Published January 25, 2022
Athlete Viewpoint, a company founded six years ago by Graduate School of Education alumni Michael and Jennifer Cross, was selected as a finalist in the new "UB Fast 46" competition. Named in honor of the University at Buffalo's 1846 founding, the competition recognized 46 fast-growing alumni-led or owned businesses. Athlete Viewpoint ranked 21st in the competition. The company earned the ranking because of its success in helping university athletic departments manage thousands of student-athlete evaluations.
Results were announced at an awards ceremony and reception held last year at UB's Center for the Arts. "It was really nice to press pause for an evening and celebrate what we've built together," said Jennifer Cross, BA '92, EdM '94, who is also the founder and managing director of Perceptive Leadership Services, a consulting and executive coaching business.
The husband-and-wife team began to nurture the skills needed to start their company while studying college counseling and student personnel administration at GSE. While enrolled in the program, Jennifer Cross worked as a graduate assistant for Barbara Ricotta, now UB senior associate vice president and dean of students and a longtime mentor. Jennifer Cross credits her UB graduate school assistantships and internships for cultivating her "soft" people skills that have been a key to her success. "People call them soft skills, but there's nothing soft about them," she said.
Her assistantships also allowed her to gain hands-on management practice in the Student Union, overseeing student employees, events and the information desk. "That practical experience that I got in those two years of my program, that's the stuff I lean on over and over again, every day," she said.
After completing her assistantship, Jennifer Cross was hired as a full-time reservation coordinator in the Student Union. Ricotta knew she was perfect for the job because of her enthusiastic and caring demeanor. "She's a dedicated, amazing professional, always looking for ways to improve and learn new things… What always impressed me about her was her genuine interest in students—their issues, their problems and how she could help make things better for them," said Ricotta.
As her career unfolded, along with her husband's, they left Buffalo. Jennifer Cross worked in the University of Michigan's New Student Programs Office, coordinating fall welcome week events for more than 5,000 first-year students. She continued in various university leadership positions in student services and development before pivoting in 2002 to launch a consultancy.
Athlete Viewpoint first materialized in 2016 while taking classes in an "altMBA" program created by entrepreneur Seth Godin. She was assigned the project of creating a business model for a company. While some students in her cohort examined famous entities like Google, she drew from her husband's professional knowledge and experiences to create something unique.
As an athletic director for new business development at Penn State University, Michael Cross, BA '91, EdM '93, noticed problematic patterns during his 25-year career. He knew the student-athlete surveys weren't executed uniformly. Some questionnaires missed opportunities to collect student feedback that could help improve departments. Sometimes the findings weren't disseminated so staff could respond.
Jennifer Cross took note of these challenges for her assignment. "I did my business model on the idea of creating an outsource company that would facilitate the student-athlete feedback process for athletic directors," she said.
Six months after she finished the program, she and her husband launched Athlete Viewpoint to help athletic departments collect and analyze data. Two UB connections were among the ten friends and colleagues who agreed to pilot their new company's survey process: Rick Cole, Jr., BA '92, EdM '94, vice president and director of athletics at Hofstra University in Long Island, and Pete Bothner, a former UB assistant athletic director for facilities, now director of athletics at Nazareth College in Rochester.
The reactions were encouraging: "We got great feedback from our earliest users," said Jennifer Cross. "They also made many suggestions about how to make it better."
In 2021, their success led them to join forces with Game Plan, a North Carolina-based provider of educational content, mentorship and career services for student-athletes. The two companies will provide a broader arc of services for athletic departments by working together, said Jennifer Cross.
While Michael Cross continues to work at Penn State, he is also on the Game Plan board of directors. Jennifer Cross is Game Plan vice president of professional services and managing director of Athlete Viewpoint. In her new role within the larger company's infrastructure, she will work with athletic directors to support student-athletes and create healthy department cultures.
She looks forward to the collaborative opportunities ahead with new clients. "We can get under the hood with a partner and say, 'OK, let's really start to pick this apart, do some broad investigation, gather a lot of feedback and input and then put together a plan to move the needle in a positive direction,'" she said. "That's a piece that I'm really excited about because it will merge my work in analytics with the consulting that I've been doing for a long time."