Fort Wayne native DeAundre “Dre” Muhammad has been an avid fan of the reality television show Shark Tank, where entrepreneurs are grilled by potential investors.
Watching those exchanges proved valuable for Muhammad, who in July was at Parkview Field on a Friday night pitching his business in a similar competition.
“Who would have known that watching every episode of Shark Tank would prep me for the experience I just had?” Muhammad said during a recent interview.
The founder of Traction Athletic Performance, Muhammad was one of five finalists in the inaugural Jaylon Smith Minority Entrepreneurship Institute competition. He took second place.
Smith, a Dallas Cowboys star linebacker and Fort Wayne native, announced the competition in March. In a post on Twitter, Smith said it was part of an effort “to help close the economic & educational gap.”
His Minority Entrepreneurship Institute fielded 65 submissions for the first Indiana competition and whittled the field to five finalists. Three of those, including Muhammad, were named winners July 12.
Jada McLean, CEO and co-founder of Hurry Home in South Bend, took first and Nick Turner, CEO and founder of DeliverEnd in Indianapolis, placed third. Smith's associates at the event said the three winners would receive an investment of between $100,000 and $200,000. His institute has other partners – the National Christian Foundation and the Sagamore Institute – and the online site allows others to donate to the initiative.
Finalists in last month's competition pitched their business to Smith and a hand-selected panel of judges that included Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl Champion and Stacked Pickle CEO Gary Brackett; Ruoff Home Mortgage owner and CEO Mark Music; and Summit City Chevrolet Dealer Operator/President Jane DeHaven. The audience was by invitation only, including from Euell Wilson Center and Girls Rock.
Muhammad's familiarity with Shark Tank put him more at ease during the local competition.
The 30-year-old graduated in 2012 from Indiana University with a Bachelor of Science in recreational sport management. His business plan and vision for helping athletes and growing communities also likely resonated with Smith, who is involved in numerous outreach efforts.
Muhammad, like Smith, was a football star in the Summit City who made it to the top of the sports world, playing wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders. But his heart for serving others led to a surprising move when, after only one year, he walked away from the league to focus full time on helping other athletes grow.
“Some people may still not understand that decision,” Muhammad said. “But it was a direction I had to go to get the most out of myself. I'm satisfied with my decision because I feel that I'm walking the path that I was guided to walk.”
That path included founding Traction Athletic Performance in 2018, which has 13 employees.
The training center's program is designed to help athletes from a wide variety of sports disciplines learn and sharpen their skills in everything from sport-specific techniques to managing their nutrition and overall well-being.
Revenue for the privately held business is not disclosed, but Muhammad said Traction Athletic's commitment to growing the whole athlete that separates his business from the competition.
“Sports training is definitely something that we do. But behind the scenes, there's a whole other level and function that we have,” he said. “For instance, we are heavily invested in mental performance, with a certified sports psychologist named Donovan Martin. He helps athletes truly maximize their mental strengths.”
DeHaven, who served as one of the local competition judges, has seen the benefits of Muhammad's work.
“I look at athletes today and think they have so much more on them,” she said. “My daughter played soccer and trained there, and he is training the whole person to make them the best person they can possibly be. Also, it's really cool that a hometown entrepreneur came in second.”
Muhammad said he hopes to grow his business and, like Smith, benefit athletes and the community.
“We're going to continue to do what we do,” he said.