By Lindsey Murray | ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship
CYstarters Spotlight: A 15-part series highlighting student entrepreneurs pursuing their business ventures as part of the CYstarters 2023 summer cohort. Through this program, students have the unique opportunity to prioritize the development of their own startup or business idea. Each individual receives $6,500 and access to resources such as mentorship, networking opportunities, and educational sessions on entrepreneurship and business startup.
Grant Stotts (23) is a recent graduate of Iowa State University with a degree in industrial design and a minor in business. Not only did he end the year with a diploma in hand, but he hung up his uniform as his 5-year wrestling career at ISU came to a close. Stotts has been wrestling since he was three years old, and although he is physically moving on from the sport, he is exploring ways to stay involved with athletes and teams from the sidelines.
On February 3, 2021, Iowa introduced a Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) law for colleges and institutions across the state. At the most basic level, this law guarantees college athletes a right to profit from their identities. Student-athletes can be paid for promoting products or services, endorsing brands, or even developing their own merchandise.
From student-athlete to student-entrepreneur
Stotts wanted to take advantage of the new piece of legislation that had so dramatically changed the landscape of college sports. While home on break, he joked with his cousin about the idea of signing college athletes to a brand of his own. Stotts had never considered starting a business. So, when what seemed like a casual conversation quickly turned into an entrepreneurial reality, it was all new to him.
Stotts, alongside his two co-founders, launched Chain Wrestling in August of 2021. At Chain Wrestling, college wrestling athletes, teams, and clubs sign contracts to use their name, image, and likeness on fan apparel. Chain Wrestling first connects with top-tier wrestlers across the nation to develop a design representative of the athlete. Once approved, they print t-shirts, hoodies, singlets, and accessories with the design for fans everywhere to purchase. Each athlete receives a percentage of the profit.
Chain Wrestling currently has 17 wrestlers signed, and the team is hard at work to reach more athletes. Within the last year, they signed a contract with the University of Illinois, their first D1 school. “Getting your first D1 school is obviously not easy to do, especially for fan gear. So, getting our foot in the door there is big,” said Stotts, excited about the major win for Chain Wrestling.
Stotts loves running his own business because of the flexibility it provides and the fulfillment he gets from directing his own company to success. Stotts creates many of the designs himself, while also managing the website and initiating and maintaining athlete relationships.
Throwing his hat in the ring
The connections he had established within the wrestling community during his time as a college athlete are what kickstarted his success. But he wanted to test the validity of his idea among other business owners. Stotts pitched Chain Wrestling in the College-by-College Pitch Off in the spring of 2023. He took home second place. Keeping up the momentum, he connected with classmate and CYstarters alum, Julio Delgadillo, to figure out next steps. Delgadillo told him about the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship and the CYstarters summer accelerator program. Stotts jumped at the chance to apply for the program and was accepted into the 2023 cohort.
Stotts saw his participation in CYstarters as an opportunity to propel his already established business forward. Before heading into CYstarters, the business was already turning a profit and bringing in athletes, so it was time to fine tune his business model and create goals for the future of Chain Wrestling. Stotts shared, “CYstarters has really helped with the networking, and learning how to get repeat customers has been huge.” He’s learned to formulate better marketing emails and has a better understanding of how to deliver mass marketing materials to current and potential customers.
Currently, Stotts is working with CYstarters mentors on reducing costs and increasing revenue. He plans to reduce production costs by bringing the printing in house and cutting out the middleman. He is also developing a better plan for customer and athlete retention.
Over the last 9 weeks, he has approached these challenges head-on and has secured some major wins for Chain Wrestling. This summer, they connected with a manufacturer to begin producing Chain Wrestling singlets. They also purchased their first printer to begin producing designs in house. The first run on the printer was a t-shirt order for a fellow CYstarter who is developing his own apparel business. “It’s been awesome having a more established company so I can help out other people that are just getting started”, said Stotts, thrilled about the opportunity to support another cohort member.
The progress made this summer, Stotts attributes heavily to the CYstarters program. He encouraged current and future Cyclones to consider the program because of the incredible networking opportunities and support he received while participating.
With hopes of speeding up production times, bringing on more athletes and eventually dominating the wrestling world, Stotts is dreaming big. The future of Chain Wrestling is securing NIL contracts with athletes of other sports. As he heads into the next phase of life and business, Stotts looks forward to being involved in the wrestling world at a different capacity.
You can support Chain Wrestling by purchasing fan gear online at chainwrestling.co and sharing the business with athletes, teams, and clubs. To stay up to date on Chain Wrestling athletes and new gear, follow on Instagram and Facebook.