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Profile — Grounded Globetrotter

Entrepreneur Has High-Energy Involvement in the Internet

And Entertainment Industry

Nour-Dean Anakar says he is one of those immigrants who comes to the United States believing you can achieve any goal you set.

Looking back on his 25 years in the land of free enterprise, the 42-year-old Rancho Santa Fe entrepreneur has become exactly what he set out to be , a successful and happy businessman.

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Like many an entrepreneur, the Moroccan-born Anakar truly enjoys his work.

Anakar’s delight has come from nearly 20 years of experience in the hospitality and leisure industry, international business development, and in sports and entertainment operations. His latest devotion is given to SportSitio.com, Inc., an Encinitas-based Latin American sports Web portal he created last year.

The goal of SportSitio.com is to become the premier sports media company for Latin American sports. The site, which is accessible in Spanish, Portuguese and English, offers news, information and products for sports such as soccer, auto racing, polo, rugby, basketball, volleyball, boxing, the martial arts and horse racing.

Anakar’s strategy for making SportSitio.com a winning business includes deploying the latest technologies, including streaming video, E-commerce capabilities and chat rooms, as well as sponsoring teams and events. Having popular Latin American sportswriters generating the content for SportSitio.com is another power play, he says.

Although the Internet has become inundated with sports-related sites, Anakar says there is still a scarcity of quality Spanish- and Portuguese-language sports content on the Web, as well as Web-based services and entertainment geared toward regional and local U.S. Hispanic and Latin American sports fans.

As with any start-up, there is always a risk. But Anakar isn’t fazed by the recent dot-com fallout. He says there is an enormous need for a site like SportSitio.com. Most of the 525 million people in Latin America speak Spanish or Portuguese, but more than 80 percent of the Internet content over the past two years has been offered in English.

According to ESPN International, the majority of the projected 38 million Latin American Internet users are affluent, educated males between the ages of 25 and 54. Most of Latin America’s Internet users may be males, but Anakar is determined to also reach women and children who have a passion for sports.

“The United States and Europe have done a great job at developing sports for kids and women. The Latin American communities haven’t done that,” he says.

As for competition, Anakar is ready.

“When you go into emerging markets you have to move very quickly,” he says, referring to Latin America. “You have to understand the language and the culture. We have a management team that eats, drinks and breathes the sports we cover. So if an AOL/Time Warner comes in, we’re going to be a serious threat.”

When Anakar took his idea to Latin America in late 1998, however, it wasn’t accepted right away.

“The Internet grew so fast in the United States. In 1998, when I talked to people in Latin America (about SportSitio.com), I found very few listeners. It was a hard sell with any business plan in Latin America that involved sophisticated technologies.”

Anakar says that all changed in early 1999 when American tech companies like Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems, AT & T; Corp. and IBM Corp. began to invest in Latin American businesses and began to provide technologies to Latin America. He also noted privatization of the Latin American telecommunications industry has made Internet access more affordable to all citizens.

Anakar first became intrigued by the Internet in 1998, when his neighbor told him about a company in Del Mar called Virtgame.com, which promotes and sells gaming products online. Anakar signed on to help the company launch its Latin American division.

Anakar quickly decided the Internet was an incredible sector for involvement. The thought of forming his own Internet-based company became a reality in 1999, when he launched SportSitio.com.

One of the people Anakar recruited to join SportSitio.com was Matt Kliber, now the company’s vice president of business development. The two had worked together at Virtgame.com.

Kliber left Virtgame.com earlier this year to also form his own Internet company, but he couldn’t get funding.

“Nour-Dean had been bugging me to come join him,” he says.

It was easy to say yes, Kliber says.

“He’s extraordinarily skilled at leveling his relationships,” he says about Anakar. “His business development skills are his strong suit.”

Kliber is also impressed by Anakar’s ability to lead a busy yet balanced life.

“He’s the kind of guy who will come in early, then go pick up his kids and take them to school, come back to work, then leave at 3 to pick the kids up from school, take them to soccer practice, then go play polo.

“His schedule is incredible. Most people would die from exhaustion, but he doesn’t seem to.”

Anakar’s busy schedule includes a lot of travel. On average, he travels four times a month , to places like Latin America, Europe, Mexico and North Africa. Anakar even postponed a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to do this interview.

Being multilingual, he says, has assisted him in his many travels.

“Business has gone global and people are traveling more. It helps tremendously to speak another language.

“We were raised in a part of the world where every kid spoke two languages,” says Anakar, who spent most of his youth in Morocco. Anakar, whose native languages are French and Arabic, learned Spanish and English in school.

Anakar’s two children will get a chance to experience another language and culture this fall semester when the family temporarily moves to Buenos Aires. Anakar will be traveling a lot to Argentina this fall, so he will take his family with him.

While he enjoys globe-trotting, Anakar says being in San Diego keeps him grounded.

“I would never want my kids to be educated anywhere else in the world,” he says. “I also love the business culture in this country. I think San Diego has a thriving business community.”

He also points out, with a laugh, that he couldn’t survive in cold weather.

Anakar and his family moved to San Diego in 1994 from Latin America, where he designed hospitality services for racetracks owned by Ladbrokes South America, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Hilton Group.

When the family moved back to the United States, Anakar commuted between Argentina and San Diego for a couple years as a consultant to Ladbrokes.

“A lot of miles on American (Airlines),” he says.

Anakar, who learned a lot about the entertainment and gaming industry while working for Ladbrokes, caught the tourism bug from his father, who owned hotels, restaurants and hospitality consulting services throughout his career.

“I loved tourism. I loved not only the work but the play. I loved the customer service, the beaches,” says Anakar, who spent a lot of time as a kid on the southern tip of Spain in Gibraltar, where his father had a business. (His mother owned a beauty salon.)

Anakar was also heavily into sports , mostly soccer and Japanese karate, called Dojo.

“My parents put me in my first karate class at the age of 11 because I had too much energy. I couldn’t sit still,” says Anakar, who had a reputation for jumping off balconies and getting into one too many fights during soccer matches.

Anakar spent 22 years in karate, eventually becoming an instructor. He even established the first Dojo club at Duke University in North Carolina, where he attended on a soccer scholarship.

Although Anakar doesn’t play as often, soccer still invigorates him.

“The sensation of going to a soccer game in Sao Paulo with 80,000 fans cheering for their team is incredible,” he says.

Anakar, one of six children, moved to the United States with his family in the 1970s. Anakar, who was 17 at the time and had a couple of siblings attending college in the United States, says his parents wanted the whole family to be together. The family settled in Houston, where Anakar worked with his father, who established a restaurant and a hospitality consulting service there.

To begin his education, Anakar attended the University of Edinburgh in Scotland for a few months to study hospitality management. After receiving a management science degree from Duke he moved back to Houston to work on his post-graduate degree in hospitality at the University of Houston.

He says like all industries, the hospitality/tourism industry must embrace technology. Anakar, who describes himself as being very simple and basic, says he still doesn’t plan on becoming a technology guy.

“I just plan to have a lot of technology people around me,” he says. “I think technology will continue to change people’s lives and change business. I like that. Some consumers will embrace it slower. But I think it’s unstoppable. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”


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