Of the almost 8 million high school students who currently compete on their school teams, only 480,000 of them, or approximately 16.7%, continue to compete in college. And according to the NCAA, or National Collegiate Athletic Association, which runs college-level athletic conferences across the United States, the most collegiate players aren’t in so-called “Division I” athletics, a section of NCAA member institutions comprised of “schools [which] generally have the biggest student bodies, manage the largest athletics budgets and offer the most generous number of [athletic] scholarships.” The most NCAA athletes compete in Division III athletics, “the largest NCAA division both in the number of participants and number of schools.”
Van Hatchell, the founder of RecruitRef, wants to give high school athletes, many of whom may be potential Division III competitors, the exposure they need to attract the attention necessary to be recruited. “I remember when I was in high school trying to get recruited, and it’s still just as difficult for athletes who aren’t in that upper echelon,” Van says looking back. “RecruitRef is built mainly for middle to lower-tier athletes looking to catapult their careers. These athletes aren’t being courted by schools, so they need to reach out to schools and coaches on their own. We give them a platform to do that.”
Tyler Horn had a piece published in 2015 for the athletics-focused publication The Players’ Tribune titled “The No-Star Recruit,” a memoir about his experience trying to be recruited to a college football team as a self-described no-name player. In football, high school players are rated on a 2 to 5-star system. “As a ‘no-star recruit,’ I didn’t even land on the rating system,” Tyler said. “I was nowhere to be found on Rivals, Scout, or ESPN, the big three sites that monitor recruiting... I receive[d] recruitment mail from schools, [but] I only existed as a name in a spreadsheet somewhere, not in the minds of coaches. I was completely under the radar,” he writes.
These “no-star” athletes have to promote themselves to coaches to get off the spreadsheet and into the consciousness of actual coaches. “When I was in the recruiting process, I had to physically mail DVDs and my one-page player profile to coaches,” Van says. “Today, it can all be done online, and you have a lot more insight into the progress you're making with the coaches and schools you’re targeting,” he explains.
RecruitRef is “like a LinkedIn for high school athletes,” as Van puts it. Student-athletes can create a profile to be discoverable by college coaches, as well as send a link to that profile out to coaches and recruiters. This ease of access for both players and coaches means that good players with little attention like Tyler can promote their skills more easily and effectively to make their way onto college teams.
Working at the iLab in the summer incubator program, Van described the open, collaborative environment as a breath of fresh air. “Entrepreneurship is not a well-traveled career path for many people after their MBA,” Van says wryly. “Not so at Darden, and that’s evident in the Batten Institute and the iLab. At the iLab, I’m able to talk shop around the metaphorical water cooler with people that are experiencing some of the same issues, and I think that's invaluable. That’s why I’m so glad to be a part of this group of people that is really excited, wants to grow, and has an insatiable drive to create successful businesses.”
In the future, Van hopes to create even more software companies. “My goal is to be a repeat founder of software companies,” Van says. “I would love to own two or three software companies down the road that are sustainable, do well financially, and serve their customers really well. That’s the dream for me.”
The thing Van loves most about RecruitRef? The “self-help model”, as he puts it. “The whole vision is for the platform to enable these kids to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, so to speak,” Van says. “You can use our tools to promote yourself to college coaches and get on their radar if you do the work, and it might pay off big time, just like with sports or academics. I want to help these kids achieve their dreams,” he concludes.
To learn more, you can explore the capabilities of RecruitRef here.
About The Founder
Van Hatchell received a bachelor’s degree in Entrepreneurship & Marketing Consulting from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School in 2011, where he played on the UNC men’s basketball team. He also worked in multiple executive capacities, including Managing Director, for nonprofit Extraordinary Ventures, a social enterprise focused around employing adults with autism. He received his M.B.A. from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business in 2018.
About the Author
Christopher Nelson is a rising second year at New York University in Shanghai, China. He has experience in business operations as well as legal research and contract work. Christopher is currently interning at the UVA Darden School of Business Innovation Lab this summer as an interviewer and journalist.