The only business experience Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph had in high school was a personal finance class. Rudolph took the class, where he learned things like balancing a checkbook, as an elective.
Today, there are more and more opportunities for students to explore business and finance, and Rudolph is trying to help promote that. Rudolph, who studied business at the University of Notre Dame, will serve as a judge as part of the 2019 FedEx Junior Business Challenge.
Begun in 2017 in partnership with Junior Achievement (JA) Worldwide, the FedEx Junior Business Challenge provides young entrepreneurs between the ages of 15-18 with a platform to pitch original business ideas to a panel of judges consisting of PGA Tour players, celebrities, business leaders and FedEx Small Business grant winners, with the chance to earn a $75,000 donation from FedEx.
“It’s an opportunity that most of us didn’t have when we were in high school,” Rudolph said. “For these kids to have this opportunity to think outside the box and come up with an innovative, entrepreneurial idea is pretty cool. Most people don’t get to do that until they’re in their mid-20s and studied business in college.
“For these young men and women to have that opportunity to do that in high school puts them ahead of the game.”
Each FedEx Junior Business Challenge qualifying event is held in conjunction with a PGA Tour event; FedEx has been the official sponsor of the PGA Tour since 2002. One winner from each of the three events—Charles Schwab Challenge (May 22), Travelers Championship (June 18) and 3M Open (July 2)—will advance to the FedEx Junior Business Challenge final held in conjunction with the Tour Championship in Atlanta where the PGA Tour FedEx Cup champion will be crowned.
Following one final pitch on August 21, a winner will be chosen and awarded a donation to their local Junior Achievement chapter. Rudolph will be a judge for the third and final qualifying event held at the 3M Open on July 2 in Blaine, Minnesota.
Other high-profile judges in the Shark Tank-like event have included Andy Roddick, DeMarcus Ware, Shannon Miller, Hines Ward and Patrick Reed.
“I don’t watch Shark Tank all the time but I’ve seen quite a few episodes,” Rudolph said. “I’ll definitely take the nicer approach than some of the investors on that show. Maybe I’ll play the role of (Dallas Mavericks owner) Mark Cuban.
“One thing I’ve always done, especially with my business background from Notre Dame, is to treat myself and my brand as a business. I think that’s something I can pass along to these young men and women; things I’ve learned in running my business for almost a decade.”
Not only is Rudolph invested in this program because of his interest in business, he is also an avid golfer and both his parents—Dan and Jamie Rudolph—served as couriers at FedEx for more than 15 years.
As for advice for the budding entrepreneurs?
“In running any business there’s going to be adversity and tough times,” Rudolph said. “I don’t think anyone has started a business and had success right away and continued with success. Every business goes through tough times; it might not be right away but at some point you’ll come across it and you have to fight through it. You learn from it and it makes your business better.”