Gagan Ullalmath is an Olympian who founded his own swimming coach training and accreditation company, Swim n Save India.
Gagan completed an online course, attended a workshop and received six months of mentoring through the Athlete365 Business Accelerator, which inspired him to create positive social impact through his business.
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The high point of my career was certainly the Olympic Games London 2012. Everything about it was just fantastic, and it’s certainly an experience I will never forget. That being said, when I returned home to India and had some time to reflect on the Games, I started to compare our swimming team to those of other nations, and instantly realised something wasn’t right.
Despite the country having a huge population of around 1.35 billion people, I was the only Indian swimmer at the Games. To me, this just didn’t make sense. Purely statistically, it couldn’t be a lack of talent that was stopping us. To me, the real problem was a lack of knowledgeable coaches, but I didn’t really know how to go about fixing the issue until I started enrolling in Athlete365 courses.
Bringing ideas together
I have always been keen on expanding my knowledge in any way possible. Indeed, I studied for a business degree while competing as a top-level athlete, but had no idea about how to start a business. I knew the technical terms involved, but I had no practical experience.
With this in mind, I was immediately drawn to the resources on Athlete365. My first thought was, “Where are the short courses being offered that I can do in conjunction with my full-time job?” And one of them was the Business Accelerator. It isn’t too long at all – it takes around 10 hours to complete – so I would really recommend it if you’re curious about starting your own business. The course educators essentially introduce you to the framework for creating business models to prepare you for the workshop stage, should you choose to continue.
It was really at this stage that everything started clicking for me. Beforehand, I just had these different ingredients that I couldn’t quite link together, but once I attended the two-day workshop in Jordan, I realised exactly what kind of business I wanted to run. There were a lot of activities during the workshop, including working as a team with the other attendees to develop ideas, and being introduced to different examples of business plans that have had a demonstrable social impact.
Water safety as a solution to a nationwide problem
The key influence for me was being told that we could have a great social impact through our businesses and that, as Olympians, we had a moral responsibility to help better society. Although I initially planned to primarily focus on improving elite-level Indian swimmers, I realised there was an important issue I could help tackle through my sport.
India has a huge problem with deaths from drowning, with around 27,000-30,000 recorded each year. This terrible loss is all the more impactful when you think that many may have been avoidable if even the most basic swimming courses had been available to teach such a key skill.
As such, I decided to focus my business plan on creating a swimming coach training and accreditation course to improve both access to and the level of swimming coaches in India. This aspect makes up the first and most important level of our coaching certification programme – water safety. The second level focuses on teaching children the four different strokes; the third is on developing their swimming technique as teenagers; while the fourth and final level is high performance. Initially, we plan to roll out Level 1 to four regions in India, and estimate that we would be able to complete the first edition of the Level 1 course in around 16 months.
The help of a mentor
I did not develop this just by myself. After the workshop, I took part in the mentorship stage of the Athlete365 Business Accelerator, which lasted for six months. I don’t think it would have been possible without my mentor, Abdul, who really guided me through creating an effective and impactful business plan.
We had a call to start every month, where we would work together to create a set of objectives for both the short- and long-term, as well as other key things like what kind of registration the business will need, what funding I should be looking for, and how I should market my business. These were all aspects of starting a business that I had no idea about before taking part in the Athlete365 Business Accelerator.
The road has not always been straightforward – and balancing a 9-5 job with founding a start-up has certainly been difficult – but the load has been significantly lightened by my mentor.
Thinking like a businessperson
The whole experience of the Athlete365 Business Accelerator, from the online course and workshop right through to the mentoring, has been wonderful. To any athlete thinking of starting their own business, I can only say don’t hesitate to enrol. The programme can really help you to start thinking like a businessperson, which is a really fundamental first step to take. It can also help you understand how to use the skills you may already have to earn your living, which is especially useful for high-level athletes.
You have a unique position in society, and therefore a unique opportunity to share a positive message and help improve society in your own way.
BEFOREHAND, I JUST HAD THESE DIFFERENT INGREDIENTS THAT I COULDN’T QUITE LINK TOGETHER, BUT ONCE I ATTENDED THE TWO-DAY WORKSHOP IN JORDAN, I REALISED EXACTLY WHAT KIND OF BUSINESS I WANTED TO RUN.