Whilst pursuing his dream of becoming a professional footballer in the US, Tyrelle McLeod-Bentley, from New Cross in South East London, became frustrated by the poor service and lack of care given by the football agency he’d used to help him secure a soccer scholarship at an American university.
He met Junior Osei Tutu – also from London – during their scholarship together at West Virginia Tech University, and the pair quickly formed a close bond, hatching a plan to create their own football agency – one that would really help to guide aspiring UK footballers and put young athletes back in charge of their own futures.
The duo started Soccer Assist with an investment of just £200 and, thanks to extraordinarily high demand for their services, they were forced to launch their football agency business three months ahead of schedule, in January 2015.
Last year, Soccer Assist turned over £70,000, and the venture is on track to achieve close to £150,000 in 2017. McLeod-Bentley and Osei Tutu now have more than 100 clients, and aim to be placing over 70 young athletes into US soccer scholarships in August next year.
Business Advice spoke to the co-founders after they’d just brought on two full-time staff members to help with their growing brand.
(1) Who are you and what’s your business?
We’re Tyrelle McLeod-Bentley and Junior Osei-Tutu, co-founders of Soccer Assist, a UK-based sports agency that focuses on finding and placing talented athletes from around the world into US universities on scholarships.
We met each other whilst studying on sports scholarships ourselves in West Virginia, and were unimpressed by the lack of support we received from other agencies, prompting us to create and deliver a better service.
(2) How long have you been around for?
We have been around for just over two years and within that time have managed to work with athletes from all continents around the world and have over 100 players on our books.
(3) How do you make money?
Athletes pay us a fee to prepare and market them to the U.S universities and negotiate scholarships on their behalf.
Typically, we manage to negotiate scholarships between 65-100 per cent, that can result in savings of over $30,000 to study in some of the best locations throughout the U.S!
(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?
Our football agency is entirely player focused, and is delivered via our three-step process:
- Preparation – Our athletes have access to a 4-week training camp prior to departing to the U.S
- Placement – We get athletes placed at some of the best universities within their budgets
- Support – You receive full support during your university career. In addition to that, we have plans to roll out a series of innovative solutions that will spring board us to the global forefront of the student-athlete experience.
(5) What was key in terms of getting started?
For us it was all about just about getting out there and making things happen. We started with a £200 investment in a dorm room in West Virginia, so we had to be fearless in our approach as we had nothing to lose.
During the early stages of the business, Junior was still finishing off his degree in the US, so we used to work in rotation to ensure the football agency still moved forward. Even until today, we have the task list we worked off in order to get the ball rolling.
(6) What have been some of the challenges launching a business like yours in South East London?
The three biggest challenges we faced was our age, resources, and experience. In the early stages, we did a lot of cold calling to get face to face visits with football clubs and academic institutions and once we got in front of them, the majority did not want to trust us with their students’ future, because of our age.
Trying to launch a service on a shoe string budget teaches you to be extremely resourceful as we were adamant it could be a success without early stage investment. Thirdly, it took a lot of failing on the go and tough love lessons to build up the level of experience we currently have.
(7) What’s your biggest achievement to date?
It would have to be sending out our first intake of players to the US. We are in the business of changing lives so each year when we work with an athlete and see them grow and be a part of their journey makes all of the challenges and late nights worth it.
(8) What setbacks have you had along the way?
We have had university deals fall through at the last minute, just as the athlete is getting ready to sign but that is part and parcel in the area we operate in.
Other setbacks have been promising athletes that were offered full scholarships from top universities but did not deliver once they got over to the US – again, something that comes with the territory and ultimately ends up coming back to us.
(9) In five years’ time, we will be…
Operating as The Student-Athlete Group, the leaders in student-athlete experience recruiting for all 23 university sports across all continents and have impacted over 1,000 lives.
(10) What one tip would you give to others starting out?
Be fearless! Often times you will be out of your comfort zone and forced into situations which don’t compliment your strengths, but you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and get it done because ultimately the buck stops with you.
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