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Sports Tech Hub: the UK’s first sport tech incubator

Meet the 18 startups trying to digitally transform us to be fitter

When thinking of tech startups, companies like Uber, AirBnb and Netflix may come to mind. Many of the companies you think of can be classified as travel, property, financial or even food tech startups. The sports industry, on the other hand, is a sector that hasn't launched its own incubators to foster innovation and is at risk of falling behind.

In order to remedy this, London Sport launched the Sport Tech Hub in October, when it welcomed 18 lucky startups through its doors. Its aim is to nurture these companies to create something that encourages people to be more physically active.

We talked to Alex Zurita, a specialist adviser for London Sport, to find out more about the incubator.

On the bench

London Sport received 50 applications in total, from which 18 were chosen to join the incubator.

When selecting which startups to sign up, Zurita says the driving factor they had to display was to get more people to participate in sport. They also had to be working on or already have some form of product or application.

"Some companies were on the more elite sport end which is not something we want to do," explains Zurita. "That's great, but that's not something that is going to save the NHS lots of money ... and, importantly, improve the lives of people."

He adds: "The thinking behind that is that we can support the growth of their product, their innovation and give them a lot more insight into the validity of that product, into the sector, into the actual real lives of Londoners."

Zurita says the incubator doesn't take any equity from the startups.

"If they've got a greater chance to succeed they've got a greater chance of revolutionising participation in London, getting more people to be physically active and benefiting from the outcomes that come from physical activity, which is mental wellbeing, physical wellbeing, social integration, [and] community cohesion," he says.

"We are doing this for the greater good of the public sector and public service, and for the greater good of Londoners."

The startups are given tailored introductions to the industry as well as the sport and physical activity network. They receive support and market evaluation to give them an insight into the barriers surrounding physical activity.

"We also want to tap into their stories and stay close to their journeys so we can showcase the impact that some of those companies will be having in the realms of physical activity and participation in London," says Zurita.

This is exactly why Racefully, a running app that encourages people to exercise together no matter where they are in the world, decided to join.

Chris Pointon, Racefully's co-founder and CTO, says: "We saw a unique opportunity to build partnerships, make connections, create opportunities, help wherever called upon, and learn as much as possible."

And afterwards? "We plan to pursue a growth round in the first half of 2018 to ramp up sales, expand internationally, particularly to North America, and continue to develop the product," he says.

Warming up

The reason for launching an incubator was simple; a space was needed where technology companies in the sports industry could have somewhere to develop.

"The main reason is that we want to revolutionise the way that sport and physical activity participation can be scaled," says Zurita.

He claims that while virtually every other industry is benefiting and growing through the use of technology, sport has yet to really take advantage of it.

In order for London Sport to revolutionise people's participation in sport, the industry must tap into digital and tech just as much as other industries have done.

"There was nothing until now that allowed people who want to get more people physically active by the means of digital and tech to be able to grow their idea from. We took it upon ourselves to set up an incubator to achieve that, to give tech companies the opportunity to grow their business, understand their business model a lot more, develop their product with the industry and customer in mind and get to know the industry a lot more," says Zurita.

TrainASONE is developing an AI personal running coach. In the past, it had applied to be part of health incubators but wasn't accepted as it didn't meet the right criteria; Sport Tech Hub is the first sport tech incubator it's heard of.

Sean Radford, founder and CEO of the startup, says TrainASONE joined the incubator as it needed to feed its AI system more data, about users and what activity they are doing, and to help develop its interface.

"By joining the Sports Tech Hub incubator we hope to tap into the wealth of experience of individuals and organisations, along with access to potential partners, that is available in order to guide us along this stage of our start-up journey," he explains.

Radford saw the incubator as an amazing opportunity to guide the startup's product market fit and to reach out to potential partners. He also says: "Making London the FitTech capital of the world is an added bonus."

Strong Finish

The incubator plans to have an alumni programme to support the startups' growth once their time in the incubator is up, where the startups can be mentors for future cohorts.

"We want to stay close to their development as that way we can continue to tell their story to the rest of the sector, the rest of the network as well as the tech story," explains Zurita. "Part of the longer term goal is that we can go out and diversify the tech talent that comes into sport tech so that the innovation can relate to a wider range of Londoners."

London Sport is hoping to open applications for a new cohort next year with the incubator beginning around spring time.

"We want to learn from the existing cohort and we want to then build the next cohort an application and a programme based on insight, based on learning, based on real data we have obtained from startups," says Zurita.

The next incubator should last for six months although the organisation is considering a "shorter, punchier version" of the current programme which, will run for 12 weeks instead.

It's not only important for the UK to invest in tech but also for each industry to do so. If a sector is not doing enough to keep up with digital transformation, it may be at risk to falling behind. Using technology will open new doors for industry and, if these startups are successful, hopefully make us fitter in the process.

Main image credit: Shutterstock

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