Start-up Spotlight

Q&A: ‘Block & Tackle’ on helping student athletes with the ‘Rise & Grind’

By Asia Sherman

- Last updated on GMT

© skynesher / Getty Images
© skynesher / Getty Images

Related tags kids supplement student athletes cognitive performance

In 2022, two dads came together to build a supplement company that helps student athletes get through busy days of early wake-ups, school, sports practice and homework.

Matt Botzum, a land acquisition manager in Raleigh, NC, met nutraceutical industry veteran Nick Pupa while coaching their sons in little league baseball. Both ex-Division 1 athletes, they discovered a shared interest in nutrition and fitness. Soon after, Block & Tackle Nutrition was born, and pre-order sales for its flagship product Rise & Grind kicked off in October 2023.

This first formula is designed to provide student athletes with the nutrients needed to bear the cognitive load and maximize focus, learning and reaction in the classroom and on the field. Additional products in the pipeline include sleep support, workout formulas and general wellness supplements to help fill the void in the standard American diet. 

Here, Botzum and Pupa discuss what went into building a brand that tackles the fundamentals of a healthy lifestyle to give busy kids that extra boost to get up and overcome the daily grind. 

NIU: What inspired you to launch Block & Tackle? 

MB: Our kids inspired us to launch Block & Tackle. We love coaching them and teaching them how to eat and exercise, so naturally building a supplement company for them is a really special opportunity.   

When I first had the idea of a nootropic for pre-teen and teenage kids, I was frustrated with my son's breakfast routine. He wasn't eating much, and if he did eat, it wasn't anything nutritious. Additionally, when I'd encourage him to take vitamins, he wasn't excited about taking the same gummy vitamins that his kindergarten-aged sister was taking. I saw how attracted he was to Prime and other popular products and didn't see a supplement company that had a relatable message, good branding, good ingredients and education. We saw an opportunity to create something special for these kids—a company that provides nutritional education and premium nutritional supplements.  

NIU: What went into building the brand? 

Nick Pupa and Matt Botzum
Block & Tackle Founders Nick Pupa (left) and Matt Botzum (right) © Block & Tackle Nutrition

MB: We decided to name the company Block & Tackle Nutrition because much like blocking and tackling are to football, nutrition is the unglamorous fundamental and necessary aspect of a healthy lifestyle. It's usually the most overlooked and easily neglected. And much like the block and tackle mechanical tool, we seek to provide leverage in the form of supplementation and education.   

As an assistant football coach at a local high school, I was able to pitch the brand and products to my players.  We were also able to deliver some samples and get flavor profile feedback. Hearing from players and parents before the launch was a big advantage.   

While NIL deals aren't available yet for high school students in North Carolina, the time is coming, and we're looking forward to being able to partner and support high school athletes.  Having brand ambassadors is going to play a large part in our branding strategy.   

NP:  We are completely bootstrapped.  We offered a pre-order opportunity and have just finished the first round of manufacturing our product. The products in "Rise and Grind" are well-researched. On our website, we have links to multiple peer-reviewed journal articles supporting the claims for each ingredient. Additionally, we worked closely with nutraceutical industry PhDs to sign off on our formula.  

NIU: What ingredients are in your first product Rise & Grind?  How were these ingredients selected? 

NP: We sought ingredients with a proven track record of improving cognitive performance and were safe for younger consumers. These include Neumentix, phosphatidylserine, lutein, L-tyrosine, L-glutamine and vitamins B12 and B6.

Having worked in the industry for well over a decade, we were able to take advantage of my well-established relationships—not something many start-up nutrition companies can do.  We were able to harness those relationships to take advantage of some newer products to market like Neumentix. We believe in this product and the research that supports its claims. 

NIU: What science backs the product and its synergistic effects? How were the doses selected? 

Rise & Grind
Block & Tackle's first product to market is nootropic Rise & Grind to help student athletes bear the cognitive load of a busy schedule © Block & Tackle Nutrition

MB:  We chose Neumentix and FloraGLO Lutein because of the amount of research done to support both products. The studies on Neumentix have shown a 15% improvement in the quality of working memory performance and a 9% improvement in spatial working memory.  Kemin has been one of our loudest cheerleaders—they really believe in our brand and message.    

Phosphatidylserine, L-tyrosine and L-glutamine have volumes of studies that have shown improvement in cognitive performance and overall brain health and function.   

NIU: Who is your target consumer? 

MB: Our target consumer is anyone who is a high-aspirational individual from middle school to college, who wants to achieve their greatest potential. A lot of our social media content is directed at high school and college students, but we also have a lot of interested parents. We handle a lot of questions from interested moms.   

Why do student athletes need a cognitive supplement? 1) For mental recruitment during the school day; 2) screen time and 3) reaction time  

NP: The Standard American Diet leaves much to be desired, and it's hard to avoid. We wanted to provide something easy to consume that provides an immediate and significant impact on a student athlete's day. These student-athletes have a long day—from class starting at 8 a.m. to practice ending at 6 p.m. (or later). And most likely, they aren't property nourished during the day. We are seeking to provide a solution to that fill that void in their diet through supplementation.    

NIU: How has Rise & Grind been received to date? What feedback? 

MB: The feedback has been great. Busy parents know the grind of their kid's day—early mornings off to school, homework, practice after school, squeezing in dinner and more homework—they know the diet their kids consume needs supplementation. While we've only been directly marketing our product to a small, local group of people, we've received a lot of interest from college athletes nationwide via Instagram.   

NIU: What are your views of the growth potential and needs within the kids supplement category? 

NP: There needs to be tasty and efficacious supplementation for students and student-athletes of any age. Their days are TOUGH. Most of the nutritional supplements on the market today target younger kids. We really see a lot of potential in the 10- to 22-year-old student and student-athlete demographic. Nootropics are relatively new to a lot of people but we're going to see it become a part of many high-achieving, student-athletes daily routine.   

NIU: What are your plans for marketing Block & Tackle?

MB: Initially, we plan on going straight to consumers via We will quickly move to working with affiliate gyms, coaches and athletes to help spread the word. Our affiliate partnerships will play a significant role in our success. We also plan on working with travel, high school and college programs one-on-one. Education is a huge part of our mission and having these deep-rooted relationships is critical to our long-term success.   

NIU: Do you have other products in the pipeline? What are your long-term plans for Block and Tackle? 

NP: Yes! We will introduce an evening formula, a post-workout creatine formula, a non-stim pre-workout formula and general wellness supplements in the next 12 to 24 months. Our long-term plan is to build our business one customer at a time. We strongly believe in the purpose of providing efficacious and clean supplements for our children and their peers in the market. 

NIU: What advice would you offer other startups in the dietary supplement space? ​ 

NP: Find a niche that is underserved and that you believe in working to provide the best products possible. We received some great advice early on, "Be very specific on your first target audience. Only market your product to football players. Expand after that." Find partners who believe in your business goals and are willing to support and guide you along the way. Your network is your sounding board and guiding light. Reach out to it, listen to it and leverage its combined strength.  

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