Who is Rachel? The Teen Athlete Turned Teen Entrepreneur

One of my goals with the Little Launchers book series was to make entrepreneurship more accessible for young aspiring changemakers. One of the ways I hope that happens is through the lesson that comes from the story of Rachel Zietz, teen founder of Gladiator Lacrosse sports equipment company. She never intended to be an entrepreneur, but took a local business course and ended up founding the company she still runs today at 15 years old.

The lesson: Entrepreneurship can be learned.

“Rachel Turns Her Passion Into a Business” is a story about the entrepreneurial journey of Rachel Zietz, real-life founder and CEO of Gladiator Lacrosse, a lacrosse equipment company.

The book documents Rachel’s story and how the worlds of sports and business collide when she enrolls in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) program at the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce. Co-sponsored by the chamber and Florida Atlantic University, YEA! opens her eyes to her potential to become a business owner.

Rachel Turns Her Passion Into a Business

“Rachel Turns Her Passion Into a Business” launches on Kickstarter on March 28th

Rachel’s desire to found Gladiator Lacrosse stems from her clear passion for the sport of lacrosse. She started playing in fifth grade, when after trying basketball, tennis, soccer, and flag football, she realized lacrosse was the sport for her. Eventually, her love of lacrosse and issues she faced with practice equipment led to her founding Gladiator Lacrosse in 2012 when she was 13 years old.

A native of Boca Raton, Florida, Rachel grew up in an entrepreneurial family and around business. Her father, Sam Zietz, is the CEO of point of sale systems vendor TouchSuite, while her mother, Sheila Zietz is a corporate attorney. Even her younger brother, Jordan, is an entrepreneur, as founder and CEO of GameReef, a video game console rental company. He founded the company at 13 years old after going through the 33-week Boca Raton YEA! program Rachel completed. Little sister Morgan hasn’t yet caught the entrepreneurial bug, but she enjoys art and has followed in Rachel’s footsteps, becoming a lacrosse player in the second grade, as as goalie. With a love for design, Morgan occasionally helps Rachel on Gladiator Lacrosse designs, particularly within apparel offerings.

All of Rachel’s business exposure aside, she never thought she would be a teen entrepreneur. Even after enrolling in YEA!, where she was the youngest participant in her cohort, she didn’t expect to found a business. She was in seventh grade, 12 years old, and intimidated by all of the high schoolers around her. In interviews, she told me that she was just planning to finish the program and move on.

She hit a tipping point, though, when she won the program’s elevator pitch competition. She told me during our first interview she realized at that point, “Just because I’m this young, doesn’t mean I can’t stack up against these older kids and be successful!” She hit the ground running from there, writing the business plan and collaborating with professional sports designers on product designs. By the end of the program, she had everything in place — she ordered a 45-foot container of Gladiator Lacrosse’s first offerings: Goals and rebounders.

Rachel Zietz Gladiator Lacrosse

From Left: Rachel plays lacrosse for Pine Crest; Rachel in her warehouse; Rachel on ABC’s “Shark Tank” (Photos by Harry Jordan, Gladiator Lacrosse, and Mark Burnett Productions)

Today, Gladiator Lacrosse is a multi-million dollar business, having generated $200,000 in revenue in its first year of operation, and as of 2016 was on track to clear $2 million for the year. Gladiator Lacrosse products are distributed online and in large chain retailer DICK’S Sporting Goods stores across America.

The company offers better-quality products — thicker netting and metals for longer-lasting practice gear — at affordable prices. It also collaborated with Rachel’s favorite lacrosse player, Casey Powell, to develop a “Casey Powell Signature Edition” of equipment that comes in a sleek black design with a stylized Casey Powell signature and emblem. Rachel describes Casey as her “number one idol as a kid,” proving that anything is possible when you dream big. The company also makes apparel and has aspirations to release more products, including headgear that prevents player concussions.

Rachel was recognized as TIME’s Most Influential Teens of 2016, sandwiched between Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez and Sasha and Malia Obama, daughters of U.S. President Barack Obama. Rachel has appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank; was a finalist for Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s 2015 Entrepreneur Award; and has received coverage in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among other outlets.

While writing the Little Launchers book series, illustrator Li Zeng, videographer Dan Ndombe, and I visited Rachel, her family, and the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce. The story and pictures featured in her book were all inspired by in-person and online interviews with key influencers and supporters in Rachel’s life.

To learn more about Rachel and her company, preorder “Rachel Turns Her Passion Into a Business” on Kickstarter starting on March 28th and visit gladiatorlacrosse.com. For information on Young Entrepreneurs Academy programs near you, visit yeausa.org.

Erica Swallow

Erica Swallow is a status quo wrecker, entrepreneur, journalist, and debut children’s book author, with the "Entrepreneur Kid" book series. Her thoughts have been published in Forbes, Fortune, and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications. A first-generation college student, she was raised in Paragould, Arkansas and believes education is the key to opportunity. Erica holds degrees from New York University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is the founder of Southern Swallow digital strategy consultancy.