Women Entrepreneurs

How Ishveen Anand strives to make a difference in Indian sports sponsorship industry

How Ishveen Anand strives to make a difference in Indian sports sponsorship industry
Image credit: Entrepreneur India

At a young age of 29, the British native of Indian origin Ishveen Anand achieved a significant milestone in her professional career – her name was featured at second position in the Forbes annual list of ‘young game changers, movers and makers’ under the age of 30, known as Forbes 30 Under 30 Global Prodigies list.

She was chosen in the Sports category for having founded OpenSponsorship, a first of its kind online marketplace for sports sponsors to search connect and sponsor various types of rights holders. Rights holders can range from teams, athletes, federation, leagues, agents or stadiums. She formerly played a key role in brokering sports sponsorship agreements in India, including Bridgestone’s first cricket deal in the country. Current Indian rights holders include Indian Cricket Team’s captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, F1 team Force India and World Kabaddi League. Generally, the deal sizes start from $1K and range up to $10 million.

Born and brought up in Manchester, England, Anand completed her studies in Economics and Management from Oxford University, Keble College. After working for a brief stint of about 2.5 years with London-based boutique retail management consultancy firm Javelin Group, Anand entered the sports world in India. She moved to India to work for a Delhi-based sports agency Commune and spent almost 3 years servicing Mumbai Indians, Hero MotoCorp, ICC, FIH, Pernod Ricard, Idea and many more companies.

Later, in 2011, she started Auxus to work in cross-border sponsorship, particularly between UK and India. But after getting married to a Fashion Designer (KAS New York) in 2012 and moving back to New York, Anand faced difficulties continuing and managing Auxus’ business operations considering the geographical distance, different time zones and different sports. Finally, in March 2014, Anand came up with the idea of OpenSponsorship, which she launched officially in August 2014.

A true sportsperson at heart!

Anand describes herself as a motivated, passionate and loyal person. Her parents (both sets) are her role models. She believes in working hard and doing things right. Anand has herself played sport all her life - netball and cricket in particular. She has even captained both the netball and cricket teams during her college life. Apart from playing netball and cricket, she loves to watch American Football tournaments.

She is a firm believer in the importance of sports to be used as a tool to boost confidence and develop various skill sets in every child. Expressing her views about the importance of inculcating the spirit of sportsmanship in people right from a very young age, Anand says, “Sport teaches you how to deal with losing at a young age, moving on, not breaking bonds over it and putting things into perspective. On the flip side, it shows you how hard work can pay off and make you a winner.”

She further says, “The first time I cried for joy was at 11 when we won a netball tournament. Playing sports make you passionate. You can only succeed in life if you know how to deal with setbacks and know how to improve for better. Playing sport, at such a young age, gave me a role in the family and a talking point on the dinner table. The relationship with my parents was strong when we won, and even stronger when we lost, and that leaning on family when it’s going tough never changes.” Not only she is a true sports person, but she is a true Indian by heart. Anand loves Rajma Chawal and her favourite Indian movie is Lagaan.

In a tête-à-tête with Entrepreneur India, Ishveen Anand, Founder, OpenSponsorship, shares her views on the challenges faced initially, her message to women entrepreneurs in sports category, and the difference she strives to make in Indian sports scenario:

How did OpenSponsorship come into being? What is your vision behind it?

Once I moved to New York, many of my existing clients asked for assistance in International operations, which eventually turned out to be highly inefficient considering I was only collecting information and not closing or discussing the deals.

In New York, websites serve every purpose. Seamless is where you order lunch; Uber is how you get a taxi; Freshdirect is to order groceries; Zocdoc is to book your doctor appointments; Housekeep is to clean your houses and so forth. But when it came to my day job, I was still looking for companies in product sector or football teams in Turkey. I realised how archaic our industry still was. Cold calling and little black books were how we started sales. Hence, I got the idea for OpenSponsorship.

The vision is to make sponsorship easier for both sides – rights holders and corporates. I really believe in sponsorship as a marketing tool and want all corporate houses – big or small, to benefit from the many positive externalities it brings.

Do you think India has a robust sports culture?

Sports culture can be split into viewing and playing. As far as playing is concerned, definitely not! The amount of state champions whom I met from India, who no longer play sport is crazy. It’s almost like a tick box and once done, playing sport is forgotten about. India has Gym culture, and for women, it’s Pilates and Yoga, but not Sport, which is a shame.

When I moved to India, I wanted to play sport. I looked around for Netball and Cricket, but to my disappointment there was nothing at all. So on the viewing side, I think male youth has a sports culture, but I feel it’s among the upper middle class only, and for the masses – its either Cricket or Bollywood.

Highlight the challenges you faced initially.

Graduating from Oxford, you think you should go into a certain type of job. I was fortunate not to face pressure from my parents, but you personally have these ideals - you will wear a suit everyday and earn lots of money etc. Realizing when something isn't you and doing something about it is hard but important.

Also, being a girl in the sports world makes it easier to get noticed and remembered, but it’s harder to be taken serious at the senior level. People always thought I was my client's daughter! That is something I combat every day, but essentially, what you say and how you present your thoughts and ideas is the most important thing.

How do you, via your platform, plan to make a difference in Indian sports scenario?

Access! We provide corporate houses and rights holders access to more opportunities for sport sponsorship. We treat India no different to any other region in the world. We want every Indian athlete, team, sport and corporate to be able to enjoy sport sponsorship the same as those in the UK or the US. If you have a strong social media presence, or you have an attractive sponsorship opportunity, our platform will help you put you on par with holders across the world with similar accolades.

What would you like to convey to aspiring women entrepreneurs in sports category?

Don't be an entrepreneur too early. Join a company, learn how it's done, get contacts, build your confidence and use what you have learned to start something if you feel there is a space for your idea. One should be an entrepreneur because no company is doing what you truly want to do and believe in. If there is, then go work for them – it’s easier and more effective.
I would like to convey to other women, who want to work in sports, to be professional, be knowledgeable, work hard, be confident, add value and improve business skills. Women have to work harder to be taken seriously.

What is your view on government's approach to sports in India? Do you think there's a huge room for improvement?

Any changes in policy take years to implement. It’s hard to comment on the current situation, since I haven't interacted much with the Government in this regard. But in my view, Government policy/Indian education system has not fostered a good environment for a sports culture. When it comes to policy, there are 2 things - what you are doing for the grassroots and amateurs and what you are doing for the professionals. I think there is huge room for growth on both aspects.

Edition: October 2016

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