The Daniels online MBA program gave Gia Fruscione-Loizides the push to create a startup

Princeton soccer players sign autographs for girls involved with the Let Her Play nonprofit. (Photo courtesy of Gia Fruscione-Loizides)

It started with a self-reflection paper in her Leading With Integrity course, a response to adjunct professor Cathy Milkey’s existential prompt: What do you want to do with your life?

Gia Fruscione-Loizides already had plenty on her resume. The first-generation college grad had a doctorate in physical therapy and 14 years of work experience in orthopedics and sports performance.

Before that, she was a standout, two-sport college athlete at Princeton, playing field hockey and ice hockey. But as she entered the workforce and progressed through her career, she grew to realize that the benefits of sports last long after the final whistle.

“[They’re] the soft skills we take away from participation—things like communication, collaboration and community,” said Fruscione-Loizides, who will graduate from the Daniels College of BusinessOnline MBA program this fall. “A lot of the pieces of the puzzle that you can take away from participating in athletics, in my mind, you have trouble learning any other way.”

Maybe that’s why research shows that former athletes make 7% more money than non-athletes, But that same correlation between exposure to athletics and career success also worried Fruscione-Loizides. Additional research from the Aspen Institute shows only one-third of girls between ages 6-12 are playing sports, and, by age 14, they are dropping out at a faster rate than boys do.

As her two daughters began to experiment with their own athletic activities, Fruscione-Loizides began noodling on an idea to increase interest, participation and engagement for young girls playing sports. The nonprofit startup she envisioned, she figured, was a couple years away.

Until that essay prompt.

“When I said what I wanted to do with my life, I basically said, ‘When I make millions, this is what I want to do.’” Fruscione-Loizides said. “And my professor’s response to that was, ‘You don’t have to wait to make your millions.’”

In February 2022, Fruscione-Loizides created Let Her Play, an organization designed to get girls excited about athletics—and give their coaches and communities the resources to support them. Its approach is multifaceted, with tactics that include:

  • Sharing print, social media and webinar content with communities on the value of sports
  • Offering grant funding to schools, rec centers, YMCAs and other nonprofits so they can offset the costs of programming for girls who could not otherwise afford to participate
  • Partnering with colleges and universities to bring girls to collegiate sporting events, allowing them to talk directly with players after the game
  • Providing online content for coaches to instruct their players on soft skills, known as Let Her Play’s 10 Core Values of Sport:
    • Character
    • Courage
    • Confidence
    • Centeredness
    • Contribution
    • Communication
    • Collaboration
    • Competition
    • Community
    • Commitment

Gia Fruscione-Loizides stands in front of a Let Her Play table.

“We’re just wanting to create a better local community around women’s athletics and create excitement and engagement for these girls,” Fruscione-Loizides said, “just try to get them and keep them playing.”

The keys, Fruscione-Loizides said, are promoting more recreational, non-competitive opportunities, discouraging specialization in a single sport and engaging more women to serve as coaches.

Fruscione-Loizides hadn’t come to the online MBA@Denver program looking for business acumen or career advancement. She merely wanted to better herself and continue learning, aided by the program’s flexible schedule, cohort model, synchronous options and opportunities for in-person Sprint classes. The “kick in the pants” to get Let Her Play off the ground has simply been a bonus.

Moving from her first iteration of Let Her Play to a scaled model is going to take more time, more funding and a lot more work. But Fruscione-Loizides says she’s inspired to put in the hours.

“It’s fun,” she said. “Every day I get up and this gets me going because I know there are so many people out there who believe in the idea, believe in me and just want help.”

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