jets, Kelvin Beachum. He has witnessed and reaped the rewards of Nece’s care and leadership by learning the business of investing under his wing.
“One of the things that people don’t talk about enough is that it’s not about him, “ says Beachum. “He’s trying to figure out a way of how we bring a collection of people together from diverse backgrounds. How do we elevate each other?”
Beachum recognizes that Nece is about more than just investing in business, but also investing time and energy into people so that they can be impactful individuals as well.
Tina Sharkey, co-founder and CEO of Brandless (which Next Play is an investor), is a 2004 Henry Crown Fellow. She recognizes Nece’s special qualities that make him worthy of the Fellowship.
“Ryan is the prototypical, perfect [Henry Crown Fellow] candidate…[The committee] looks for people who are at that inflection point in their careers and in their lives who are ready to take the next level of engagement. They look at their success, the relationships, the network, the knowledge, the experience and translate that and give them the tools, the muscle, and the network to take that success and turn it into significance, and ultimately impact for the world.”
The fellows will have an opportunity to go into isolation with one another and go off the grid. Nece plans on being a sponge during his fellowship experience. “Iron sharpens iron,” he believes. “If you really want to learn, grow, and figure out how to be better, you can’t do that on your own. You need other people that have done it and can help show you the way.”
He hopes to come back from the fellowship an even greater leader and servant. Although he is viewed as a success story, he wants his lasting impact to be that he was able to empower and uplift the lives of others by allowing them to stand on his shoulders and to go above and beyond what he has and will accomplish.
That impact extends from providing an empowering environment to the students of the Ryan Nece Foundation, to helping the Next Play Capital community to flourish, to being a guiding light for other professional athletes to seek exposure and opportunities for them to parlay their athletic wins into wins off the field.
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Nece lives out the words once spoken by the great civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”
Nece has been a servant leader throughout every endeavor thus far. The fellowship begins a new chapter of opportunity for him to make an even greater influence and to leave his mark on the circles he touches.