DreamBig Events is helping provide Asian student-athletes a pathway to opportunities in US universities
ABS-CBN Sports on Oct 29, 2019 02:55 PM
“The idea behind why I started DreamBig events was to have event-like experiences that would give [the athletes] a bite-sized opportunity to get a flavor of what they’re going to get into sometime in the future when they do go for a scholarship in the US. These are the types of experiences that they will have. These are the types of coaching that they will get there.” - The man behind DreamBig Events, Aksahy Maliwal (Photo courtesy of DreamBig Events on Facebook)
For many aspiring young student-athletes in Asia, the opportunity to be recruited and play for universities in the United States and Europe would be a dream come true.
Not only do these athletes get world class training and mentoring, but playing or representing major universities in the US also gives these student-athletes a better chance at making it into the professional ranks.
Unfortunately, getting on the radar of these top-level schools is obviously easier said than done. At times, the opportunity isn’t even there.
That is exactly what the people at DreamBig Events would like to change.
Founded in 2016, DreamBig Events is an events company geared towards giving student-athletes the exposure and the opportunities through training camps and tours.
Since their inception, DreamBig has been able to put on two training camps and a US college tour each year, catering to participants mainly in the Philippines, as well as Asian countries such as India, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Indonesia.
“These tours and camps serve to introduce and familiarise athletes with the college recruiting process and experience a day in the life of a college athlete at a top academic and athletic university,” as it reads on DreamBig’s official website.
“Our goal is to provide as many opportunities for aspiring Student-Athletes living in Asia to develop their games through exposure to various training fundamentals and coaching styles from the U.S., as well as network with college coaches, to be prepared for the rigors of U.S. college athletics and studying abroad.”
The man behind DreamBig Events, Akshay Maliwal, started the company with the intent of giving student-athletes in Asia the opportunities that normally would not be available to them.
“The idea behind DreamBig Events was to expose athletes in Manila and the Philippines on essentially getting them to higher-level training that isn’t usually offered in this part of the world, so European-style training, American-style training, all in the anticipation and the desire to send them abroad for scholarships in the US or UK, or other parts of Europe,” Maliwal explained to ABS-CBN Sports. “The idea behind why I started DreamBig events was to have event-like experiences that would give [the athletes] a bite-sized opportunity to get a flavor of what they’re going to get into sometime in the future when they do go for a scholarship in the US. These are the types of experiences that they will have. These are the types of coaching that they will get there.”
“I started by setting up a tour business, where I took student-athletes in the Philippines, and I went on two-week long trips to US colleges, and at every college, we played camp and then we played a tournament, so it was quite a unique experience, and the tours then matriculated into us setting up a locally-run camps business where instead of us taking kids there, we started to bring coaches here as well, and so we almost started to become like a bridge wherein the summers, they would go there with us, and then the rest of the year, we would bring the university coaches here, so that’s quite exciting, because if you think about it, a lot of families may not be able to afford travelling all the way there, but now they can have the same opportunities here at a fraction of the cost, so we’ve kind of made a big investment to reduce the cost to the participant, and have those same experiences happen locally,” he added.
Maliwal knows fully well what it’s like being an Asian student-athlete because he used to be one himself. The 29-year old, who was born in New Delhi, India, was a golf recruit and played for UC Berkeley.
“I was an ex-college athlete in the US myself. I went to UC Berkeley to play golf. UC Berkeley is in California, it’s one of the top golf programs in the US, and I got recruited to play golf in UC-Berkeley, so that was quite an exciting thing,” Maliwal explained.
While Maliwal didn’t end up going pro, he still found himself in the sports business, but as a founder and CEO of a recruiting and counselling business known as AddedSport, along with his twin-sister Aditi, who was also a collegiate athlete in Stanford.
“I am a former college athlete in the US, and my co-founder at the time is my twin sister, she went to Stanford to play squash, so she was also a former college athlete. Right after college, we didn’t turn professional be we came back to Asia and we set up a recruiting service where we helped athletes go from Asian countries to US colleges, we would help them navigate the path,” he detailed.
Maliwal has since left AddedSport to set up DreamBig Events, which exists as a totally separate entity.
“I’ve left that business to start DreamBig Events and focus fully on exposure and events. I don’t to recruiting anymore, I don’t do college counselling, I focus on giving exposure so that we can get those kids ultimately into colleges, and hopefully through our events, they get recruited, otherwise they may go to places like AddedSport to employ them, which has nothing to do with DreamBig Events,” he explained further.
Being a former-student athlete himself, the sporting world was something that Maliwal could not distance himself from. Seeing that there were specific needs that athletes have that must be addressed, Maliwal decided to go into the business of catering to those needs.
“I started it as a personal interest, because I was an ex-college athlete, and then I developed one company that does college counselling, and then I saw a need in that company. We were just a consultant, how about we provide them with experiences? So, because I am well aware of the regulatory environment in the US, I decided to set up a separate company and move over and leave the AddedSport world to join DreamBig Events, which does just exposure and experiences.”
“There’s no recruitment, there’s no consultation. You attend an event, you attend the camp. If you have a chance to get scouted, you can go directly from there, but not necessarily through a consultant if you don’t want,” Maliwal said.
For the former collegiate-golf hotshot, the lightbulb moment that set everything in motion was seeing that Asian student-athletes like himself weren’t always afforded the same opportunities as their American or European counterparts.
