Creating opportunity
Why The Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski Smashed His Way Into Startup Investing, Shark Tank-Style
Kim Lachance Shandrow | March 30, 2017

Rob Gronkowski has his giant, touchdown-catching hands full on and off the gridiron these days. This off-season, the New England Patriots’ superstar tight end (and budding entrepreneur) has smashed his way into the startup investing arena with a new Shark Tank-style reality show.

During the inaugural season of MVP (short for Most Valuable Partner), which premiered on Jan. 25, 2017 with “Gronk” as producer and on-screen investors, entrepreneurs, inventors and small business owners get one shot to pitch a panel of world champion athletes, hall of famers and Olympians to be their brand ambassador. The episodes air on Wednesdays via Verizon’s go90.com online entertainment hub and on the company’s go90 app.

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The series’ panel of judges is packed with an impressive roundup of famous athletes. Joining Gronkowski are: Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant, longtime NFL running back Marshall Faulk, Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay, Olympic softball gold medalist Jennie Finch, Triple Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinoza and former NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens.

“As professional athletes, we get pitched investment opportunities all the time,” Gronkowski said in a blog post announcing the show. “But ‘MVP’ gives me and the guys a chance to actually meet these entrepreneurs in person, get to know them a little, ask the tough questions, try the products, all in a fun, competitive setting. I’m excited for everyone to see which businesses we pick to join as MVPs.”

Redwood City, Calif.-based Man Crates — a quirky gift subscription service that ships jerky, beer and tool-stuffed wooden crates (as well as the metal crowbars required to pry them open) — is one of the scrappy startups to vie for the athletes’ coveted endorsements and investment dollars.

How did Gronk — who owns a fitness equipment business with his father and four brothers — crack open his sample “Man Crate”? If you guessed that he spiked it Gronk-Smash-style right there on the set, you’d be right. And by “spiked it,” we mean the 6-foot-6, 265-pound All-Pro smashed the wooden box on the ground as if it were a football on fire. Twice.

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But Gronk’s brawny power move didn’t ruffle Man Crates’ founder and CEO Jon Beekman’s feathers in the least. Rather, he seemed to take it as a compliment of sorts, later commenting that the footballer’s bold unboxing could qualify as “the most epic” opening of a Man Crates box yet. (To watch the Gronk-smash action unfold, check it out here, beginning at the 4:06 mark.)

When asked what a partnership with one of the show’s MVPs would mean for Man Crates, Beekman beamed at the possibilities.

“Our customers are obviously fans of theirs and I think if you can think of a guy getting a gift that has a stamp of approval from one of these guys,” the entrepreneur said on the show, “it would not only be awesome for our business and hopefully fun for the athletes, but I think it would be phenomenal for our customers.”

Lucky for Beekman, his product was a hit with No. 87.

“Not only do I just want to be involved and make my own Man Crate,” Gronkowski said, “but I want to be the face of your product. It just feels like it fits.”

At the end of the short episode, Beekman and Gronk shook hands on an investment deal valued at approximately $250,000, involving cash, equity and profit-sharing.

Other interesting startups whose founders have since pitched MVP’s all-star panel include: Gamevice, a Simi Valley, Calif.-based company that created a snap-on video game controller for iPads and other tablets, Pasadena, Calif.-based Dr. Shica’s Incredi-Whip, maker of an “all natural” whipped coffee creamer and Los Angeles-based Buiced, purveyor of gluten-free liquid multivitamin supplements.

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“Entrepreneurs like these are the backbone of the American economy,” Eric Day, MVP producer and managing partner at INE Entertainment, told Free Enterprise. “They’re more important than ever. With MVP, we’re doing our part to bring two of America’s best — our best entrepreneurs and our best athletes — together so they can do great things.”

As for Gronkowski’s ability to do great things, he wishes he were as good at business as he is at football. He recently told Entrepreneur, “If Business Gronk was as good as Football Gronk, I probably wouldn’t even have to play football.”