Well this should eliminate any remaining doubt that Silicon Valley is getting too big for its britches. Paul Bragiel, an internet entrepreneur, and co-founder of the startup accelerator i/o Ventures, has set out to pursue his childhood dream of becoming an Olympian athlete—even though he doesn't compete in any sports.
To get around that, er, minor hiccup, the venture capitalist is relying on his ambition and savvy—and the world's current affection for the entrepreneurial spirit—to game the system in order to qualify for the 2014 Winter Games.
First, Bragiel researched which sports had the most “more open” qualifications, i.e. the easiest teams to get on. After trying his hand at bobsled, luge, downhill skiing, and cross-country skiing, he decided to go with the last. He had zero background as a skier, explained the Hacker News poster that surfaced the story yesterday.
But even with its relatively loose qualifications, Bragiel realized scoring a place on the US Olympic team would be near-impossible. So he figured (perhaps because like the rest of us, he had watched and loved Cool Runnings) that he'd have a much better chance of qualifying for the team in a tropical country.
So Bragiel email blasted embassies and Olympic Committees in warm-climate countries with pleas for citizenship until one of them, Columbia, finally obliged. In August, he was granted citizenship in the Republic of Colombia via a decree from President Juan Manuel Santos.
Here again, the bizarre story shows the kind of celebrity status today's startup culture has around the world: On the Facebook page documenting his journey, Bragiel explained that he had a lot of help and support from Innpulsa, a government-sponsored program designed to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in Columbia.
In his new role as founding member of the Colombian cross-country ski team, Bragiel then had a year to get good enough at the sport to qualify for the Olympics in Solchi. It being summertime, he left his San Francisco apartment and moved to Finland, where he's now training hard in the Nordic mountains, and next month will start competing in qualification races. The VC's also immersing himself in the startup scene in Helsinki, "mentoring Finnish startups and speaking about entrepreneurship," reported ArcticStartup yesterday.
Bragiel's had a lot of success throughout his 15-year career in the tech industry. He founded and served as CEO of three companies before co-founding and becoming managing partner at i/o Venture. As ArcticStartup put it, he “is known for knowing everyone in Silicon Valley.” But an athlete? Not so much. So he’s training, and he’s doing it with all the publicity he can get.
Bragiel just released a YouTube trailer introducing his uphill journey toward Olympic qualification, and is inspiring an enthusiastic following, dubbed #TeamPaul. That following includes a camera crew, so we can certainly expect to see more videos in the months ahead. Who knows, maybe a documentary film when this is all said and done.
To the cynics, it smacks of a publicity stunt; a ripe example of the growing egotism and conspicuous privilege now pouring out of Silicon Valley. But by-and-large, his friends, fellow tech gurus, and even some Olympians are rallying behind Bragiel's quest. In social media comments, they say they’re inspired to see someone going after their dream—regardless of how unconventional the approach. Or maybe, because of it.