Dejon Brissett, ’19, started every day this summer at the gym for a 6 a.m. workout.

“I want to be more than an athlete, I want to be a well-rounded person,” Brissett said.

Brissett is wide receiver for the Richmond Spiders, and has dedicated his past two years on campus to the team. But in the spring of 2018, he had a realization.

“On the first day of class, one of my professors asked everyone in the room what they did this summer. Everyone else was listing internships, and I said I was playing football. So, I felt like I hadn’t been doing enough,” Brissett said.

Brissett quickly set out to find an internship for the following summer. He knew he was interested in entrepreneurship, but hadn’t found a way to get his foot in the door. He reached out to Laura Thompson, assistant dean of undergraduate services, and Adam Marquardt, associate professor of marketing, who connected him with Jonathan Mayo, a serial entrepreneur working on multiple new ventures at Startup Virginia.

“The first time I met Dejon I was very impressed,” Mayo said. “I could tell he had excellent communication and interpersonal skills, as well as strong desire to learn. He wanted to soak up as much as he could and expressed his interest in being an entrepreneur.”

Brissett landed an internship with Mayo, working closely with him on three projects: Serving Up Change, Excel to Excellence, and Crow Cookies.

“I wanted to give Dejon a wide range of experiences this summer so he could learn a lot across different disciplines in business,” Mayo said.

Brissett helped develop marketing strategies that target college students for Serving Up Change, followed up with donors after a major event for Excel to Excellence, and followed Crow Cookies through the process of development to launch by assisting with strategy and logistics throughout the process.

“I’ve always had ideas and inventions, I’m very entrepreneurial,” Brissett said. “It was a cool experience to see these different projects, and learn how he takes them to the next level.”

But it wasn’t easy for Brissett. He says he leaned heavily on what he learned in his marketing classes to help formulate the business strategies.

“There were real life applications for what I was learning in the classroom, so I felt more accomplished throughout the summer being able to use them,” Brissett said. 

Unlike other interns, Brissett had one more challenging factor for the summer: keeping up with his demanding workout schedule for football.

“I would be tired from my workouts, but I went straight to the office anyway,” Brissett said. 

But Mayo knew the demands of a college athlete all too well, as he played football during his time at Virginia Military Institute. 

“One reason that I accepted him was that I knew he understood hard work and wasn’t afraid of it,” Mayo said. “Anyone that has excelled at his level on the field and in the classroom has proven that he has the work ethic to thrive in an internship.”

Brissett said his parents inspire that commitment to academics, as they both pursued degrees while raising three kids.

“My mom had me at 18, and my parents weren’t together, but they both went back to school when I was in middle school,” Brissett said. “It just shows how driven they are. Two young people trying to raise three kids. I guess it’s genetics, but you follow what you see, and my parents are very driven.”

At one point in his childhood, his family didn’t have a car, so his mom would walk with him to practice. 

“I don’t know how she did it, I don’t know how they did it, but they were so keen on making us feel like we were comfortable, that we were. That drive rubbed off on me,” Brissett said.

That ambition shows on the field, as in 2017 Brissett was named to the All-CAA First Team, had the team-leading and career-high of 63 receptions, ran a total of 896 yards, and scored seven touchdowns for the Spiders. He believes commitment to academics, and athletics, gives him the best chance to succeed.

“I’m not one to make sure I get by in school so I can play on the field, I want those to be two separate things where they don’t affect each other. You can’t just be passionate on Saturday afternoons, or just in the classroom, it’s a constant, year-round process to which I commit.”

Brissett’s collaboration with Mayo paid off, as the most recent project, Crow Cookies, launches this fall. You can find out more about the startup here