29-year old Walid was born in Algeria but relocated to Paris, France with his parents at the age of seven. Growing up with two cultures, Walid was eager to go out and explore the world. After graduating high school, he studied economics and moved to Romania at the age of 21, where he finished his degree. He then settled down in Poland to study for a master’s in marketing and communications as well as an MBA while working at the same time. However, his plan was to start his own business all along.
Walid’s motivation for becoming an entrepreneur stems from his desire to make a positive impact. In May 2018, him and his associate Dorota Caban started their social enterprise BallSquad, an online platform that revolutionises the booking system of public sport facilities in Poland. Walid explains that in Poland, all public sports facilities are potentially open to the public, however, outdated bureaucratic processes are often making it complicated for people to access and make the most of these facilities. BallSquad is a platform that simplifies this process and allows sport enthusiasts to connect with each other, create teams, book facilities, and organise sports events. At the same time, it makes it easier for facilities to manage their premises.
Before starting the business, the BallSquad team conducted extensive market research for two years to create a solid foundation and started gathering usable data. While reaching out to potential partners and facilities, they realised that the biggest challenge was to convince public administration of the value of a centralised online platform and the necessity of changing old habits and management systems. Once this barrier was overcome, the value of such a system became obvious to partners.
At a start-up fair in Warsaw, the BallSquad team met YBI’s local member organisation, Youth Business Poland (YBP), and learned about their accelerator programme for innovative and socially responsible start-ups. Walid and BallSquad enrolled in the six-month programme, which included workshops, individual mentoring, and specialist consultancy. Walid says the support he received was priceless. Working with different mentors and consultants helped him to further develop his social vision and better communicate the value of his business to public authorities. This helped him extend his network and gain new partners. In addition, he received legal assistance pro bono from a major law firm, through a contest recommended by YBP. The accelerator programme culminated in a demo day, during which Walid and six other entrepreneurs pitched their businesses to a jury and audience. BallSquad won the PLN 20,000 prize! Winning the accelerator gave Walid’s business greater visibility and opened new doors for the company’s development.
Two years after its founding, BallSquad is still up and running with three full-time and two part-time employees. The business is now expanding its presence across several cities in Poland and Walid’s goal is to expand to other countries in Eastern Europe. While sports facilities were closed during the COVID-19 lockdown, Walid and his team worked on improving BallSquad’s current technology, joined a scale up programme and signed a new major partnership. They are now slowly reopening some facilities to bookings, following government guidelines and regulations.
Walid’s advice to other aspiring young entrepreneurs is:
“Research your market and once you have the data go for it for real. Don’t get discouraged, be stubborn!”
Youth Business Poland is a member of M-UP: The Network for Migrant Entrepreneurs to Scale Up and Grow, an initiative to share best practices, deliver new solutions, and better support migrants to become successful entrepreneurs.