Accelerating Sports Technology Development And Innovation

Roughly 4 years ago, I wrote a post about crowdsourcing sports innovation – how sports companies and organisations were inviting people with ideas to step forward and pitch their innovations. Fast forward to 2017, the ways of generating new sports tech ideas have grown and evolved. From sports hackathons to accelerators, incubators, and Meetups, and online communities and invite-only/secret-squirrel investment funds or a mash-up of 2 or more of the above.  I am definitely no expert in this area but based on my very limited experience, here’s a look at a few of the possible ways to accelerate sports technology development and innovation.

Hackathons

One way of defining hackathons* (from HackathonAustralia) is this: “Hackathons are competitions that challenge people to create something over a set time period using technologies.”. So in the case of a sports hackathon, that “something” created would be an innovative sports tech solution that meets an existing need/pain. It could be a hardware solution or a software solution or both.

[Themes] Depending who is organising or sponsoring the hackathon, events could have a specific theme/focus like the Western Bulldogs hackathon that provided participants with their athletes’ GPS data to do further analysis or the Future Of Sports Tech Hackathon by Enflux that allowed participants to use their motion capture technology or the Hack4Sports that had a focus on building sports tech startups.

[Needs Assessment] Whichever the theme, the participants would require some guidance/directions on real needs vs good-to-haves. That’s where industry experts and end-users (sports clinicians/analysts/coaches etc) who are at the event, can offer that perspective. This could be through talks or interactive workshops on specific areas such as improving performance or injury prevention or increasing participation etc.

[Forming teams] Following that, teams need to be formed to design the solutions. Some participants might have already formed teams prior to signing up to hackathons. But it is quite common for people to rock up by themselves. So hackathons might dedicate a session for team-forming. Typically people who have a passion in the same area would team up. Other than that, it is also helpful to have a good mix of hackers, hipsters and hustlers in the team.

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Hustler, Hipster and Hacker

[Pitching Comp] Most hackathons involve a pitching competition which means the solution (created within that 1 or 2 days of hacking) has to be validated with real life users/customers and has a potential market fit. The team with the winning pitch usually wins something that can help them take their idea further. That could be prize money or often they get to be part of an accelerator program to develop that Lo-fi prototype into a minimum viable product (MVP). Else they at least have bragging rights.

[If you are interested in a sports hackathon, please complete this SURVEY]

Meetups

Sports Tech Meetups (literally on the Meetup site) are to some extent scaled down versions of hackathons and/or pitching competitions. It is usually a local group of sports tech-minded people getting together once in a while to do stuff such as pitch nights or show-and-tell or have people already in the industry sharing their insights and experience. There are no fixed rules and format which makes it quite casual and there are no barriers to joining a meetup other than geography. All you need is an interest in sports technology.

[Here’s a couple of examples: Melbourne Sports Analytics Meetup, Seattle Sports Tech Meetup]

This makes Meetups a good platform for people who are new to sports tech to come explore the field, network and learn more.  It is also good for people who have developed a concept or MVP to come and get feedback from others (through pitch nights or show-and-tells). The next steps for these people could be to take part in a hackathon or join an accelerator program or incubator.

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Online Communities

I believe this is quite plain and doesn’t require much explanation. There are quite a number of online platforms that allow people with an interest or a stake in sports technology to be a part of. From Google Groups to LinkedIn Groups to Facebook Pages. But what I observed (at least on LinkedIn Groups) is that there are very little open discussions within the groups/pages. In most cases, article posts get “Likes” or 1 or 2 Comments. Sometimes the posts are just companies trying to promote their products and services which often gets no “Reactions” whatsoever. So I am not sure if these groups are any good at promoting or even accelerating innovations in sports tech.

There is another online platform that has been growing in popularity (in the last few years) especially in the startup community – it is an invite only platform called Slack. Basically, it is meant to be an internal chat system for team members of an organisation to have work/project discussions. But one sports technology startup group that call themselves Starters decided to jump on this platform and allowed anyone who is in a sports tech startup (or trying to build one) to sign up to be part of the group. Though there is a fee to get in, it’s mostly to ensure that only people who are seriously interested join.

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But what is happening within this Starters Slack group is quite phenomenal. Ideas are exchanged, there are open discussions, Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions, connections and introductions are made online, followed with meet-ups in real life, actual events (hackathons, accelerator programs & meetups) are organised and promoted, and I am sure there is more happening between individuals through direct messages (DMs). What’s amazing is that though it’s mainly based in the US, there are individuals and companies participating from all over the world.

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Starters – a global sports tech startup community

Slightly similar to Starters is a SportsBiz slack group started by the SportsGeek from Melbourne.The main difference is that there is slightly less emphasis on startups or sports technology and more on sports business in general. But the objective is not that different – to use the platform for sharing ideas, finding collaborators and opportunities, and ultimately pushing the sports industry forward.

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Some Key Points

So there are a few key points that I take out of this. One of it is, we need to collaborate. No one can build anything great on their own. Not only do we need a diverse team with different skill sets, we need input from other people (locally & globally) or run the risk of tunnel vision. Secondly, competition spurs innovation. Which is quite apt since we are talking about sports technology here, where one of the aims of it is to help athletes perform better and win the competition. Lastly, none of the avenues on its own can be the be-all, end-all of this topic. Especially if we are talking about building successful long-term sports tech enterprises. People at different stages of their ideas or development would probably go through a different process. What may work for some may not work for others. We may need to change from something that doesn’t work anymore (e.g. LinkedIn Groups) to something else that does (e.g. Slack).

