Due to her determination, a female tennis player Nada Zaher had the opportunity to pursue her sport – and her studies – on a scholarship at Columbia University in the United States (US), now she is extending the opportunity to others through her tech startup, Passport.
“I grew up playing tennis competitively in Egypt, and was always ranked in the top eight. When I came to apply to college, I knew I wanted to continue playing tennis competitively. I reached out to many college tennis coaches, until I was lucky enough to get interest from Columbia University,” she told Disrupt Africa.
Zaher played on the Columbia varsity tennis team for four years, and also got her degree.
“I experienced the full college athlete experience, and was very impressed by it. That is really what stirred me to want to start pas-sport, and help more athletes in Egypt and the region get the amazing college athlete experience I had,” she said.
Zaher’s startup pas-sport helps young athletes access sports scholarships at American universities, preparing them and helping them navigate the recruitment process on one convenient platform. Athletes sign up and upload the required academic and sporting information, and are able to connect with registered college coaches.
“Think of us as LinkedIn for college athletics,” Zaher said.
“I started proving the need for a service like pas-sport in Egypt from May 2018, by personally scouting top athletes and helping them with the recruitment process offline. Once I realised the demand was high, and figured out the process completely, I decided to automate the process online so I can quickly scale it into a business.”
Work began on the product in September. The startup was admitted into the Falak accelerator programme in November, giving it the funding needed to launch in January. Since then it has grown its team and focused on user acquisition. Zaher said it had been well-received since.
There is obviously a high demand for the service, so everyone has been trying to use it. Coaches in the US are slowly becoming more aware of it and realising the talent available in the region and referring each other to our platform. Between our offline phase and recent online launch, we have managed to get 14 athletes to secure full scholarships,” she said.
“We have over 180 universities signed up, and over 380 athletes onboarded. We have partnered with five private schools in Egypt and established six key partnerships with sporting clubs, education consultancies, and other scholarship services.”
So far so good, and with only a small amount of seed funding in the bank so far. Zaher believes pas-sport has been such an immediate success because of the urgent need it is fulfilling, with athletes unaware of opportunities to play college sports and thus not taking advantage of them, meaning they end up either stopping sport or neglecting their studies.
“Young athletes in the Middle East and Africa are unaware of how helpful their sport can be in providing them with a sports scholarship to attend colleges in the US, and do not know how to start the recruiting process,” she said.
“So many athletes seem to settle for less when it comes to education, level of competitiveness and the opportunity to compete and study in the US. College coaches in the US also do not have access to athletes from this region, so they end up missing out on scouting a lot of potential talent.”
So far, pas-sport is only active in Egypt, but Zaher said it has international expansion plans, most immediately to the Middle East, and then into Africa. A freemium service at present, monetisation is also on the agenda. An official launch, with pricing, will take place soon.
“Once we launch with pricing, we will offer freemium, premium, and the ability to purchase add-ons. There will also be an additional success fee charged to the athlete if a scholarship or acceptance into college is received through pas-sport,” Zaher said.