Tawanda Masawi
Credit: Amrin Prasad

Tawanda Masawi + Rana Taj, 25 + 26 

Co-founder + CEO/ Co-founder + president, GameSeta Esports

Life Story: “I come from a pretty corporate background,” says Tawanda Masawi, who grew up in Zimbabwe, where his father is CEO of one of southern Africa’s largest sugar producers. The same goes for his business partner and fellow immigrant Rana Taj, whose dad owns a hospital in Pakistan. Masawi and Taj met at SFU, where they completed degrees in economics and mechatronics, robotics and automation engineering, respectively, last year. In high school, neither had cared much for traditional sports, but they spent a lot of time playing video games.

When joining SFU’s Civic Innovation Change Lab piqued his interest in entrepreneurship, Masawi was determined to launch a company before he graduated. Then a local entrepreneur opened his eyes to esports. Doing some research, Masawi and Taj found that Canada had no infrastructure that let high-school students compete in online gaming. So in 2019, they launched GameSeta and its digital platform, which helps time-strapped teachers to manage an esports program and connect with leagues in other school districts.

Although there was some pushback from schools at first, COVID-19 changed the game because students couldn’t do regular sports anymore, Masawi says. Starting with School District No. 43 in Coquitlam, GameSeta signed the first-ever esports agreement with BC School Sports, which opened the activity to all high schools throughout the province. Last year, it won the Top Idea prize at SFU’s Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize competition.

Bottom Line: Masawi and Taj turned down several offers from potential investors before selling their startup in January to Play Versus, the largest high-school esports provider in the U.S. The GameSeta founders, who now head Play Versus’ Canadian operations, are focused on national expansion. “The growth potential is massive,” Masawi says of esports. “Essentially, we’re building a digital playground.”

Esports stars can command salaries approaching those of NBA players, Masawi notes. “Now it’s an actual career path.” The business is also attracting major brands like Pepsi as sponsors, he adds: “You’re going to start to see the traditionalization of gaming and esports as you start to see big [names] putting their money down.”