Few people get to see immense success in sports and fewer are able to leave a legacy that goes beyond their game. Fred VanVleet – former undrafted prospect turned All-Star selection – is doing just that by using his platform to bring funding to entrepreneurs from underprivileged communities through the Blueprint Program. VanVleet sat down with GLORY Media to discuss his second venture with the program, how his “Bet on Yourself” mantra has transcended the court, and how the league has helped support players’ entrepreneurial endeavours.
You can find our full interview with the Raptors’ star below.
Fred VanVleet on BIPOC Advocacy
GLORY Media: For those unfamiliar, can you explain what the Blueprint Program is and how it’s assisting marginalized communities?
Fred VanVleet: This is our second year doing the program. The first year was so successful for us and we just want to reach the community. […] Each participant gets a $10,000 grant [and] access to mentorship programs, like one-on-one sessions with industry experts in the field and small group workshops. They may get an AMA with an industry expert, […] we wanna give them a financial boost. AMEX has stepped up to the plate to allocate a million dollars [to] over a hundred different participants. […] It’s a program that I’m really proud to be a part of.”
GLORY Media: Can you speak to some of the unique barriers BIPOC entrepreneurs face that you are trying to erase?
Fred VanVleet: I think first and foremost there’s a financial barrier. People that identify as BIPOC are coming from communities [that] face significantly greater financial challenges. As a small business owner, you need access to certain resources, whether that’s inventory, mentorship, or a relationship with the bank. […] There are just certain biases that exist in our world. This program is definitely on the right track to help combat that.
Fred VanVleet on Community Leadership
GLORY Media: Recently, athletes have had more agency over their sponsorships compared to decades past. How important is it for you to maintain these relationships with your partners? What sort of process goes into selecting these programs?
Fred VanVleet: I’ve [grown a lot] as a man and as a businessman. At first, I was just taking the best deal. Whoever had the most money and was the least amount of work. I ran into some things that made me uncomfortable and I learned from that. So now, going into every deal that I do, I’m very intentional. I speak my mind from the first day we start talking about a deal, and I was lucky to find this partnership with AMEX – there’s just natural chemistry with the company’s leadership and initiative. This program is just a match made in heaven because it’s what [we both] believe in.
I don’t have to read from a script or anything. The most important thing about all of this is that we have evidence that this program works. Last year, 94 percent of the participants said that the program was vital and significant to their business. One in three added a new product line or hired new employees and things like that. […] It’s getting to the point where we can see the impact we’re making and I think it’s just going to continue to impact the country every year we do it.
GLORY Media: Can you look back and see where your entrepreneurial spirit began? Has that always kind of been a core part of who you are?
Fred VanVleet: It’s always been a core part of my mindset since I was a young kid growing up in an underserved community and not having much. […] Basketball is my first vehicle, but I just like to study, do things, and learn. I’m more in love with the chase of building something than anything else. I like to include people and work with others […] and make an impact by giving back to the community.
GLORY Media: Can you speak to the ways in which small businesses are a core part of a community foundation? Why are they so important to keep uplifting and supporting?
Fred VanVleet: We can’t ever lose sight of the fact that these are real people. This is their livelihood and this is how they feed their children […]. There was no better example of that than during COVID. The shutdown affected a lot of those people. We live in such a macro world where it’s easy to look past what’s happening in our own cities. Canada [and Toronto] have an incredible market for small business owners and entrepreneurs. The city I come from has a small community of small business entrepreneurs. There’s nothing better than coming in and supporting your local businesses because these are your fellow citizens. I think there’s no better way to support them than to go show up and spend that dollar in your own community. You’ll see the effects that it has.
Fred VanVleet on the NBA’s Social Awareness
GLORY Media: You were a finalist for this year’s NBA Social Justice Champion Award. How is the award different from receiving other more basketball-centric honours like All-Star selection or the finals MVP? Is it a different feeling and how would you compare it?
Fred VanVleet: It’s definitely a different feeling. Number one because I’m never trying to win those awards. Basketball is easy for me and when I’m working out I can picture holding up a trophy and getting those honours. That’s part of the motivation. But when I give back to my community, that’s all coming from my heart. I’m not doing it for awards. I actually try not to do too much press around it. I [worry] it can take some of the authenticity away from it [by] trying to capitalize on everything. But it’s an incredible honour to be mentioned in that group of five and to have my name next to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar [given] the work that he’s done. It’s an incredible honour.
GLORY Media: The NBA really champions its players to have social awareness and community impact. Can you speak to how the NBA supports these endeavours?
Fred VanVleet: I think the NBA has become a place for role models and leaders, more than any other professional league. I’ll go back to COVID; once the NBA season shut down the rest of the world followed suit. I think Adam [Silver] and the team in the NBA offices do a great job. I think it’s a great business […] to be out in the community because at the end of the day the fans pay our bills. If there were no fans showing up or nobody supporting, […] our league would look entirely different. We wouldn’t be here without the fans.
GLORY Media: How does your “Bet on Yourself” mantra relate to entrepreneurship?
Fred VanVleet: It’s the same thing. If you’re starting your business or want to become a business owner or entrepreneur, you have no choice but to bet on yourself. You might have [a] team of people helping you, but [you have to] be able to pick yourself up in the face of adversity. […] It’s an incredible ability to be able to leave your natural comfort zone.
GLORY Media: Where can people learn more about the program?
Fred VanVleet: The applications are open and they can be found on the program’s website.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.