3 Lessons for Every Business From an Olympian

The drive to do something worthwhile is the most important motive an entrepreneur can have.

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By Mark Burns • Oct 10, 2014 Originally published Oct 10, 2014

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Steve Mesler is an Olympic gold medalist and social entrepreneur who has combined educational opportunities, innovative technology and mentorship through his young startup, Classroom Champions. The nonprofit, educational organization, now in its fifth year, pairs classrooms from across the United States and Canada with athlete mentors who are participating in the Olympics or Paralympics.

Related: Social Entrepreneurship Has Unexpected Benefits for the Bottom Line

Mentors communicate with their assigned classrooms through monthly video messages that are integrated into the teacher's lesson plans. Topics span from goal setting and perseverance to community, friendship and healthy living. Students and their mentors develop sincere relationships through the utilization of flat screens, Apple televisions, iPads and other trending technology.

"We see technology as not only the foundation for how we run our organization, but as a great foundation for how kids are going to be able to learn, grow and be successful," said Mesler, adding that it is imperative for students to be "digitally literate" in today's world.

After five years building Classroom Champions, Mesler has found that many of the characteristics that apply to heading a nonprofit also mirror that of a small business. Below are three examples of just that.

1. Be passionate

Whether one is a social entrepreneur or a for-profit entrepreneur managing a small business, he or she must exude passion.

"If you have passion for what you're doing, people will come along, people will follow and people will believe in what you're doing," Mesler said.

The inspiration for Classroom Champions grew from Mesler's one-off visits to elementary schools when he was an Olympian in the 2000s. The opportunity to develop a lasting relationship with students was missing. Consequently, he and his sister, Dr. Leigh Mesler Parise, co-founder of Classroom Champions, created the organization to solve that specific disconnect between students and athletes.

The results have been a nonprofit where its Athletes Mentors maintain a long-standing relationship with their students through constant communication and a commitment to providing a good example for them. As Dallas Mavericks owner and serial entrepreneur, Mark Cuban said, "Don't start a company unless it's an obsession and something you love."

Resulted: For Social Entrepreneurs, What Comes First: Business or Mission?

2. Be results-oriented

A nonprofit possesses two bottom lines: the tangible impact it makes on its target area and the ability to financially sustain its operation. In 2014-15, Classroom Champions will partner with roughly 110 schools, with its mentors directly influencing 4,000 students and engaging almost 35,000.

According to Mesler, with solid measurements, Classroom Champions can statistically outline how its organization is changing students' lives for the better. For example, 95 percent of the teachers in the program have said that working with Classroom Champions has helped them become a better teacher.

Similar to a nonprofit organization, small business owners spend much of their time and energy focusing on how to maximize their profits. Yet, it is important to remember that in the early stages of a fledgling startup, an entrepreneur may not immediately experience ripe rewards. As a result, patience and a concrete plan of action are necessary to growing one's business.

3. Be curious

Asking questions is a simple tactic that Mesler suggests entrepreneurs engage in on a daily basis. How can we incorporate more technology into our classroom? Where should we focus our efforts in growing Classroom Champions? Which social media platforms can help expand our influence in the world? How can we be more impactful?

These are just some of the questions Mesler and his team asked themselves as they head into the current academic year.

By possessing an inquisitive mind, entrepreneurs further their businesses' growth through learning how new ideas, resources and trends can positively affect their bottom line. Constant learning is the foundation of a successful business owner.

Related: What Surprised Me Most As a Social Entrepreneur

Mark Burns

Sports Marketing Professional

Mark Burns is an operations coordinator in talent/athlete marketing at CSE, an Atlanta-based sports and entertainment agency. Burns was recently named a 2014 "30 Under 30" award recipient by Sports Launch Magazine and a 'Rising Star in #SportsBiz" by SportsNetworker.com.

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