Matt Chatham has a flair for the unexpected. In 2004, while playing for the New England Patriots, he famously tackled a streaker during the Super Bowl. In the offseason that year, he interned at Esquire. Now, the former linebacker is launching SkyCrepers, a chain of fast-serve crepe shops with casual décor and grab-and-go fare. "We wanted to eliminate the froufrou elements of a typical crepe café," he says.

Chatham got the idea a few years ago after he and Erin, his wife and co-founder, saw a huge line of customers snaking out of a crepe shop in Colorado. In 2009, he retired from the NFL and entered Babson College's M.B.A. program. Chatham won the school's business-plan competition in April, receiving $40,000 worth of services and $20,000 in funding for SkyCrepers. He quickly plowed the prize money into his first location, in a mall in North Attleboro, Massachusetts.

Chatham, who invited several former Patriot teammates to the shop's grand opening this summer, plans to open several more locations in New England in the next year and eventually adopt a franchise model. He compares starting a business to football training camp. "It's a period of painful grinding," he says. "It's not easy, and that's why it's worthwhile."