Last month, we concluded the application phase for the inaugural SPORTS TECH TOKYO program - a milestone we collaboratively achieved with our partner, Dentsu - that brings together the best and most promising sports tech companies in the same way top-tier athletes will be descending upon Japan the next couple years.
From pre-revenue to late-stage and everything in between, hundreds of applications were submitted, representing five continents, 33 countries and over 13 industry areas of focus across three core categories: Athlete Performance, Stadium Experience and Fan Engagement.
The broad-based enthusiasm from sports tech startups has been humbling, and I’m grateful for Dentsu’s support as well as the collaborative efforts of our team, including program mentors that represent the very best of the sports (tech) industry. However, what I’m most proud and passionate about surrounding this program is the way in which we’re redefining and reinventing what it means to accelerate startups into growth.
We asked sports tech companies of all shapes, sizes and geographic locales to (re)imagine an “accelerator” that:
- doesn’t require a “pay-to-play” model (equity, program fee or rev-share)
- is focused on R&R: revenue-optimization and relationship-generation
- enables virtual participation and mentorship so as to complement (not disrupt) business priorities
- places an emphasis on APAC (Japan in particular)—one of the most underserved, yet strategically important regions of the world
The responses we received throughout our global road show, countless phone conversations, and ultimately, applications, have reaffirmed that SPORTS TECH TOKYO is not an accelerator in the traditional sense (nor do we aspire to be - there are plenty of great ones out there); what we’ve created is a community that is designed to address some of the most pervasive problems that have stymied growth throughout the industry - notably, the central theme of fragmentation.
By region, stage and area of focus, the sports tech industry has been siloed far too long. Great entrepreneurs and promising technologies are being held back by a lack of connecters and advocates that have the ability to remove barriers and help realize true potential. Whether it’s partnerships (top-line growth), fundraising or product development, we need to rewrite the playbook with an emphasis on community rather than isolation.
All companies—no matter how big or small—require constant acceleration. This is precisely why we designed a stage-agnostic program for 150+ best-in-class startups rather than limiting involvement to a select few. We want to foster an environment that expands comfort zones and relationship networks as a means of facilitating greater collaboration: startups-to-startups, startups-to-mentors and startups-to-corporate partners. We want to create a platform to celebrate and promote the game-changing technologies that are being developed by industry thought-leaders. We want to want to bring the sports tech world together on an on-going basis (not just for a multi-month program) to accelerate this community holistically.
We are at an inflection point as an industry. For far too long, sports has been a net importer of innovation—following trends and technologies that have “trickled down” from other verticals (e.g., airline: dynamic pricing; security: surveillance/computer vision/ biometrics, data: CRM systems, etc.). That said, and thanks to the recent proliferation of sports tech funds popping up, tailwinds of change are emerging. But dollars alone do not solve systemic problems; it’s only when we embrace the value of community can we truly achieve greatness.
Vibrant communities are wide-ranging, far-reaching and diverse. Successful communities require leaders (mentors and corporate partners) that don’t talk down, but rather, engage in relationships that are thoughtful and mutually beneficial. Flourishing communities expand and find new, innovative ways to deliver value while collectively making everyone around them better.