The former Buckeye linebacker traded a coaching gig for entrepreneurship and never looked back.
Anthony Schlegel ’06, ’15 MBA, is as proud of his advanced degree from Ohio State as he is of his exploits on the gridiron as a Buckeye linebacker. He recently used his classroom training to develop The Difference, a piece of equipment that promotes upper-body strength for athletes and fitness buffs. The apparatus features spring-loaded pads that players pummel from different angles with their hands.
So far, Schlegel — with partners Bobby Carpenter, his former teammate, and Daniel Oglevee, senior lecturer of finance at Fisher College of Business — have sold the striking machine to hundreds of high school, college and professional teams.
How did you get the idea for The Difference?
I was a strength and conditioning coach under Urban Meyer when we won the national title in 2014. We won because we were the best in the country with our hands — the fundamentals.
We did a drill called The Difference that paired off players and had them deliver a blow in order to practice fast hand placement. After the season, Coach Meyer wanted to know how we could do this drill during winter conditioning and remain NCAA compliant. I invented the solution. (Editor’s note: The NCAA restricts the use of football equipment, such as blocking sleds, during winter conditioning. The Difference was considered a non-football product.)
You were well on your way to a successful career as a strength coach. Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at Fisher College of Business?
Coach Mick (Mickey Marotti, assistant athletic director for sports performance) was pushing me to become a more well-rounded strength coach. I wanted more business tools because of the evolving nature of college football. I qualified for the NFL Players Association Trust tuition assistance program, and I took advantage of Ohio State’s great educational opportunities while turning down strength and conditioning jobs at other schools. I was super-jacked when I graduated with my MBA, because I knew a new adventure was beginning.
Many startups have humble beginnings. Was that true for you?
I literally drew up The Difference on a whiteboard in a football office. Before long, we were building a prototype to test what materials we needed to make it light and portable. I started making them in my garage, and now we have a shop.
You recently spoke to several entrepreneurial finance classes at Fisher. What advice do you give young entrepreneurs?
If you want to be physically, emotionally and spiritually comfortable, don’t become an entrepreneur. At first, I assembled the unit, sold, marketed, shipped, prototyped and serviced it. … I did it all. Entrepreneurs need to be committed to being the best at what they do.
You claim your device helps prevent concussions. How so?
If you give athletes of all ages the ability to bend and use their hands, they will be safer. Kids are getting concussions. What we are saying now is that technology — such as better helmets — can make them safer. How about teaching the fundamentals? Train their necks and legs to be able to play in an athletic position; teach striking and blocking techniques and tackling with one common language. Do these things thousands of times to develop great habits, and you will have a safer game.
You started working on this product in late summer 2015. How successful has it been so far?
We are in more than 100 high schools, one third of NFL teams and half of all Division I schools. The Indianapolis Colts replaced their traditional tackling sleds with The Difference. Many athletes at Ohio State are using it: the lacrosse teams, basketball, wrestling. We had sales within three months and started turning a profit after 18 months.