Connecting Egyptian athletes with US college teams
CAIRO | Ahmed Gabr
Fun fact: Young Egyptian athletes are now making the rounds at many US college sporting events, notably in squash, tennis and swimming. For example, in 2018, three out of six first-year students joining Harvard’s squash program came from Egypt.
“I don’t believe any college years could shape you into such a well-rounded, committed, and responsible graduate like those playing a sport in college in the US,” says Nada Zaher.
This former student-athlete is now the CEO of Pas-sport – an Egyptian company that connects young athletes with US coaches and facilitates their admission into US colleges as part of sports scholarship programmes.
Zaher, who grew up in Alexandria, played tennis competitively prior to securing a scholarship at Columbia University and moving to the US in 2012 to do her bachelor’s degree in political science.
“Being a college athlete in the US is very much respected when it comes to the workforce,” Zaher says.
She believes athletes are attractive hires because of their time management skills, commitment, competitiveness, hard-working disposition, discipline, and leadership traits.
“I actually got my IBM job through a former alum who was also on the tennis team,” she adds.
FULFILLING THE DREAM
In April 2018, after working for two years in the US as a product manager at IBM, Zaher decided to quit her job, move back to Egypt and work full-time on her dream company. The name she chose reflects the idea that “sport” can be used as a “passport” to opportunity.
By dedicating her time and money to the project, Zaher believes she is giving back to her community by enabling talented Egyptian athletes to pursue top-quality education.
“This college athletic path not only creates world-class Egyptian athletes but also helps create more well-rounded college graduates once they return to Egypt,” she explains.
Pas-sport works with highly competitive athletes playing squash, tennis, swimming and water polo, among others. The company focuses on those aged 14-19 getting ready for college placement. Services are offered by a small team of former college athletes and include athletic evaluation, resume assessment, compilation of college lists, as well as guidance throughout the process of communicating with coaches and preparing applications.
Last year, the company successfully placed 20 Egyptian athletes in sports scholarships in US colleges. Zaher describes the ideal candidate as someone who has a good balance of athletic ability, academic scores and a well-rounded personality.
“Athletically, the ideal candidate in an individual sport would be at least [among] the top 20 ranked players in Egypt,” she explains.
Where team sports are concerned, the company looks for athletes who compete in Egypt’s national teams.
Based on an agency business model, Pas-sport charges potential student-athletes a one-time service fee of between EGP 5,000 ($320) and EGP 15,000 ($960), depending on the athlete’s profile. Students or their guardians can then use the company’s platform to create a profile, explore potential college matches and benefit from hands-on assistance throughout the application process.
PAST CHALLENGES AND FUTURE ASPIRATIONS
However, the rise so far has not been a smooth one for Zaher.
“Once you start having users and try to gain traction in the market and sell investors on your business is when it gets really challenging,” she says.
Pas-sport struggled with getting customers to pay for the service from the get-go, which made the business less appealing to investors. Zaher attributes it to the fact that the concept is fairly new to the region, and the business model has not been previously verified.
As a result, she had to experiment with side projects to secure an inflow of cash for Pas-sport to stay in business. Her latest one, RKT, sells custom-made beach rackets in Alexandria during the summer.
Zaher’s vision for the future has the company becoming more sustainable by creating a community of alumni who can give back to the project by providing future athletes with guidance, recommendations and career opportunities besides just college placement. Yassin Tolba, a Pas-sport student-athlete who will be attending University of Maryland - Baltimore County on a swimming scholarship this autumn, elaborates on that vision by saying:
“I’m so happy I got Pas-sport’s guidance and support throughout this long and confusing process. I want to now even start working with Pas-sport so I can help more athletes the way [they] helped me.”