CHARLOTTE -- Playing in the NFL is a gift Dontari Poe gets to unwrap for 16 weeks during the regular season. But, off the field, the 28-year-old defensive tackle is getting after something much bigger than a quarterback.
It all started with a trip to Silicon Valley back in 2014, and now, four years later, the two-time Pro Bowler can add "Forbes 30 under 30" list to his resume after being included in the sports category for 2019.
"It was pretty cool, actually. It’s always good to see yourself on any type of Forbes list; that means you’re doing something at a pretty high level," Poe said of the recognition. "But, at the same time, it’s humbling and it just makes me keep my head down and work harder."
On November 13, Poe, along with athletes such as Blake Griffin and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the NBA, Skylar Diggins-Smith of the WNBA and tennis player Madison Keys, earned a highly touted spot on the list.
Each category (Finance, Music, Science, etc.) had a unique set of judges that helped determine the finalists. Jeanie Buss, the co-owner and CEO of the Los Angeles Lakers; Martellus Bennett, a former NFL tight end and Class of 2017 Under 30 member; and billionaire businessman Thomas Tull, who is also part-owner of the Steelers, made up the Sports panel.
In addition to the community work he does through his foundation, Poe Man's Dream in his hometown of Memphis, Poe holds ownership stakes in three startups: DailyPay, an app that grants employees instant access to their wages; Lab Sensor Solutions, a device that helps transport blood samples between healthcare professionals; and Sutro, a company that makes smart sensors that monitor the chemical levels in swimming pools.
Poe credited his team of associates with helping him pick which projects to invest in. Given his thoughts on swimming, he likely didn't need much consulting for that decision.
"Oh I swim a lot. Me and my girl, we go on vacation every year, somewhere where there’s an ocean or something so I can’t be scared of water, all of them trips we’re taking to water," Poe said with a laugh, "I prefer it over a lot of other stuff in life."
Jokes aside, the importance of combining his success in sports and business is not lost on Poe. He said he feels better positioned to be an example as more than just an athlete.
"I think it’s big. 'Cause the tech community, it wasn’t football, it wasn’t something that I knew about growing up, so when I got into it, I just had to hit the ground running and suck in all the information I could get from people," Poe said. "When you go back to the community and to the kids who might not know nothing about it, as soon they hear about it, as soon as they dive into it, they’re like, ‘Oh this is what I want to do,’ and so that’s just giving them another avenue.
"I had something like football, their thing might not be football or sports, so it’s me just trying to give them another platform."
As a player who went from being a projected second-rounder to being taken 11th overall by the Chiefs in 2012, Poe knows about working hard to build an image from Square One. And, he acknowledged that while he's learned a lot, he has plenty of room to grow.
"I don’t think I’m even scratching the surface, to be honest. It’s a lot going on in these times. When I’m done with football, I’ll probably put a lot more time into it, but for now I’m just learning the ins and outs of it as I go."
Poe didn't specify on when he plans on hanging up his cleats, but he stressed how vital it is to have a Plan B upon retiring.
Center Ryan Kalil, who plans to retire at season's end, has been preparing for his transition the last couple years. The 33-year-old has a documented affinity for the film industry; he co-owns a production company with Griffin and has work with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Will Ferrell to his credit.
"I think that’s important in any scenario in any line of work. You do something for so long, once you get out of it, a lot of people feel lost," Poe said. "You just gotta figure out whatever your niche is, whatever you want to do, whatever it may be."
The always modest big man would never tell you he's an expert in the tech world. But, for anyone, athlete or not, who has their eyes on tackling this industry, Poe has some sound advice.
"The smallest thing in the tech world could mean a lot even if it’s not today. In 10 years, it could be the biggest thing out, so any questions you got make sure they all get answered," Poe shared. "It’s tech. It’s the way the world is moving, so it’s a lot of fun stuff going on with it."