Whether you're after expansion capital, some creative employees or cutting-edge business contacts, you might try looking in a surprising place: at an Ultimate Frisbee game. Once a fringe pastime played primarily at East Coast colleges, Ultimate has now become one of the fastest-growing participant sports with at least 100,000 players, according to the Ultimate Players Association. Most U.S. cities now offer Ultimate leagues at a variety of competitive levels, and the sport has become as popular with men as with women, and with middle-aged professionals as with younger people.
Ultimate has particularly attracted entrepreneurs who like its free-flowing style, lack of referees and nonhierarchical nature. (Players switch positions all the time.) "Everyone has to play every position, so you get people who understand the kind of versatility a small company needs," says Peter Nieh, a general partner at San Francisco-based venture capital company Lightspeed Venture Partners and an avid Ultimate player.
Entrepreneurs say Ultimate has become the most popular participant sport among venture capitalists, so business owners often run into a potential source of funding on the field. "Many of our executives play Ultimate in the weekly Friday games at Greer Park in Palo Alto," says Russ Rive, co-founder of 100-employee desktop management company Everdream in Fremont, California.
"A lot of people from venture capital firms also play, and, when we've pitched our company before some of these VCs, having those Ultimate contacts helped us get a foot in the door," Rive adds. "Having lined up next to VC people on the field, we have something in common in our favor."
Though the information technology industry has hit hard times, Everdream has raised three rounds of VC financing since 1999, the latest in December 2002. Says Rive, "I'm working so hard now that I don't even have time to play in the Friday games as much as I would like."
Since it draws a younger and more diverse crowd than traditional networking venues such as trade shows or the golf course, Ultimate can also be a great place to find a wide range of potential employees. Nieh has used his Ultimate contacts to find several employees for companies Lightspeed funds. "Because Ultimate attracts people who are a bit rebellious [and] a bit countercultural," he explains, "they tend to have funky new business ideas to bring to companies."
For more information on Ultimate Frisbee, check out these links: www.upa.org (the Ultimate Players Organization site; has links to Ultimate leagues in several cities); www.ultimatehandbook.com (has more information on the game); www.ultilinks.com (offers links to upcoming Ultimate tournaments, games, teams and other events around the world).