Growing up, Drew Knapp was a monkey. At age 17 he saw the television program American Ninja Warrior, in which competitors race to complete an obstacle course. “I could do that,” he said and built an obstacle course in his backyard with his brothers.
In high school, Drew competed in gymnastics and also coached the sport. He entered UW-La Crosse and, by his sophomore year, had the seeds of the idea for his business. Drew competed on American Ninja Warrior for three seasons. Traveling for the show exposed him to the new “ninja gyms” popping up around the U.S. He worked on his concept: “a safe, controlled environment to have fun, where we can constantly change things up, to keep it fresh,” Drew said. He hurried to complete a degree in Kinesiology so that he could start working and saving to invest in his business.
Today, Warrior Jungle is a gym full of “crazy obstacles that make fitness fun,” Drew said. He offers classes for young people and adults, and also a venue for parties and group events. All fitness levels are welcome. “Our adult classes are awesome—such an encouraging group to the newcomers. They tell me they look forward all week to coming to ninja practice.”
Family, SBDC helped Drew execute his vision
Drew’s biggest concern was how to self-fund his business. “I didn’t want outside investors, because I didn’t want to lose control,” Drew said. At the same time, his parents were preparing to open Battle House GB and were already working with Wisconsin’s Small Business Development Center at UW-Green Bay (see related story). They introduced Drew to consultant Dave Stauffacher. Dave helped Drew write a business plan for Warrior Jungle, prepare to seek funding, and plan for his business launch.
Dave helped the parents secure construction funding for a building to house both businesses. Dave said, “Drew needed capital primarily for equipment, but the overall valuation a bank would give to a business like Warrior Jungle was quite minimal.” Drew invested $100,000 from his savings and joined with his parents to create an opportunity for lenders to finance both businesses as a package. “Drew had some notoriety from his American Ninja Warrior appearances,” Dave recalled, “and that intrigued people,” including potential lenders.
Accomplishments with the SBDC of UW-Green Bay:
- Business planning
- Securing financing
- Consulting to launch strategy
Guerilla marketing for a business launch
As opening day approached, Drew said, “There was a lot I didn’t know. Dave was a huge help! I was really fortunate to work with him.” Dave helped Drew visualize what would need to take place, week by week: purchasing equipment, building the various obstacles, and developing the branding for the business. Dave said, “Drew was very mature for his age.” At twenty-something, “He has the focus, the acumen—he’s an adept business person.
Construction delays complicated the timing. “We had to focus on what we could control,” Drew said. Designing the obstacles was “the most fun part,” he admitted. “Actually, that was a big pull to do this business.”
While working through his launch plan, Drew conducted a “whisper” marketing campaign. Drew promoted the business on social media, met with schools and businesses, and held viewing parties for the episodes of America Ninja Warrior in which he competed. Dave said, “Drew built that crescendo, piece by piece.”
Warrior Jungle opened in March, 2018. By summer, Drew had three employees. His focus now is on creating more awareness. “We’re doing well, but we can grow from here.”