Four years ago, Jake Olson became a national inspiration as the first entirely blind NCAA Division I college football player. Despite a rare eye cancer taking his vision at age 12, Olson served as a walk-on long snapper for USC, stepping into action twice during the 2017 season.
He shared his story on just about every national outlet, authored two books, and established himself on the motivational speaking circuit. Now, he wants to help other athletes tell their stories—and help them get paid for it, too.
Engage, which Olson founded along with USC roommate Daniel Hennes and four others, recently completed a seed round of more than $1 million that values the talent booking platform at $30 million, according to the founders. Cameo co-founder Steven Galanis is among the investors in Engage, which connects nearly 3,000 athletes and other speakers to clients ranging from Bank of America to SpaceX.
Since launching in 2018, Engage has expanded its offerings for talent to include memorabilia sweepstakes and experience booking. Beyond athletes, Engage has added media personalities and other business people to its platform as well.
Hennes, Engage’s CEO, said the company currently gets about 70% of its revenue from facilitating speaking, adding that the overall speaking market has grown as some companies bring back live events while others continue hosting virtual ones.
“You really don’t need to convince these companies to get speakers,” Olson said. “Unfortunately, all of them are dealing with employees who are burnt out, who have gone through the wringer, who need motivation.”
Engage also helps athletes craft speeches and set prices as they enter the NIL market. The startup has partnered with INFLCR and Opendorse in its efforts to help players launch speaking careers while still in school.
“Completing this round will allow us to expand our team, double down on our marketing efforts, and capitalize on the return of live events, NIL, and more macro trends,” Hennes said in a statement.