Rise To The Top: Minority-Owned Business of the Year

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Rise To The Top: Minority-Owned Business of the Year

Sun, 08/02/2020 - 12:04pm -- tim

Photo: Rise To The Top provides coaching and mentoring for young student athletes. Courtesy photo.

by Joyce Marcel, Vermont Business Magazine Rise to the Top in South Burlington won the Small Business Administration's Vermont Minority-Owned Business of the Year. The company, founded and run by Jason Gordon, 37, provides coaching and mentoring for young student athletes. Gordon's wife, Kourtny, is vice president.

“My kids, Gabriella, who is 9, and Alexander, who is 13, are staff members as well,” Gordon said. “They help me train kids, host events, host special events with NBA players, host junior NBA programs. We've hosted countless numbers of coaches and players. We get paid from the parents. We have over 950 kids in the program right now.”

Rise to the Top does not contract with schools or institutions. Individual parents who hear of Gordon's work through word-of-mouth or Facebook register their kids for the programs.

Rise to the Top did not start out as a business.

“It started out as something for my son and his friends to do,” Gordon said. “It kept growing, and then I had to get insurance so we made a business out of it. Now its basketball, but it won't be a one-sport thing. It will be a one-stop shop for kids. My daughter is an avid dancer, so I guess we're going to have a dance studio. At the end of the day, it's beyond the sport or activity. It's about the motivation.”

Gordon is a busy man. When he's not running Rise to the Top he's on active duty as a master sergeant in the Vermont National Guard.

Gordon is originally from the Bronx. His parents were immigrants from Jamaica, and his single-parent mother had to work three jobs to support her family in a rough neighborhood. Sports got him through the tough times.

“When I was younger it didn't matter what was going on in the neighborhood, you played sports and were able to make friends with all kinds of people,” Gordon said. “For me, that was where I flourished. I played football and basketball. I did fencing. If it was a sport, I loved it. I loved the competitive edge. I'm trying to bring the best out of people. The main purpose of my business is to provide hope and motivation. I run leagues and all kinds of stuff, but at the end of the day I try to provide the kids with the skill set that will help them for life.”

Photo: Rise To The Top provides coaching and mentoring for young student athletes. Courtesy photo.

Gordon fell in love with Vermont when he attended Norwich University. After graduating, he became a police officer in Austin, TX. But he and Kourtny decided it would be better to raise their children in Vermont.

By 2013, Gordon had decided that some rural Vermont towns were deficient in offering recreational opportunities for school kids.

“Nothing against parents coaching and so forth, but I felt that some of the most prime time in a kids life is between those elementary and high school years,” Gordon said. “I feel mentorship and motivation are imperative. Having worked in law enforcement, I saw how without that mentorship, without the father figures, without the teachers and coaches that really cared, it hurts the kids.”

Gordon's yearning to coach created a successful business. This year, with the COVID-19 virus shutting down his clinics and events, he still expects to show about $80,000 in revenue. As a part-time gig, he said, “that's not too shabby.”

The virus has not deterred him.

“The pandemic happened and we went virtual,” Gordon said. “I'm creating on-demand stuff for the kids.”

Rise to the Top is a passion project for Gordon and his family.

“I have always wanted to coach all different kids from all walks of life,” he said. “I want to be there just there to motivate and create a space where they can enjoy themselves, like people did for me. It's a living, breathing thing that I think about all the time. I tell the kids, 'I have no problem with you aiming too high, but go as high as you possibly can. Then, if you miss and fall short, if you aim for the stars and fall on the moon, that's not a bad landing.”