[Funding alert] Sports-focused startup Sporjo raises $2M in pre-Series A funding; Leander Paes joins the board

Sporjo aims to become a one-stop destination to help people build a successful career in the sports industry. The startup has raised a $2 million pre-Series A funding round, and tennis champ Leander Paes has come on board as a strategic advisor and brand ambassador.
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Sporjo, an online education, training, and employability company focused on sports, today announced that it has raised $2 million in a pre-Series A round led by private investor Punit Balan, Chairman, Punit Balan Group and Punit Balan Studios, in participation with other private investors. 

The funding will be used to expand its product offerings, improve the product experience, scale its team, and drive expansion pan-India and in key overseas markets. 

Sporjo was founded in 2020 by G Srinivvasan, a sports industry veteran with more than 20 years of experience, to create an ecosystem of over half a million professionals in the sports industry by 2030. 

Srinivvasan said in a conversation with YourStory, “I realised that there is a massive gap between candidates and employers in the segment. Employers are overwhelmed by the number of applications, but candidates don’t have the right experience. They are passionate about sports and want it to be their profession, but they haven’t been able to hone the right skill sets.”

G Srinivvasan

On why they invested in Sporjo, Punit Balan told YourStory, “Our group has always been supporting sports, directly or indirectly, whether it is buying a franchise, a tennis premier league, premier badminton league, or supporting cricketers playing for the state and aspiring to play for the country. So when Leander (Paes) got us this proposal and met Srini, there was a common connect to better sports professions in India.” 

Why build Sporjo?

Srinivvasan explained that most of us have been discouraged to follow sports as a profession and Sporjo also intends to transform that. 

He has worked for the likes of ESPN, Nike, BCCI, and Reliance where he set up the Indian Super League, and worked on all of Reliance’s sporting properties. 

Punit Balan

“Having worked with a broadcaster, global brand, one of the best federations in the world, and even setting up a league in India, I saw this gap needed to be solved,” he said. 

He added that his personal journey showed him that there was no proper place to hone sporting career talent. 

“When I realised that even after 20 years there is nothing, I thought it was a good time to make people aware that sports isn’t just a hobby or an interest, but a serious career option. The idea is to show them a meritocratic path to enter the sports industry and help employers find the right candidates for the right job,” he said. 

What does it do? 

The Sporjo team works with colleges, schools, and top colleges such as IITs and IIMs across India to build awareness of sports as a career option, hobby, and interest. 

Srinivvasan said work needs to be done from the grassroot level to make this possible. 

“We have reached out to over 10,000 students in these institutes. Our philosophy is ‘Sporjo for life’, which means that no matter the stage of your life, Sporjo has something to translate into a career in the sports industry,” he said. 

The startup will offer learning products that it will launch for schools and colleges. Working professionals will be coached with customised modules to find a pathway into a sports job where they are most likely to succeed. 

Working with Leander Paes 

Leander Paesis a key part of this journey as a strategic advisor and board member. 

The tennis champ told YourStory that it was important for him to focus on building a community while transitioning from a professional tennis career into the world of business. 

“Everything I do is about making a difference in the community. G Srini was someone my father introduced to me several years ago. I’ve been following him for several years, and he has managed me for a bit as well. I look at the person, the dream, and their ethics; if I believe in those, I put in my brand, name, and efforts behind that person. Srini has been a mentor and a guide, and Sporjo was a natural fit. It deals with sports and sports jobs. I can make a difference by educating parents on how sports jobs can be created,” he said.  

Leander Paes

Leander said it is vital to have skilled professional teachers, adding that Sporjo not only creates sports jobs but also evaluates candidates to ensure the right fit. 

“We evaluate them in-house, we have questions they answer, and interviews to understand their strengths and weakness. We then discuss which line of business is the best match for their skillset. This also helps identify which kind of company they're perfect for. I see Sporjo as a 360-degree sports jobs company,” Leander said. 

Change at the grassroots 

Leander said it is important to change the ecosystem “right from the grassroots”, recalling that during his school time there was hardly any training to build sporting champions. 

“I have been lucky to have been born into a family of great sporting heritage. My father played hockey, my mother played basketball, and we had over 60 years of sports medicine in the family. I am designing a portal to redesign sports education in the country. I would like to take it school by school, to make Indians a healthier race. It isn’t just about tennis, cricket, or hockey. Sports fitness is physical, mental, and emotional fitness. The ecosystem needs to be built from the scratch.” 

Leander added it is important to teach these lessons to a larger community. 

Punit agreed, stating that sports education in India needs a complete overhaul on a national scale, including infrastructure and teaching of physical and mental endurance. 

And this is where Sporjo wants to make a difference. 

According to ResearchandMarkets, the Indian sports and fitness goods market reached a value of $3.621 billion in 2017. The market value is projected to reach $6.054 billion by 2024, growing at a CAGR of 9 percent during 2019-2024. Other players in the space include Run Adam, Sport’Light, and others. 

However, Sporjo is focused on creating the right sporting jobs. 

Punit said there is immense talent for different kinds of sports across India. He added that the pandemic has impacted the sports industry, but it will be a “temporary phase”. 

“People will come in to see matches, and now with India winning gold, silver, and bronze medals at the Olympics, the important question is how do we break mindset barriers. We want to promote all games and sports, and this needs great training facilities, sessions with the parents, and much more. Sporjo is breaking those barriers,” Punit said. 

Edited by Teja Lele Desai and Megha Reddy

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