MakeAChamp’s profitable platform is propelling athletes

Maya Laylor needs $50,000 to be able to compete in the 2015 Pan American Games. She’s already received about $8,600, from the likes of NHL star P.K. Subban and many other contributors. Meanwhile TeamUp from Thunder Bay needs just $10,000 more in pledges to hit its $30,000 goal. The money will enable the cross country skiing team of ten athletes and three coaches to compete on the Canadian National Circuit and abroad.

These are just a few of the many athletes currently raising money through crowdfunding campaigns on MakeAChamp, a web startup located at Montreal’s Notman House. The platform helps athletes reach their dreams in various sports, like judo, weightlifting, cycling, ultramarathon, mixed martial arts and dozens more. It’s a sport-specific platform that attacks some of the shortcomings of other crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

The backstory involves two of the team’s founders in David Barkay and Michael Shpigelman, who both represented Canada on the international stage in Judo. They raised about $2,000 on Kickstarter a few years ago and realized a need for an athlete-catered platform in 2012.

For so many individual and team sports in Canada that aren’t in the televised spotlight,their lives are already dedicated to the sport through painstaking fundraising. However, there isn’t much support in the way of government funding.

“We aim to give every athlete an opportunity to become a champion and every supporter the choice to join and influence their champion’s journey,” reads the team’s website.

The team is doing quite well for itself two years after being founded. Marketing manager Heri Rakotomalala told MTLinTech that the startup may be one of the few in the city to hit the elusive “profitable” mark. In fact, MakeAChamp has profited in access of $1 million without taking any venture capital.

It’s now available for athletes to use in 20 countries and it’s available in 10 languages. In 2014 alone, over 12,000 people contributed over $1 million in pledges on MakeAChamp.

Athletes raising money in over 50 sports on MakeAChamp have successfully funded 42 percent of projects, which is about two percent less than the average across all projects on Kickstarter.

And we’re certainly not the first outlet to cover the startup: over 42 different tv shows and publications have featured MakeAChamp, including a memorable stop on CBC’s Dragons’ Den.

After helping propel six athletes to the Sochi Olympics in Russia, the team is now working towards providing 24/7 Customer support in English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Russian. Attacking the Brazilian and Russian markets are of particular focus for the team.

“MakeAChamp has the potential to truly revolutionize sports funding, by connecting supporters and athletes directly. I believe we are just at the beginning,” said Rakotomalala.

In Brazil many notable tech heavyweights including Netflix have struggled to establish a firm presence due to a number of government-implemented regulatory hoops. It’s a highly protected economy, said Rakotomalala, where all international transactions must go through the central bank. A simple Paypal transaction is easy to do in many western countries but it simply can’t be done in Brazil.

Thus, the team has hired a one member to localize its service offering to Brazilian athletes, especially as the worldwide push to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The platform has already enabled several successful Brazilian-based campaigns, mostly with translated content.

“But this is not enough,” said Claudia Backes, who’s responsible for MakeAChamp’s Brazilian footprint. “We have to localize and understand their needs, They’re different clients than in Canada. It’s not only just social media work in Portuguese but the experience with the platform is different too.”

Backes said the team is conducting market research and speaking with Brazilian athletes using the platform, not to mention working through the country’s financial regulations. They’re trying to make the platform tailor-made for Brazilians.

Russia is another targeted market, and the team hired Liuba Pukhalskaya to do the same for her home-country as Backes is doing.

For now MakeAChamp is dedicated to hiring two new programmers. As well, it’ll soon announce Brazil and Russian-specific platforms. Rakatomalala said they’ll be unveiling a new site with athlete pages, where athletes can gain followers, produce updates and more.

Sounds like 2015 will be a big year for MakeAChamp.


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