Finding the Next Sports Tech Unicorn
The world’s leading sports accelerators play a crucial role in scaling up promising startups
“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does… Sport can create hope where there was only despair…” Nelson Mandela, May 2000.
The changing world of sports – a revolution is underway
Over the past decade, technology’s role in sports has evolved and expanded faster than previously imaginable. It’s a new phase in the world of sports as technological innovations revolutionize the way sports are played, analyzed and improved, and this technology dramatically impacts the way humans consume, experience and engage with sports.
Cutting-edge technologies are transforming the world of sports in a variety of ways: innovative sensors enable real-time performance tracking and health monitoring and help prevent injuries; advanced streaming and social media platforms are fueling the growth of eSports, turning gaming into a spectator sport; and virtual reality is revolutionizing sports’ training and coaching, enabling athletes to practice countlessly in ‘real’ conditions. Augmented reality is shaping the future of smart stadiums, sports broadcasting, fan engagement and gaming. The disruptive technology of Blockchain (the record keeping technology behind Bitcoin) provides astounding opportunities for performance metrics and broadcasting rights, including securing crowdfunding by athletes who may wish finance their own careers.
Technology is clearly a key driver for the sports industry’s next revolution, and as technology continues to reshape the world of sports the entire sports tech ecosystem continues to flourish and thrive.
Sports tech has evolved into one of the world’s fastest growing industries
Given the speed and scope of technological advances, along with the substantial growth of the field and investors interest, the sports tech sector is anticipated to continue its current trend and become more global, competitive and sophisticated.
- The sports tech market was estimated at USD $8.9 billion in 2018 and projected to be USD $31.1 billion by 2024, growing at a CAGR of more than 20%, according to new market research report published by MarketsandMarkets™.
- Since 2012, venture funding for sports tech startups has grown nearly 30% year over year, according to a TechCrunch Tableau study.
Sports tech startups joining arena and capitalizing on the industry’s revolution must precisely define their value propositions, prepare themselves to operate in new markets and consolidate a strategy that will ensure their continued relevance.
For many innovators and entrepreneurs, joining an accelerator is the much-needed step that helps them better prepare for and respond to the challenges.
How do sports accelerators help?
The core concept behind accelerators is simple, yet powerful: Somewhere in the world, someone is developing the next big sports tech unicorn. That said, technology entrepreneurship rarely succeeds in isolation; it occurs in interconnected networks of business partners and other organizations.
Dedicated sports tech accelerators provide a range of support services including access to industry connections and leaders, tailored mentorship and guidance and capital that support startups through the typical hurdles that come with rapidly growing a business.
Startup accelerators typically last for a period of few weeks or a couple of months. As such, they compress years’ worth of learning-by-doing into a short time frame while focusing on rapid growth and scaling the business to reach profitability and sustainability.
Choosing an accelerator
Selecting the best accelerator for a sports business can be an overwhelming journey. Below are some of the world’s leading sports accelerators:
Play Labs (www.playlabs.tv) is an incubator/accelerator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which invests and mentors startups using playful technology in a variety of industries, including virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), esports, 3D modeling, streaming, gamification, artificial intelligence, and blockchain.
Play Labs is run by Bayview Labs and its executive director, Rizwan Virk, an MIT alumnus and a prolific Silicon Valley angel investor, advisor and mentor. Play Labs works in conjunction with the Seraph Group, a seed stage venture capital investment firm founded by Tuff Yen.
HYPE Sports Innovation
HYPE Sports Innovation is a global eco-system for sports innovation, comprised of 13 specialized accelerators with hosting partners such as: 1. FC Köln, NYU PRTI for Global Sport, Loughborough University and others.
HYPE collaborates with more than 40,000 key industry members, including retail brands, athletic clubs, federations and academia, and with more than 11,000 startups.
HYPE’s vision is to impact peoples’ lives thorough the power of sports and innovation and Converting Sports innovation into business success. Since its inception in 2015, HYPE has created and expanded unique offerings and services, among its collaborators are UEFA, Adidas, Spalding, Silicon Valley Bank, Asics and many more.
Headquartered in Berlin, leAD was founded by the grandsons of Adolf “Adi” Dassler, a German cobbler, inventor and entrepreneur who founded Adidas. leAD is a seed accelerator for innovative products, services and business models in the realm of sports. The company invests in visionary ventures around trendsetting sports technology, media, entertainment, management and lifestyle.
IeAD Sports also created the leAD Business Builder, which manages companies in the leAD portfolio coming out of the Accelerator program, and the ADvantage Sports Tech Fund, which focuses on Series A sports tech companies, helping them scale and grow.
Global Sports Venture Studio
The Global Sports Venture Studio is a platform for industry leaders looking to embrace disruption, experiment with innovation, and engage with the global startup ecosystem.
Built on the success of the Dodgers Accelerator with R/GA, the Studio brings together leagues, brands, media companies, and other corporates to deliver a 360-degree view of the sports, technology, and entertainment landscape.
Global Sports Venture’s founding partners include Adidas, Fox Sports, NHL, Major League Baseball, Octagon and others.
Headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, Stadia Ventures is an early-stage, sports- and esports- focused venture capital firm with an accelerator program, a hub for entrepreneurs, industry partners and investors, that creates an ecosystem for sports innovation. Since 2015, Stadia Ventures has invested in 30 portfolio companies.
Stadia Accelerator funds rising sports-related start-ups that are involved in categories including equipment, apparel, software/apps, big data analytics, fantasy, gaming, nutrition, and training.
Cases in Point
Many startups that have participated in acceleration programs and are well-placed on the route to success.
Did you know that using virtual reality (VR), football training can boost real-time performance?
Developing the first ever VR training platform, SoccerDream (https://www.soccerdream.com/) proves it. The platform enables to design a customized training plan, and to measure and track improvement over time, guaranteeing the learning transfer to the real field.
Meanwhile, TOKABOT (http://tokabot.com/) is re-inventing fan engagement with its unique social engagement platform. On the user end, it’s a smart chatbot that specializes in football, and on the platform side it is a dynamic content and marketing channel that enables fan-engagement for stakeholders and sponsors. Since its inception in 2017, the company has teamed up with the German Football Association and with global online gaming companies.
For users who want to order their favorite concession foods directly from their smartphones,
Digifood (https://www.digifood.fr/) helps stadiums build amazing experiences via a modern mobile platform that allow fans anywhere to order their concessions and have them ready for express pickup or delivery at their favorite events.
The sport tech revolution is here to stay. Companies ready for the impending transformation have more opportunities than ever, including opportunities afforded by incubators that can put them on their way to the industry’s next unicorn.
Amir Raveh is the President and Founder HYPE Sports Innovation, a company dedicated to accelerating and investing in sports innovation since 2013. HYPE is the industry-leading ecosystem, with 12 global accelerators and more than 40,000 members. Previously, Amir founded the British investment house MG Equity Partner Managing which invests in early-stage ventures. He also founded & served as CEO of Media Call UK Ltd which was sold in 2003.