July 1st, 2021 ushered in a new era for college athletes. On that day, new state laws and NCAA rules came into effect that gave athletes new opportunities to profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL) rights.
Since then, the college sports world has been turned upside down, with a rush for sponsorships and a dizzying dealflow that would impress even the most seasoned early-stage VC investor. However, this new legislation was accompanied by a significant amount of uncertainty. Potential pitfalls for students abound, including tax liability.
Fort Lauderdale-based lawyer and entrepreneur Peter Schoenthal saw opportunity in this uncertainty. “I started thinking about who’s going to protect these athletes,” he told Refresh Miami. “I was a criminal defense attorney. I was very worried about athletes paying taxes. I did not want to represent them for tax evasion.”
“So I got together with colleagues and some individuals who are in the tech industry and we started thinking about how we can protect athletes,” Schoenthal continued.
The first stop for Schoenthal was to do some user research. He started with one demographic he knows well: coaches from around the country. (Football has played a big role in Schoenthal’s life, and he previously coached for an inner city youth league.)
In talking to college coaches from around the country, he was told that they “need to know what [their] student athletes are doing before it’s too late.” For example, colleges wanted to be notified before athletes accept money to ensure that they’re not violating rules or getting taken advantage of.
The resulting innovation is Athliance, a SaaS platform that colleges use for end-to-end NIL compliance. Athliance makes it easy for students to disclose the terms of their NIL opportunities and make sure that they are compliant. The platform also has an educational component, including a partnership with financial wellness platform Financial IQ, to help student athletes wrestle with questions around topics such as when it makes sense to start an LLC, how to file taxes, and how to improve their credit score.
Athliance launched in early 2020 and has already amassed more than 30 schools. Schoenthal is poised for rapid growth, noting that the full ramifications of this new NIL legislation are yet to be felt: “We’re eight months into something that’s going to take a minimum of 36-48 months.” The platform currently costs universities an annual fee of $15,000.
While there are already some competitors in the industry, Schoenthal believes that his legal background will prove advantageous. “Our space is very contingent on understanding the legislation and being able to read the legal cases,” he said. “It’s also about being able to understand where the space is going and being able to speak with schools from a liability standpoint.”
Four of Athliance’s 18 employees are also based in South Florida. Schoenthal is excited about the South Florida tech ecosystem and praised efforts such as the Levan Center that are looking to develop our tech ecosystem. “You have a lot of bright people here solving great problems,” he said.
Athliance has raised two early-stage funding rounds of $1.5 million each and has plans to raise a Series A in June.
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