From left, John Shegerian, Noah Schwartz, Jake Olson, Daniel Hennes and Brendan Egan make up part of the Engage team, along with Olson’s guide dog Quebec. Photo contributed

published on June 22, 2021 - 10:37 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

A blind college football player, coming changes to NCAA rules on athletic endorsements and a local businessman have converged to create a technology company that is primed for growth and making waves.

John Shegerian was an early investor in Engage, a web-based platform that digitizes the process of booking notable people in the sports world and other areas for personal appearances, speaking engagements and more. Celebrities marketed on the platform include NBA star Dwayne Wade, human rights leader Martin Luther King III, Jeopardy champion James Holzhauer and tennis star Sloane Stephens and PGA golfer Bryson DeChambeau — both of whom happen to have ties to the Fresno-Clovis area.

The company is the brainchild of Jake Olson, a Southern California native who became the first fully blind athlete to play in a college football game when he served as a long snapper for the USC Trojans in 2017. Olson, who became blind at age 12 due to cancer, is also a longtime motivational speaker who became even more in demand after the game. With help from manager and college buddy Daniel Hennes, Olson founded Engage.

Shegerian connected with Olson after booking him for a speaking engagement at Electronic Recyclers International in Fresno, where he is co-founder and current executive chairman. According to a new ESPN profile about the company, Shegerian became the first investor and offered technical assistance. His title with Engage is chief strategy officer.

“Jake is not only a great person and a NCAA Division One Football legend,” stated Shegerian. “He is also our good friend and business partner. And now the world is starting to understand that just like everything else he has undertaken, he is leading Engage to new heights we could have never imagined this soon in our journey. And in the process, Jake is quickly becoming a beacon of hope for 61 million disabled people who might have aspirations and dreams to be entrepreneurs, just like you and me. So thank you again to ESPN and Jake Olson. This incredible journey is far from over.”

Engage — which its founders say replaces the antiquated engagement booking system of email exchanges, scanning and faxing contracts — is also positioned for an influx of talent. As outlined in the ESPN piece, when NCAA athletes in a half dozen states are allowed to start making money from third-party endorsements starting July 1, they will have new opportunities such as speaking gigs, autograph signings, live appearances, sports camps and social media shoutouts.

Engage wants to streamline the administrative work behind those services.

Olson also serves as an example to people living with a disability in the world of business, Shegerian said.

“All of us at Engage are filled with gratitude to everyone who has supported us and taken a chance on this start up with huge aspirations that go way beyond making strong profits,” said Shegerian. “We are committed to making the world a better and more inclusive and diverse place, so everyone has the chance to make their dreams come true. Just like Jake.”

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