BU graduate Stuart Thornton is setting out to change the way that athletes connect with their fans through the launch of a new, online membership club platform.

Stuart, who graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Business Decision Analysis, Business & Management Studies in 1998, has recently stepped back into the start-up space with the launch of heros.xyz – described as the Patreon of the sports world.

The platform takes the fan club concept online to directly connect athletes and their fans in a way that’s mutually beneficial. Through heros, athletes share exclusive news and content and chat with their fans, while fans support their heroes’ career trajectories through a paid membership subscription model. The platform is designed to support all athletes – regardless of their sport, career stage or country – from grassroots sportspeople who might otherwise struggle to attract funding at an early stage in their careers, to more established sports professionals and superstars and even ‘legends’ who are motivated to give back and gain inspiration from their real fans.

Stuart said: “The idea for heros came as I kept meeting people with incredible sporting talent, but who had struggled to make the most of their career potential because of issues around funding. All athletes need or want to earn money. A rising star needs money to be able to invest their time in training and competing, but in the early stages they don’t have commercial value that appeals to big brands. At the same time, I recognised that the fan club model had been around forever but was typically operated through a ‘middleman’, and with the emergence of other paid-for content sharing platforms there was an opportunity to bring these two elements together.

“Our mission is to enable all athletes to earn, maximise their value and take control of their career. heros acts as an enabling platform for the athletes to be discovered and offer access, engagement and rewards in return for a subscription from their fans to their heros club.”

Since launching heros, the platform has attracted sporting legends including former cricketer Matt Prior and former Manchester United player Dwight Yorke. With the first phase now live, more athletes and fans are coming online each week.

Looking back on his decision to study at BU in the 1990s, Stuart recalls being attracted by the modern facilities and welcoming campus environment. And, having come from Southend, the seaside town felt familiar while offering the “away from home” experience. He said: “I chose the course because I wanted to keep my future career options open. As it turned out, the course content was a great fit with the emergence of the internet and my dissertation involved talking to SMEs about their internet strategies.

“From here, I joined graduate schemes with Heinz and Worldcom, which took me into telco and enabled me to work outside of the UK; first in Europe and then in Australia. After a few years I moved to Singapore with a start-up company and have lived there ever since. I moved out of telco and into Fintech and online payments, which included leading the growth of Worldpay in the Asia region. More recently I’ve built and exited my own start-up and, after a year of consultancy and advisory work, I find myself on the start-up pathway again with heros. I love the hustle, passion and opportunities of building businesses and now get to combine that with my love of sport.”