Austin Barone didn’t begin playing football until his sophomore year after he transferred to St. Mary’s Colgan.
He was disappointed to learn the school didn’t have a soccer team, so he turned to being the kicker for Panther football. A life-long athlete, he picked up the sport quickly and moved to the University of Kansas as a preferred walk-on kicker for Jayhawk football.
Nearly four years later, it turns out that football experience is more valuable than he ever might have thought.
Barone and his startup, Just Play Sports Solutions, will represent the University of Kansas at the Pipeline ‘Innovator of the Year’ celebration in Kansas City on Jan. 21.
Barone and his co-founder were able to research and find a niche for individualized player learning. Just Play Sports Solutions’ first product, “Just Play,” is an app that gives coaches the opportunity to digitalize their playbook and games plans and then target that information to specific players. Athletes can access the app on any iOS or Android device.
“We tell these coaches ‘Your meeting times are so limited, why waste time introducing things?’” Barone said. “With Just Play, they are able to actually coach the moment their guys walk in the door.”
The initial idea for Just Play came to Barone when he was applying for an internship at Google. An essay question challenged him to name why, in 25 years time, he would be receiving an award at his alma mater. He came up with an idea for wearable technology that incorporated Google glass into a football player’s visor.
“I decided to create a product that centered around what Google already had to offer in the hopes that it would put me ahead of other students, but that obviously didn’t pan out,” he said, adding that he was not offered an internship that summer. “Fortunately, I had interviewed coaches who told me that my idea was innovative, and while they might have just been saying that to get me to leave them alone, I decided to run with it.”
After learning a wearable tech product would cost millions of dollars to create, they decided to pivot and focus more on the backend of the idea: individualized learning.
That wouldn’t have happened without Barone’s unique access to Jayhawk coaches and staff. He said he lived in the KU football offices his sophomore year, and his ability to speak their language helped him gain valuable insight to shortcomings in coaching.
“Playing football gave me the access and then sitting down with coaches to think through everything they really needed was critical to our development,” he said.
Today, 40 high schools and four college football programs use Just Play. Barone and his team are also working on a specialized beta test with KU Men’s Basketball team. The startup is around one-year-old, and while Barone is proud of what they have accomplished so far, he knows there is more to come.
“We are already aware that we have a great product, we just need to stay focused and refine everything to make sure we have no shortcomings and are ready to get it out for multiple sports and industries,” he said. “We’re really excited for what’s going to come, we just need to get it out there.”
They will have the chance to do just that at Pipeline’s student spotlight this January. Joni Cobb, CEO of Pipeline, said that Barone will have an opportunity that few entrepreneurs at his stage get to enjoy.
“He will then have exposure at our biggest event of the year, and receive feedback and direction from our national pitch judges,” Cobb said. “At every level, this is an unprecedented opportunity for a college entrepreneur. We can’t wait to see how he shines.”
As for Barone, he is taking the opportunity in stride. He said that he has already changed his pitch after speaking to his Pipeline pitch coaches, and is preparing for the big day.
“A first impression is extremely important,” he said. “It can push us forward or hold us back if we don’t deliver. I believe we will do really well. I’m not planning to fail, and I think it’s going to open a lot of doors for us. This is the big leagues of entrepreneurship, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”