Founders’ Story Featuring Skelo Wear Founders Kenny and Laila Anunike

Many professional athletes build second careers in broadcasting, coaching, product endorsement, or even in the hospitality or entertainment industries.

It is far more unusual, however, to witness a Super Bowl champion and highly regarded coach step away from professional sports to commit full-time, full steam, to building a company based on the vision that has been his dream since his college years.

That’s the backstory of Kenny Anunike, Founder and CEO of Columbus-based Skelo Wear, a startup that produces protective equipment and devices powered by artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance player safety and skill development.

Anunike and Skelo Wear Chief Research and Development Officer Laila Anunike shared their inspiring journey at Rev1’s October Founder’s Story event.

On taking the path less traveled – Building a Scalable Company Is Not a Side Gig

The offer to become the defensive coordinator at the Division 1 school came near the same time as notification of Skelo Wear’s first patent approval. Choices had to be made.

  • “People dream about coaching, but that wasn’t Kenny’s dream.”
  • “If we take this job, there will be no looking back. Skelo Wear will never happen.”
  • “I have never done this before, but I’m willing to give it all I’ve got. I am building this plan as I fly.”

On Customer/Market Validation – 17 letters of intent and purchase orders

Skelo Wear started with a schematic to talk with potential customers about their pain points and find early adopters who wanted to be part of the journey.

  • “Everything we ever wanted was on the other side of the dream.”
  • “We have many contacts in the industry, but we didn’t know how to get to them properly.”
  • “Going through customer learning lab (CLL) helped us understand our arsenal, how to ask the right questions, and distill the information we received.”
  • “We interviewed coaches, players, and trainers about gaps in protection for hand and wrist injuries.” 

On opportunity – It’s all around you

From the beginning, Skelo Wear has bootstrapped. Then, Skelo Wear applied for and was awarded a Rev1 Ventures Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DE&I) Grant Fund.

  • “Always be on the lookout for opportunity. It’s all around. You have to have your eyes ready.”
  • “You have to do the work. Do it for yourself and surround yourself with people to help bring your vision to fruition.”
  • “With focus, discipline, and consistency, there is nothing you can’t achieve. The first purchase order makes the second one easier.”
  • “Let people know what you are doing. Closed mouths don’t get fed.”

On Excellence

Kenny Anunike, a first-generation American, credits his parents with instilling the principles that allowed him to succeed at football and build a company. Aiming to be the best became a way of life.

  • “Go to class. Sit in the first three rows. Pay attention to the teacher. Put your mind and your hand to it.
  • “No one ever fell on the top of a hill.”
  • “No means not yet.”

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