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Plank: The first step to success begins with saying ‘I will’

I will.

That is the declaration we make every day at Under Armour to athletes around the globe.

It is the very essence of who we are and what we represent, expressed in the simplest terms and with a singular purpose.

“I will” has never been an answer to a question. Instead, it is a bold statement of determination and a commitment to find solutions that have eluded others.

You don’t need a boardroom or a national platform to have an “I will” moment. You just need a belief that resides deep within your core and the conviction to bring an idea to life.

Kevin Plank is the chief executive and founder of Under Armour. (Courtesy of Under Armour /Courtesy of Under Armour )

I am very fortunate to be able to share the story of Under Armour’s humble beginnings with people around the world, and to know that, in many ways, I will always be that 22 year-old kid who just wanted to make a better T-shirt for athletes.

That’s because what happened to me before Under Armour resonates as strongly as what has happened to me since. So much of that self-discovery — the cultivation of my personal “I will” — took place at the University of Maryland.

It is true that Under Armour was born on the College Park football field, but it could also be said that it was born with a flower — a rose to be exact — and a lot of passion. In fact, my first experience of true entrepreneurial success was creating an on-campus Valentine’s Day flower delivery service called Cupid’s Valentine Rose Delivery.

Working around the clock for two sleepless nights, the $17,000 I earned my senior year at Maryland from Cupid’s Valentine became the initial seed money for Under Armour. No angels, no vultures and no venture capital. I just had my own money that I earned through a smaller business with the hopes of building a bigger one.

Cupid’s Valentine also provided validation for the “I will” ideal, and it taught me some of the most valuable lessons of my professional career: No idea is too small, no vision too narrow and no outcome is impossible when you believe you can. I also learned never to deal in live inventory when you don’t have to! Just as important, it reminded me of the true impact of a collegiate education and the life-changing experiences, both inside and outside the classroom, that it brings.

I collaborated with the University of Maryland nine years ago to create our own entrepreneurial venture: the Cupid’s Cup Business Competition, whose purpose is to recognize and cultivate the next generation of great thinkers and innovators who are currently on a college campus and have an idea. While participation in Cupid’s Cup was initially limited to University of Maryland students and alumni, it has evolved into a national competition, accepting submissions from undergraduate students and recent alumni from across the country.

This past Friday, the six semi-finalists competed for the 2014 Cupid’s Cup, and there is no question that we have met some truly outstanding talent along the way.

We crowned our grand prize winner, and we will take great pride in our small role in helping a few brilliant ideas flourish. While my interaction and exposure to these young minds is incredibly energizing, I also know there are thousands of men and women whom I will never meet that represent the very best of the entrepreneurial spirit. I can only hope to inspire these individuals to pursue their goals by continuing to tell the story of my own company’s journey.

I started a sports apparel company out of a Georgetown basement during the tech boom years. It was a gamble, but I hope my decision to take a bold chance still sparks a desire for new innovation and helps to inspire young entrepreneurs everywhere. The willingness to risk loss in order to make money is one definition applied to the word “entrepreneur.” It is the gritty side of starting your own business – building a team, being your own boss and setting out to do what others deem unthinkable.

My own belief and optimism are what I believe drove Under Armour even more than the great products that we build. While success was never guaranteed, I certainly never believed that it could not happen — why not me?

Our mission at Under Armour has always been to make all athletes better through passion, design and the relentless pursuit of innovation. That pursuit of innovation is the thread that binds us all together, and is why in addition to Cupid’s Cup, we invite entrepreneurs to the Under Armour campus to showcase their game-changing ideas at our own innovation challenge, called the Future Show, that we host every fall.

We know the next great idea might be somewhere beyond the walls of Under Armour, so we open our doors, invite fresh minds to share their innovations and provide them with a platform to be seen by leaders in business and technology.

The entrepreneurial spirit is the core of our company, and it still resonates as we feed the desire to innovate in our employees and in communities around the world.

You will face many challenges getting a new business off the ground, but I have learned that success as an entrepreneur is only impossible if you do not take the risk at all. Why not you and why not now? There will be no perfect time to start your business, so the moment to take that chance is now.

Entrepreneurship is one of the country’s greatest assets — it has helped to build our nation, and it must be curated and encouraged. Playing your part in keeping that spirit alive can be as complex as running with your own idea to start a new business or as simple as stopping to buy lemonade the next time you see children selling it on the side of the road.

Either way, entrepreneurship should be celebrated, and Cupid’s Cup is just one more vehicle through which those considering the entrepreneurial path may be inspired to simply say: “I will.”

Kevin Plank is the chief executive and founder of Under Armour.



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