Turning a passion for sport into a new business

May 16, 2023

Turning a passion for sport into a new business

The Fiji Commerce and Employer’s Federation’s (FCEF) business accelerator program, the Fiji Enterprise Engine (FEE), with support from the Australian Government, is supporting Paralympian Fred Fatiaki’s efforts to make his dream of starting his own business a reality.

Sport has always been an important part of his life, and, like many Fijians, rugby was his first passion.

Growing up, I was always interested in sports. Rugby was my dream sport, but I could not play it because of my physical disability

44-year-old Fred shared.

Fred was born with cerebral palsy, a motor-disability that impacts a person’s ability to move and maintain balance or posture. The disability prevented him from playing his dream sport but did not keep Fred from participating in sports altogether.

In fact, Fred saw this challenge and his experiences growing up with this physical disability, as an opportunity to showcase his talents through disability sports.

“The stigma and prejudice of being disabled can be very harsh at times, but this made me more determined to pursue my love for sports.”

The eldest of five boys, Fred started his sporting career in 1997 and represented Fiji in multiple local, regional, and international sporting events for people living with disabilities, winning medals in both table tennis and athletics. He transitioned into coaching and became a full-time Sports Development Officer with the Fiji Paralympics Organisation in 2006. He has coached many of Fiji’s top athletes.

One of his many career highlights was coaching Iliesa Delana, the first Fijian to win a Paralympic Gold medal, at the 2012 London Games. Fred has also coached many young athletes preparing for the Fiji Secondary Schools Athletics Finals, and occasionally does motivational speaking to help aspiring athletes or students.

“My 25-year career with the Fiji Paralympics Organisation has been very fulfilling. I have learnt a lot in terms of sports development, sports for persons with disabilities, and had the opportunity to work with and meet many inspirational people from the professional sporting community both locally and internationally.”

Fred runs three training sessions a day and works six days a week with 32 elite athletes, as they prepare for various competitions, including the upcoming 2024 Paralympic Games to be held in France.

Having worked in high-performance and specialised training, for both people with and without disabilities, for so long, Fred is ready to take on the next challenge in life.

“Setting up a business of my own that would leverage my experience as a professional coach and help me give back to my community, was a dream influenced by my late father in 2017, but I was never confident and lacked the knowledge and skill to actually setup my business,” Fred shared.

“My vision for my business is to cater to that portion of society that usually do not or cannot go to conventional gyms, for example people with disabilities, women and the elderly.”

Fred plans to focus on three key areas as part of his business model – rehabilitation, wellness programs and coaching for life. His goal will be to develop a wellness program that can be enjoyed by everyone, help people achieve and maintain healthy body weight and ensure the community can access regular physical activity.

To help him achieve this goal, Fred enrolled in the Fiji Enterprise Engine (FEE), a business accelerator programme facilitated by the Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation in partnership with Australia’s Market Development Facility (MDF).

Fred was part of the FEE-X 2022, the third cohort of the programme that started in June 2022 and completed its last session in early December 2022.

The FEE programme has helped Fred to come up with a business name, “Uplifting Wellness Fatiaki”, which he formally registered in September 2022, and prepare a five-year strategic plan with achievable action items to help him launch his business by February 2023.

“Prior to FEE, I had no idea how to go about making my business idea a reality. Through the trainers and fellow participants, I was able to put thought to paper and come up with a plan to reach my goals.”

“FEE has given me the confidence to make this dream a reality. Learning from the trainers, who are small entrepreneurs themselves, and the other participants who are at different stages of business growth, has motivated me to launch my business and come up with the right fit product for me and my target market,” Fred said.

The FEE programme is Fiji’s first private sector-led business accelerator initiative for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). Australia’s support for Fijian initiatives like FEE help to provide access to timely and relevant business development services and empowers local entrepreneurs to tap into their economic potential.

The 2022 six-month ‘FEE-X’ programme offered classes and mentoring in six key business areas, as well as networking opportunities with industry leaders and other MSMEs to support entrepreneurs to develop stronger business models and access new opportunities.

The programme has had over 30 MSME graduates to date, many have expanded their businesses and built resilient business models that survived the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fred will be one of 14 MSMEs graduating from the 2022 FEE-X cohort later this month.

“Watch this space, Fiji,” Fred says, “I’m excited to put my learnings to practice after graduation and I look forward to launching my new business in 2023.”