Former Olympic Fencer Runs Business, Teaches Kids the Sport

By Candace Kelley

Robert Cottingham is taking calls and meetings at his Sabre88 offices in Newark. His IT and consulting company serves mostly government clients. It was the only business to make the 2014 Fortune Magazine Inner City 100 — a list of the fastest-growing companies located in inner cities throughout the U.S. For the Orange native, Newark was an easy choice to build his business, one that launched with the help of NJIT’s Enterprise Development Center.

“We’ve got the brainpower around here which is the students which we employ as well and I hop on the train and go to D.C. or New York City and it takes me no time at all. The Economic Development Center itself offers a lot of programs on funding,” Cottingham said.

Cottingham named the company after the fencing sabre, the weapon he used as a member of the 1988 and 1992 U.S. Olympic fencing teams.

“You get to see, for me, all these other athletes who were doing great things. To me that was one of the biggest things. To see Greg Louganis, Matt Biondi and I saw the first Dream Team,” he said.

Cottingham says that in running his business, he employs some of the same skills that he used as a Olympian fencer — and that it’s all about tactics and consistency.

“A lot of it is mental, just how you approach doing a sport and how you approach starting a business,” he said.

And that approach, he says, takes perseverance. He remained steadfast when it took a few years for his company to get its footing. But being a part of the Enterprise Development Center, he says, helped his company grow.

“What they offer here is regular monthly interactions with the entrepreneurs. There are entrepreneurs in residence,” he said.

And when he’s not here, he’s teaching fencing to a group of teens through the Peter Westbrook Foundation, named after the Newark native who made the Olympic fencing team six times.

“Everybody knows that’s where I am 9 to 12 every Saturday morning. I chair the board of directors. We have put about seven kids on the Olympic team after and a couple of kids have made the medal ceremony and they got silver medals in Beijing.”

And after the kids train, they can get help with their studies through the Westbrook organization’s tutoring and life skills program. It’s a legacy for Cottingham that he is very proud of because he knows those life skills and fencing skills will help them achieve their goals, the same way they helped him achieve his.