I know I haven’t commented much about accelerators and incubators. That’s mainly because I have not had any personal experience with them. What I do know is that you need to at least have a team (and not just a great idea) to be part of an accelerator and preferably an MVP to join an incubator.

Finally, I think for someone who: has a few good ideas, is passionate about  (or has some exposure to) sports technology and doesn’t quite have a clear direction or built a team yet, a sports hackathon can be a good place to start. This is something I would like to explore a little more. So if you think the same way and would like to take part in a sports hackathon (or not), or if you have other thoughts on accelerating sports technology innovation, do help me out and complete this SURVEY or leave a comment or drop me a message on Twitter or LinkedIn. With that, thanks for reading!

Other related readings:

This post can also be found here


*Hackathons have also been known as hack days, hackfests, startup weekends, makeathons, design-athons etc.

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Crowdsourcing Sports Innovation

Crowdsourcing Sports Innovation GameChangerMost people probably heard of crowdsourced funding platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. There are of course many other similar platforms all over the world that help budding entrepreneurs or generally people with new/good ideas to fulfil their venture. I wrote a little about crowdsourced funding for sports technology a year ago and since then, there has been a LOT more innovative sports tech products that went the crowdsourced funding way. Some of them were also mentioned on this blog, like wearable activity trackers,  swimming technologies, smart sports equipment with sensors and tech that prevents sports injuries. Like I said, there are LOTS more sports technology that are on those platforms and I reckon Kickstarter or Indiegogo should just start a new category called Sports Technology. If you follow DCRainmaker, you will probably notice that he has set aside a section for athletic crowdfunded projects on his weekly reviews.

Now, it sounds like its just the sports innovators and entrepreneurs putting themselves out there, seeking random funding and investors, but things are starting to change.

The Australian Sports Technology Network recently ran a Sports Tech Investment Pitching Competition (2nd year running) that aimed to uncover new innovations in sports technology. How did it work? Basically, people were invited to make an initial submission of their product/innovation; then 8 of the submissions were selected and put through an eight minute investment pitching competition where each of them were ‘grilled’ by experts in sports business and commercialisation (think Dragons’ Den). Finally a winner and a runners up were selected based on innovation and commercial viability. On top of winning some prize money, they also receive 12 months of advice and mentoring to assist them in their new venture. If you want to see what one of the ASTN pitching is like, check out this video from the 2012 competition:

Nike is running their own innovation program starting early next year (also for a second time). Focused around the Nike+ fuel band, Nike launched the Nike Fuel Lab. So if you have an idea of a product or service that could integrate with Nike Fuel (and “help millions of people be more active”), Nike is inviting you to submit your idea by 20th Jan 2014 (no business plans required). 10 of those submitted ideas will then be selected for a 12-week program (in San Francisco) where the 10 teams will be given access to the Nike+ APIs and SDKs, and coached to further develop theirs products/services technically as well as from a business point of view. Finally at the end of the 12-weeks, a Demo Day will give the ten teams an opportunity to present their product concepts to the Nike leaders, industry leaders, angel investors and venture capitalists. To get a rough idea of how it’s like, check out the below video of their inaugural program called Nike+ Accelerator that just ended a few months back.

Under Armour (UA) is also crowdsourcing innovative ideas that leverages on their new performance monitoring device – the Armour39, which is essentially a heart rate monitor strap with connectivity to an iOS device. As far as I can see, there are no motion sensors in there but it does calculate calories burned and a metric they call WILLpower (trademarked). The format of their competition, the Armour39 challenge, is quite similar to the ASTN and Nike one. Innovators are invited to submit proposals for technologies that could expand the capabilities of the Armour39; all the proposals will be sifted down to 50, and those 50 get to develop their prototypes with the Armour39 SDK; then 15 of those prototypes get selected to do a final presentation/pitching on this Digital Future Show event next year (which is also only their 2nd one). Winner and runners up get the prize money and the opportunity to collaborate with UA. Here’s a glimpse of what the last Future Show was like and what were some of the ideas that surfaced:

I think by now we all get a gist of what’s going on here, my point is, sports companies and organisations are starting to look for innovations outside of themselves. They obviously recognise that they don’t have all the answers (even with their engineers and scientists working hard in the labs) and they probably noticed that there are many innovators/creators/makers out there with ideas but not enough resources to bring it to fruition. So they start their own crowdsourcing – Set up a stage/platform to draw innovations in, pick out the good ones (ones that can make money), invest in them and push them into market! Sure, its not a new concept and they sound like a spoof of Dragons’ Den (or other programs..) but its churning out sports innovations and I think that’s awesome!

Lastly, for those of you who have innovative ideas for technology in sports, why not give these competitions a shot. The ASTN pitching competition will probably run again next year, check out their website for details*. The Nike+ Fuel Lab has a submission deadline on 20th Jan 2014 and the deadline for the UA Armour39 challenge is 15 Nov 2013. Even if you don’t win the competition, I reckon you still gain some interesting experience. Or if you are not one who likes to “show off” in public, Under Armour also set up an online tool for people to submit their ideas, and they will work with you to develop it if they find it has potential. So what are you waiting for? Like what the 10th Doctor always says: Allons-y!

*the ASTN pitching competition is currently only open to people living in Australia.