leAD sports accelerator is not just about creating champions but fostering team spirit and building life-long partnerships


This story is sponsored by leAD Sports Accelerator.

For Adi Dassler, innovation was an ongoing process. “He was a man of action. For him, products were never really finished. Even when an athlete achieved success in his shoes, he was already thinking of ways to improve them,” says Horst Bente, the Co-founder and Director of the leAD sports accelerator, and Dassler’s grandson.

leAD Directors Horst and Klaus Bente

It is this legacy of entrepreneurship and innovation that the family of Adi Dassler, who founded leAD, want to replicate through their sports-focussed accelerator. Siblings Klaus, Horst, and Stefan Bente are committed to ushering in a new era of sports innovation on an international stage by leveraging their wide influence and expertise in the global sports industry.

The accelerator has already received over 280 applications from early-stage startups across the globe, including the US, the Middle East, Europe and Asia, for the first three-month cohort that begins this September in Berlin.

The last date to apply to the accelerator is May 31.

The race to the finish line

What sets leAD apart is its exclusive focus on sports. The accelerator is bolstered by a strong network of investors, mentors and partners who are experienced insiders from the sports world. In addition, it is backed by substantial capital, and participating startups can get direct access to both. The programme also has an interdisciplinary approach, with a strong focus on team and leadership development.

Structured unlike most other accelerator programmes, the entire process has been designed like a typical sports tournament leading up to the finale.

Once the application process is complete, screening rounds will be held in the first two weeks of June. Select startups will be invited to participate in ‘selection days’ or the ‘quarter-finals’. On July 6 and 7, an expert jury will choose the 15 startups that will join the first edition of the accelerator on September 12 in Berlin. These handpicked startups will be put through a customised challenging and intensive programme designed by a dedicated coach.

On October 10, the semi-finals will be held at the StartupCon conference in Cologne, Germany, where the 15 semi-finalists will make another pitch to leAD mentors and investor groups. An interesting aspect of this round is that the panel will not only give weightage to the pitch, but also factor in the participants’ performance during the first four weeks of the programme.

“Our experience is that only after you have a team sitting in your space can you actually tell who is going to make it and who is not going to make it. You see how serious they are. You see the teams working together, so that’s why we implemented these semi-finals,” says Nathalie Sonne, leAD Programme Head.

Five teams will be eliminated after the semis, and 10 startups will move onto the Demo Day or the finale, scheduled for December 8. Each of these 10 finalists will get €25,000 in exchange for eight percent of their company, thereby creating a level playing field.

The visibility gained through association with leAD, is an advantage they will continue to enjoy as alumni of this prestigious programme.

As Horst Bente reiterates, “Next to successful business, for me it's equally important that we have a very close relationship with all the entrepreneurs and their teams, just as Adi Dassler always treated the athletes and partners he worked with as a part of our family.”

Coaches and cheerleaders and the practice sessions

The leAD team includes sought-after experts who can teach, nurture, and fund deserving sports startups. Sports business veterans, successful founders, investors and tech experts will back the startups with their experience and connect them with influential and relevant networks. The participants will also get support from industry partners, agencies, and universities, who will play a key role in helping them drive their business plan, prototypes, RTM, and pitch into the future. The 12-week high-intensity programme covers business, leadership, and pitching skills, stress testing the startups’ business plan and vetting its paperwork and legal framework. The participants also have a fantastic opportunity to test, improve, and scale their product or solution, with leAD industry partners providing smart early product feedback. What’s more, they also have a chance to gain their first customers during the programme itself.

What kind of player will qualify?

For its inaugural cohort, leAD is looking for companies in the broader sports community across a multitude of segments and different business models such as:

  • Tracking
  • Media and entertainment
  • Venues and ticketing
  • Fan engagement and merchandise
  • (Connected) equipment and (functional) clothing
  • Gaming and virtual reality
  • New sports or new sport formats
  • Inclusive sport and integration sports

So if you are in it for the long run, believe that team spirit is a key ingredient for startup success, want to boost your entrepreneurial savviness, are looking to get better at your pivoting skills, and want access to the most important global players in the sports industry, apply to the leAD sports accelerator today.

Hurry, the last date to apply is May 31.


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