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20 Nike executives who started their own company. Here is where they are now

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  • Nike isn’t known for driving entrepreneurial activity, but that’s changing.
  • Many Nike veterans, many with decades of experience, have built businesses in recent years.
  • They include footwear and clothing brands, as well as candle companies and a cremation business.

Nike co-founder Phil Knight’s best-selling memoir, “Shoe Dog,” focuses on the company’s rambling, neglected and entrepreneurial roots.

Knight and Bill Bowerman launched Nike with a handshake, a story known to all Nike employees. The Bowerman waffle iron used to invent Nike’s iconic waffle shoe is even on display in the company museum.

“Nike is the ultimate entrepreneurial company,” said 14-year Nike veteran Kate Delhagen, who now works as


angel investor

, said. “It was founded by Phil, who is enterprising at heart. That spirit blows through the business. Many of us pass on Phil’s lesson: $50 and a handshake, go. Pour in some ingredients in a mold and see if it works.”

Delhagen is among several Nike veterans who have founded companies in recent years. They’re trying to disrupt everything from traditional Nike categories like workout apparel to industries like funeral services.

Knight even gets in on the action. Although he remains chairman emeritus of Nike, he helped launch a company last year that provides name, image and likeness services to college athletes at the University of Oregon, his well-known alma mater. -loved.

Delhagen pointed to several factors behind the surge in entrepreneurial activity, starting with the stock market rise of Nike. Founders often struggle to find start-up capital, but their Nike shares, which have doubled the market’s gain over the past decade, have given many former executives enough financial cushion to self-fund for months or even years. years, of a new business.

In addition to financial capital, former Nike executives have enviable social capital, with thick Rolodexes of former colleagues and business partners. Several recent founders have hired other former Nike executives for prominent roles atop thriving organizational charts.

Founders and new hires include some former Nike employees who were laid off in recent rounds of layoffs.

“There are so many good people who have forgotten more about this company than a lot of people know,” said Aaron Miller, 18-year Nike veteran and founder of SoleWorks. “They’re just a phone call or a coffee away. Three years ago, five years ago, there was no way to get that kind of knowledge on the street.”

One final factor: Nike has gotten so big that it’s focusing its energy on the biggest ideas in sight, things like the metaverse and film development. In a phone call Monday, CEO John Donahoe mentioned a sustainable fabric in development that “could do for clothing what Flyknit did for footwear.” Flyknit kick $1 billion in sales in five years.

“If you can’t build a billion-dollar business, it’s just not worth it to them,” Delhagen said. “There are a lot of things you can do between 0 and 500 million dollars.”

Here are 14 companies started recently by Nike veterans. The founders also offer advice for those considering the transition from security at a Fortune 100 to senior management at a startup.