“I think it’s because I saw so many US students, or my colleagues in college, getting scouted or recruited early, and the reason I saw that is because they attend a lot of events in the US. I didn’t have that opportunity, but saw so many of them getting recruited early and I started thinking why is that happening? The reason is because they’re in front of university coaches all the time. It’s an edge. Physical presence is a big edge, so I realized that in order for the same opportunity to be available to Asian kids, they have to have the same physical presence, but if I can’t take everyone there, maybe I can bring coaches here.”
“That was the need that I was trying to fill, which was, I wanted many student-athletes like me to go there, but there were so many limitations. Financial limitations, awareness, exposure, there’s so many criteria. How can I combine all and bring that to Asia? That’s what the camp serves as,” Maliwal continued.
While Maliwal had the background in sports, the events part of the venture was something that wasn’t exactly his forte, which led him to building a team around him, led by DreamBig’s Head of Events Operations, Thera Reyes.
“Because this was a first-timer events experience for me, I guess I was completely new, I had no idea where to start or what to do, I think the first thing is you put a good team around you, and because we were fortunate to have some funding, we were able to set up a good team, so that’s where I met Thera,” Maliwal shared. “Thera runs the operations for DreamBig in the Philippines, and her background is in hardcore events management experience so when I met her, I said this is my vision, this is my aspiration, and then she put the building blocks in place and said this is what we should do. We should set up the events like this, this are the constraints, these are the advantages, these are the disadvantages, these are the struggles. She helped a lot, so I think putting a good team together and having a strong execution here is critical.”
Reyes was herself a former collegiate athlete, playing football for Ateneo de Manila.
“It’s pretty exciting because we’re bringing an opportunity and we’re broadcasting it in a localized message,” explained Reyes, who admits that has she been given the same opportunities that DreamBig offers, she likely would have made her way into the US to play collegiate football there. “I was telling Akshay when I joined that if I had this opportunity back in the day, I would probably have gone to the US to study there and played soccer.”
“Right now, this is actually a great experience for me, being able to provide these camps and tournaments for student athletes,” she added.
More than just also being familiar with life as a student-athlete, Reyes also says that she was able to bring a Filipino perspective to the company, given that a large part of the participants are mainly Filipino student-athletes.
“Since Akshay was coming from an American college perspective, I was bringing in the Filipino perspective, how Filipinos think when making decisions or what appeals to them, so that’s what I was bringing to the table, how to communicate better with a Filipino market.”
For Reyes, the most rewarding part is being able to help give aspiring student-athletes a certain level of training and exposure.
“Honestly, it really excited me whenever we have to plan for these things, just thinking about the coaches that we’re bringing in, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Columbia University, who would have thought that we could bring in these coaches? These are colleges that have high standards in recruiting, they have a special recruitment process and to give the Filipino athletes a chance to play in front of them, that’s a really big thing for me. It’s equal opportunity for everyone.”
Reyes has a first-hand view of the tournaments and the tours and the camps, being that she oversees all of them.
Three years in, DreamBig Events continues to help kids in the Philippines and in Asia experience what it’s like to be a student-athlete in the United States, and for Maliwal, experience really is the key word.
“I think DreamBig Events is about experience building, it’s not just about events. If you look at DreamBig events, I don’t want people to come here and say I attended a DreamBig event and the tournament was great. I want people to come and say it was a family experience. We came to DreamBig Events and we’ve left that much more knowledgable about what’s the next step. Thats my goal, and I am willing to invest more money and more effort, even if we’re not profitable or not trying to make money, that’s not the goal. The goal is to have hundreds of kids have a plan, have a program that they’re going to navigate on. At the moment, we’ve been a non-profit company. We’re just trying to use the proceeds that we get to hire more and the scale the business further.”
From three events a year, Maliwal would like to see DreamBig Events’ activities triple in the coming years, catering to even more sports. “I would like to do ten events a year: golf, tennis, squash, soccer, swimming, tours.”
Looking ahead, Maliwal’s vision for DreamBig events is for it to be an industry leader, but he knows that there is still much ground to cover.
“I want DreamBig to be the largest sports camp and junior athlete tournament provider in Asia, and I want it to be the largest student-athlete tour business to the US, globally. I want it to be the largest camps operator in Asia, but I also want it to be the largest student-athlete tour business to US colleges, globally, because there are a lot of tour companies globally who do that, but I think we have something that’s unique and focused on the athletes, and that’s something that we can continue to work on.”
“On the camp side, I want to have many more events. I don’t want to stop, I feel like there’s so much more room for growth, we can get into every sport,” he added.
The goal, Maliwal says, is to be able to affect the lives of 100,000 aspiring Filipino student-athletes.
“We want to touch the lives of a hundred-thousand students in the Philippines, that’s the goal. The goal is a hundred-thousand total, and I think we can only achieve that in ten years. The goal is quite lofty, but we want to touch the lives of a hundred-thousand student athletes in the Philippines, and I want people to recognize us as an elite experience for athletes, and those experiences are in multiple forms: tournaments, tours, college exposure, training, many forms. I want people to recognize us with premier athletic development and experiences.”
DreamBig Events will be holding their first Future Champions Golf - DreamBig Golf Challenger Series in Manila this coming December 16-18 at The Orchard Golf and Country Club.
For more information about DreamBig Events visit https://dreambig.events/