KC Chhipwadia remembers the exact moment he decided to become an astronaut.
He was six years old, and returning home with his mother to their apartment in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. A chorus of police sirens and ambulances often wailed around his troubled neighborhood in the early 1970s, but in that moment, he remembers them being silent. Just before he stepped into the apartment, he looked up at the sky and saw a full moon staring back at him in daylight.
With the conviction that only a young child can summon, he turned to his mom and said, “I’m going to go there one day.”
From that day forward, he devoted his life to achieving that dream. He excelled in school, specialized in engineering and science courses and attended California Polytechnic State University. He then earned an internship at NASA and served in its Houston branch, which specializes in space flight, and eventually worked for them as a human space flight engineer. Along the way, he commissioned in the Navy reserves, and went on two deployments: to Iraq in 2009, where he searched for missing POWs, and Afghanistan in 2011.
There’s a tremendous amount of inequities and outdatedness in the process. It resonated strongly with me.”
After years of rejected applications to become an astronaut, Chhipwadia was in Afghanistan when he made the final round of interviews. He received leave and flew back for the interview of his dreams. Everything he had worked toward culminated in a series of medical exams, psychological tests, interviews and puzzles.
At the end of the week, the verdict was in: He didn’t make it. For the first time in his life, Chhipwadia was lost.
“It turns out the decades of research I did to put together some algorithm, some equation or secret sauce to become an astronaut [didn’t matter],” Chhipwadia said.
But that failure, combined with the life-changing experiences of his deployments, set him on a new path. After returning home from Afghanistan, he attended Patriot Boot Camp, a boot camp for veteran entrepreneurs, and met a fellow vet who told him about his struggles to make it as a college athlete. The story resonated with Chhipwadia. Eight million children compete in high school athletics but only a 495,000 are able to compete in college, according to the NCAA.
The process of becoming one of those lucky few athletes was opaque and challenging for parents and students to navigate, he learned. It reminded him of trying to become an astronaut. So, from the shards of his own broken dreams, he set out to build a startup to help students make their own dreams come true in sports. He named it Athlete Foundry.
“That was the first piece of the puzzle that led me to start Athlete Foundry,” said Chhipwadia, who is now 47 years old. “It was this anger toward outdated, broken processes that are not empowering kids who have a passion.”
To launch his startup, Chhipwadia spent nine months researching the biggest pain points in the recruitment process.
From parents, he learned that the NCAA and coaches provide little insight into how they pick and choose their athletes. Families are often forced to rely on hope and a plan patched together from the rumors they picked up from others who have gone through the experience.
In extensive conversations with coaches, Chhipwadia learned that they have a limited recruitment budget, which confines their recruitment efforts to only a few ZIP codes. They also lacked any historical data trends to understand the student’s potential and growth. That means a large swath of children around America are ignored because they aren’t in the right place at the right time, Chhipwadia said.
“There’s a tremendous amount of inequities and outdatedness in the process,” Chhipwadia said. “It resonated strongly with me. These are kids, they just need help.”
From those findings, Chhipwadia put his military planning skills to use and developed a playbook for students to follow. He officially launched Athlete Foundry in July this year. Through his platform, students are provided a development plan centered around three categories — athletics, academics and human — that will put them in the best position to become a college athlete, he said.
“Athletics” hones in on accomplishments in sports and the necessary NCAA or NAIA administrative paperwork that needs to be completed. “Academics” tracks a student’s performance in school and ensures they are academically ready for college. The “human” category rounds it all out, helping the student communicate their athletic story and determine their financial aid needs.
Our platform allows kids to communicate their current value and future potential to tell their story.”
Athlete Foundry offers both a free subscription and paid one for $25 a month. The free version includes just the development plan and the ability to add a few accomplishments. With the paid version, students can create a full profile and chart their accomplishments in each pillar over time. The app collates that information and displays their progress, providing milestone updates and trajectories along the way.
Students can then send their profile link to college coaches, who with parental approval can then follow the student on their journey. In accordance with NCAA rules, coaches cannot message or interact with the student’s profile, Chhipwadia said.
But the link does provide coaches with an opportunity to see the statistical trends of a student’s growth. For students who aren’t the number one athlete in the state or the next Michael Jordan, the app allows them to quantify both their growth and future potential to a coach.
“Our platform allows kids to communicate their current value and future potential to tell their story,” Chhipwadia said. “It says, ‘Coach, I’m committed, and I want you to follow my journey and look at the potential of what I can do for you.’”
In an effort to make his app more accessible, Chhipwadia spoke with low-income families in Houston to find an affordable price point. In the big picture of competitive youth sports, which can cost parents more than a thousand dollars for their son or daughter to compete, his app is more affordable than similar resources available. Eventually, he hopes to work with community leaders and groups on sponsored subscriptions.
While Chhipwadia’s dreams of becoming an astronaut are over, he hopes his platform can fix another antiquated system and empower students to take control of their own destiny.