Game Changer Former Area Athlete Puts Business Skills To Use On Behalf Of Company Developing Cancer-detecting Sports Bra
Mandy Antoniacci has been hitting it out of the park since her days as a record-setting softball player for the University of Scranton, where she retired with a .486 batting average, 16 home runs and 63 RBIs.
Now, the Moosic native and Riverside Junior-Senior High School graduate continues her knockout successes in the sports business and entrepreneurial fields.
She’s advised professional athletes from teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Cavaliers and L.A. Dodgers as they transition their careers from fields and courts to tech and business companies. She’s been published in Forbes, Business Insider and Yahoo Sports, and has been featured on ESPN Radio and industry podcasts.
But Ms. Antoniacci is winding up for her biggest pitch yet.
In addition to the myriad volunteer and mentor positions she holds, the New York City resident recently joined Cyrcadia Health as an advisory board member. In this role, she spearheads the momentum for an innovative new sports bra that researchers believe will help detect early-stage breast cancer.
It’s a meaningful project for Ms. Antoniacci, whose mother, aunt and great-aunt are survivors of the disease. The effort serves as a personal victory in the fight to protect woman’s health for Ms. Antoniacci, who endured her own benign lumpectomy at age 21.
“I feel so blessed and honored to be part of something like this,” she said during a recent phone interview. “It’s a unique opportunity for convergence of the professional and personal for me.
“Having the sports business and entrepreneurial acumen, it was a perfect marriage,” Ms. Antoniacci explained. “It’s something I’m so passionate about.”
The roots of her ambition can be traced back to her days growing up in the Greenwood section of Moosic with her parents, Mary Antoniacci and Frank Antoniacci, and older brothers Michael and Frank.
“I was always the token girl they’d let come in and kick the ball in our yard,” Ms. Antoniacci said. “It definitely influenced my passion.
“Especially being younger, you’re doing things to stand out, kick harder, run faster,” she added. “It induced a competitive spirit for sure.”
Ms. Antoniacci jumped into organized sports by age 4, finding a talent for tennis, basketball and especially softball, which earned her full scholarships. Despite offers from schools like Temple University, she opted to attend the U of S to continue a family alumni legacy.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in marketing with a minor in psychology, she worked at Sanofi Pasteur in Swiftwater, where she was in charge of launching products into global markets.
During her nine years with the company, Ms. Antoniacci developed public speaking skills and learned how to build, pitch, grow and advertise products. She proved a natural for the work, but felt a stirring to become an innovator herself.
“I always was a very creative person and knew I’d end up on the other side of the table one day,” she said. “I knew I’d be an entrepreneur some day. I’ve always been trying to create something from scratch.”
Eventually she transitioned to the advertising industry, advancing to executive vice president within two of the largest communication holding companies, Omnicon and Publicis. Ms. Antoniacci managed teams in 12 countries, working with US Open tennis, the Olympics and Hilton Worldwide.
She graduated from Babson College and Harvard Business School’s Graduate Leadership Program, and began doing advisory work for the startup community in the evenings, which led to many 18-hour days.
At one of her speaking events, Ms. Antoniacci made a fateful connection with the editor-in-chief of Inc. Magazine, who invited her to author a column for budding entrepreneurs. She chose to focus on sports business ideas, so the column — and eventually, a company she founded — were called ChangeUp, as a nod to her softball history.
“I use it as a business philosophy and lens to progress the game and make it better for future generations,” Ms. Antoniacci said.
This mission was inspired by her then-8-year-old nephew, Michael, who asked her how she was going to help people when she started her own company. It’s a principle she applies to each endeavor she touches, too.
Ms. Antoniacci was a founding member of University of Scranton Kania School of Management’s Marketing Professional Advisory Council, and periodically mentors a U of S intern.
“I wanted to make sure I give back to my roots,” Ms. Antoniacci said. “There’s a lot of female student athletes, but not (many) that are aware that they can apply their passion to a profession.
“There’s so many that can take those skills from the court and apply it to the sports business world,” she added. “I would love to change that and give them more exposure into that world.”
Ms. Antoniacci frequently guest lectures at colleges and universities, and serves on the board and leadership committee of Futures Without Violence, a nonprofit that develops anti-domestic and child abuse policies and often works with agencies like the NFL and MLB. She also teams up with the organization’s Coaching Boys Into Men youth program, which includes pro coaches Mike Krzyzewski, Pete Carroll and Joe Torre.
Of late, however, Ms. Antoniacci is most proud of her work in the fight against breast cancer. The Cyrcadia Health sports bra, which is still in clinical trials and development and is expected to enter foreign markets within a year, is a form of wearable technology, she explained.
When women have a malignancy, Ms. Antoniacci said, there is a measurable difference in body temperature and movement of the body tissue. The bra would detect these changes through a patch inserted into the material and alert the wearer and their doctor via Cloud-based technology. It is poised to be especially helpful to women with dense breast tissue, she noted.
The bra received the gold Edison Award for Wearables and Sensors in the Health and Wellness division for 2016. Earlier this year, it was presented to President Barack Obama by Dr. Larry Chu, a Stanford University researcher and executive director of the Medicine X program, which seeks collaborative and innovative healthcare efforts.
Back home, Ms. Antoniacci’s prized feedback from her family has been encouraging, too, especially among the women.
“I would call it ‘innovation awe,’” she said of their reactions to the product. “Being part of this is really powerful and special, considering our personal history.”
Ms. Antoniacci’s experience with her lumpectomy was traumatizing despite her kind doctors, she recalled. After years in competitive sports leagues, she never broke a bone, and was shocked to find herself under the knife for her lump, which doctors said was the size of two golf balls in her left breast.
“I always talk about the disease as so barbaric,” she said. “Women are cut, burned and poisoned through surgery and chemo to get rid of this disease. When I removed the bandages, I remember thinking I was deformed.
“I can’t fathom that with such advances, there isn’t something better in terms of treatment,” she added. “It was a terrible experience. This (sports bra) is focused on detection and will hopefully decrease the need for lumpectomies like mine.”
For the lifelong athlete, endurance and perseverance are part of the long game, and Ms. Antoniacci is ready to strike out into the world with seasoned experience and life lessons she believes can help and inspire others.
“One of the things I often write about and talk about is the power of sports to connect communities globally,” Ms. Antoniacci said. “Sports are a wonderful tool to shape cultures and social change.
“The sense of community I was raised with in a small town really helps me bring those principles into the business world,” she added. “And it’s also a way for me to do social good.”
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org, @pwildingTT on Twitter
Meet Mandy Antoniacci
At home: A native of the Greenwood section of Moosic, she now resides in Manhattan, New York’s Upper West Side. She is the daughter of Mary Antoniacci and Frank Antoniacci and has two brothers.
Education: She is a Riverside Junior-Senior High School graduate and earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing with a minor in psychology from University of Scranton. She also is a graduate of Babson College and Harvard Business School’s Graduate Leadership Program.
At work: She is a sports business analyst and columnist and founder of ChangeUp LLC. She has been published by Forbes, Huffington Post, Yahoo Sports and Business Insider, and has been featured on ESPN Radio and podcasts.
Hobbies: Running and half-marathons, yoga, pickup games of basketball and “can be found at anything with a scoreboard,” whether in Scranton to cheer on her nieces and nephews, or in New York City.
Online: To learn more about Ms. Antoniacci, visit www.mandy antoniacci.com, or follow her on Instagram and Twitter, @MandyAntoniacci.