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Hot on Campus | October 17, 2012

Not wasted after all


Samantha Weber's dream of becoming a soccer player seemed dashed until a new business idea taught her about redemption

Cameron Scott, Sean Sekora, Samantha Weber, Stephen Reed at Startup Weekend. (Courtesy photo)

Soccer player Samantha Weber remembers going numb the moment her athletic dreams unraveled. It was her senior year of high school and she had just undergone surgery for a torn ACL. She returned for team tryouts, confident that her constant presence, winning skills, and contribution to four victorious state championships would ensure her a spot on the team.

But she came home from practice one day to discover by email that her coach of four years had decided to cut her from the team.

"I was completely heartbroken," Weber recalled. "I was forced to mourn the loss of something I had invested in and loved so much."

Weber wouldn't get to play in any recruitment tournaments during her senior year, dashing her dreams of being recruited by a coach from a large, Division I school. The thousands of dollars and hours spent on training, injuries and recruitment tournaments all seemed wasted. But halfway through her freshman year of college, Weber realized God had a plan to redeem her experience in a very unexpected way.

After graduation, Weber headed off to Grove City College, a small Christian school in Pennsylvania. As a freshman, she was full of questions and resentment. Why did God let her play soccer all those years only to waste them? She worked hard, she played hard, and she had talent -- at 14, she made the youth olympic development team. During tournaments, she passed out profiles to every scouting coach she could find. Her parents gave up family vacations for those tournaments, spending nearly $50,000 on her athletic career. Was it all for nothing?

She would get her answer during the Christmas break she spent with her sister in San Francisco. Alexis Andrzejewski is the CEO and co-founder of FoodSpotting, an iPhone app that enables food-lovers to browse restaurants visually. Weber got her first introduction to the world of entrepreneurship when she met her sister's friends. She was equal parts intrigued and mystified: entrepreneurship seemed exciting, but how did people come up with business ideas?

"They told me: figure out a way to solve a problem," Weber recalled.

Unable to sleep that night, she thought about that advice. Her high school recruitment days played themselves over in her mind. Like thousands of other high school athletes, she had spent every weekend at recruitment tournaments playing her best while her parents thrust her profile into coaches' hands, hoping to catch their attention.

What if she could improve the recruitment process that had been so disappointing for her? What if she could change the future for excellent high school athletes around the country by improving their chances to get in front of the coaches they wanted to impress?

Her idea eventually took the form of an app that would allow players and coaches to share their profiles virtually and, using geo-tag technology, locate each other at sporting events.

Last month, Weber took her idea, called ProfilePasser, for a test run at Startup Weekend, a national networking event for entrepreneurs. As far as she could tell, she was the youngest person in attendance, but she pitched her idea anyway. Attendees narrowed the field of projects, voting to pick the ideas they liked the most and wanted to refine during the weekend. Weber's idea came in second.

For the next 54 hours, she worked with a team of other student entrepreneurs to conduct market validation, build a business plan and even create a pilot version of the app.

ProfilePassers won third place at the event. For a 20-year old who hardly expected anyone to choose her idea, that amount of affirmation was overwhelming. Momentum from the event propelled her to set a launch date for the app--Dec. 1. When she's not in class or studying, she's working with a team of friends to get everything ready.

And, she's back on the field.

"God really changed my heart about soccer," Weber explained. Returning to her favorite sport was hard: she was out of shape mentally and physically. She barely made the cut her first year and didn't play in many games.

But looking back, she realized God had a plan for her time on the bench.

"God used that horrible beginning of that season to completely change the way I view soccer," she said. "My teammates and coaches have taught me that soccer is a form of worship...we view soccer as an opportunity to witness to everyone we come in contact with."

Weber went from a struggling on the bench as a freshman to leading scorer a year later.

"I don't understand why some things have happened," she admits. "But it has been the most amazing thing to see a business solution come out of something that was so painful...hopefully this can really change lives."