DraftKings bets on sports tech firms and athletes' off-field careers with new venture

Fantasy and sports betting operator DraftKings is gambling on a new venture, parlaying its brand to support athletes and provide resources to sports tech companies looking for financial backers.

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The venture, called "Drive" launched Thursday at DraftKings’ headquarters in Boston. It will consist of an athlete network, complete with internships and residency programs designed to boost their business acumen. It will also feature the Drive Venture Studio which will provide sports tech entrepreneurs with access to key figures and executives across the U.S. sports landscape. Former DraftKings executive Janet Holian and venture capitalist Rashaun Williams co-founded the initiative, which counts venture firms Boston Seed, Accomplice, General Catalyst and DraftKings itself as financial backers.

To aid in its efforts to support athletes in off-field business pursuits, Drive tapped perennial NFL All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald and NBA veteran Langston Galloway to serve on its board of advisors. The firm’s inaugural internship program drew more than 25 athletes, including former New England Patriots lineman Matt Light and Chicago Bulls forward Thaddeus Young, who will train with local venture capital firms.

“I believe it is important that professional athletes receive the training and opportunities to diversify their skill set and better understand the opportunities that exist for them as potential investors and business owners.” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “Drive by DraftKings is the first comprehensive program designed to serve as a roadmap for athletes in this capacity. I'm honored and excited to serve as a member of the advisory board and be able to participate in what will be a transformational experience for everyone involved.”

The program launched amid growing awareness of the value of business training for pro athletes, many of whom contend with financial insecurity once their playing days are over. The NBA hosts a “rookie transition program” each year to educate new pros on financial discipline, while the NFL players union provides career planning services and coordinates internships with companies such as Under Armour.

Williams, a longtime investment banker and financial advisor to pro athletes, will serve as Drive’s president.

“The Drive Athlete Network puts athletes at the center of everything we do, providing them with rare, real-world opportunities to embed with leading VC firms and cutting-edge tech companies,” Williams said. “Drive fills a resource gap for current and former professional athletes, who despite their wealth and public fame, are often stuck on the outside looking in at the tech companies revolutionizing their own sports.”

Aside from its internship and residency programs, Drive will offer “masterclass” business lessons to athletes who enroll. The programs are available to both current and former players.

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Founded as a daily fantasy sports company, DraftKings entered the sports gambling industry in recent months, inking a multi-year partnership with Caesars Entertainment to roll out sportsbooks in several states.