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Hear from the leAD Sports Accelerator Alumni: Better business, better lives

Jyoti Chidambaram Ayyar
25th Apr 2018
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The world of sports is fiercely competitive. As is the world of business. In both, survival and success largely depend on arriving at a winning formula at the right time. And combining the two worlds and getting the formula right can be a difficult task. This is where the leAD sports accelerator is making a difference in the lives of young sports startups.

leAD (legacy of Adi Dassler) began its journey in February 2017 as an accelerator programme to fund and support early-stage startups with innovative products or services in sports. With its legacy and extensive network in the global sports industry, leAD has brought together some of the most sought-after experts in the field to nurture the participants.

Applications are now open for the second batch of the leAD sports accelerator. Click here to apply.

YourStory spoke to the founders of three startups from the first leAD accelerator batch of 2017 to know more about how the programme changed their lives and helped them take their business to the next level. Do read on to find out the advantages of being a part of this unique sports accelerator.

Wingfield (Germany)

An app that can turn any tennis court into a smart court

Wingfield co-founders Jaan Brunken and Maik Burlage went to a tennis boarding school together. Maik, also the Wingfield CEO, says, “As professional tennis players, we noticed that there were great technologies to track and improve training performance. The only problem was, those solutions were very expensive and only a few players in the world had access to them.”

So they decided to create a similar system that would be more affordable and one that any tennis club, high school, college or academy could use to give any player access to a smart court. “Jaan and I had a lot of experience and knowledge about the tennis market, but we needed brilliant engineers who could take on such a demanding project. That's when my brother Julius Burlage (mechanical engineer and computer hardware nerd) and Henri Kuper (electrical engineer and AI specialist) joined the team,” says Maik.

This was in 2016. Today, Wingfield is developing a system that can transform any tennis court in the world into a smart court. When playing on a court equipped with the Wingfield System, players get the same game analytics as the professionals do. The system keeps track of the score, analyses their strokes, detects their weaknesses, and gives feedback immediately after a match or practice session. From the average speed of their serve to a point-by-point video analysis of their game, the system provides you with all the information you need to improve their game.

“Our main goal is to make game-changing data analytics accessible to any player in the world. That’s why we use tennis-specific AI and embedded vision technology instead of expensive hardware. The outcome is a system that is slim and affordable,” says Maik.

On why they chose to apply to the leAD accelerator, he says, “We were actively looking for an accelerator programme that would help us to not only accelerate our progress, but also develop our skills as founders. Since we are first-time founders, that was important for us. When we heard about leAD, we knew right away that this is the right place for us. Like-minded sport enthusiasts with a strong network, years of experience, and an inspiring background.”

He says the experience of working with other startups and mentors from around the world was truly inspiring. “Within the first month, we had amazing coaching sessions with a lot of useful content and in the last two months we worked hard to become "investment ready". It was tough, but we accomplished far more than we expected.”

And the results are there for all to see. In the next few weeks, they will be closing a seed funding round, and Maik says it would have been impossible to achieve this milestone so quickly without the leAD programme. The Wingfield team is now working on fine-tuning their product before they go to market. Even here, he says, Klaus and Horst Bente (Adi Dassler’s grandchildren) have paved the way by putting them in touch with important tennis federation officials and tournament organisers, who can help them gain visibility in the tennis market.

Team Wingfield

According to Maik, “The whole leAD network consists of sports enthusiasts, but everyone also has strong network in business. We had valuable input sessions from experts in marketing, finance and sales etc. and we kept in touch with all them. leAD doesn't end with the Demo Day. It is a strong network that you can rely on.”

His advice to other young startups is this: “When you have great idea, and you are passionate about your vision, the leAD team will love you. Make sure that you are able to communicate your vision and that you already did homework by validating your assumptions (build a minimum viable product (MVP), validate product market fit, show traction, and build a strong founder team).

Who Knows Wins (UK)

A social event prediction platform made for sports fans, by sports fans 

Losing a simple wager to a friend over a game of cricket was how Jamie Graham came up with the concept of Who Knows Wins.

“On a holiday, I lost a wager to my smug friend. But as I handed over his winnings, ironically I felt satisfied as the amount was going to my friend and not a third party. We had experienced fun, banter, competition, joy, and despair during the game and, most of all, we had enhanced our experience of a sporting event with our interaction. When I returned to the UK, I started forming the basis of a great idea – a digital platform that allows friends to do this with each other on a huge scale,” says Jamie.

The solution he came up with was simple, exciting and unique. Jamie, the company’s CEO, says, “We have incorporated the

Jamie Graham, CEO, Who Knows Wins

beautiful competitive nature of a sporting event into a digital platform that enhance the users’ experience when watching that game of cricket, football, tennis, or whatever sport they wish.”

Explaining how it works, Jamie says, “Who Knows Wins allows fans anywhere in the world to play against each other in league tables, predicting the results of basically any sporting event. We are also launching a crypto-currency in the form of WIN tokens that will be distributed through our ICO token sale during the next few months. Holders of the coin will be allowed to access our platform on IOS and Android and enter league competitions against friends, family, work colleagues, or just other like-minded sports fans across the globe. Each league has an entry fee of WIN tokens, and the tokens are pooled and redistributed to the winners. Not only can you have fun and interact, you have the chance of accumulating more and more WIN tokens.”

According to Jamie, their solution makes sport event prediction more engaging and interactive than current platforms, which gives an individual the chance to make sports predictions, but in isolation. On other platforms, the wagers are made between the fan and an entity and there is no fun or social element, which could turn dangerous or illegal, says Jamie, and adds, “Our solution makes everything more transparent.”

He says the leAD accelerator programme instantly stood. “Our company is founded on the love for sports so when we saw the synergy between our passion and leAD’s passion for sports, it made perfect sense and we were very excited to be involved.”

He describes the experience of being part of the three-month-long programme as something he had been searching for, since a long time. “It allowed me to grow immensely on a personal level-- the people involved, the other entrepreneurs, the strategic structure of the whole programme -- it all made for a very inspiring environment.”

Even the business got a chance to mature exponentially, he says, adding that the structure in place at leAD meant they had access to a world of experience and knowledge through mentors, advisors, and investors. “leAD is a one of a kind accelerator. You feel the motivation, the inspiration, the desire to succeed, and most of all, the competitive nature of sport in every corner. You listen to the founders and their deep-rooted passion for maintaining this legacy of Adi Dassler and it makes you see things in a different way. It makes you realise what can be achieved, what has been achieved, and how disruptive you can be regardless of size and structure. Theirs is an underlying presence within the building, and it drives you to creating your own destiny,” says Jamie.

He says young startups should not hesitate about applying to programmes such as the leAD accelerator. “When an accelerator moulds you into a refined entity, then delivers the right mix of investors and advisors, you naturally move quickly up the gears. The scope of our business now is greater than it has ever been.”

He adds that the programme is not limited to bettering businesses, but will also have a positive effect on the founders’ personality. “Life is about more than your career, it's about you and how you grow and that will have an effect on the people around you. Create your legacy,” says Jamie.

The Movement Athlete (Scotland)

A fitness journey like no other where you play, explore, learn new things and move.

An online fitness programme, which is designed like a game, where you need to unlock ‘levels’ of a particular exercise to move ahead and learn more advanced skills, that’s the USP of The Movement Athlete, which combines body weight training with gymnastics, calisthenics, acrobatics, hand balancing and tricking.

Agnieszka Nazaruk, the founder and CEO, says, “Unlike any other programme, training for skills such as cartwheels or planches

Agnieszka Nazaruk, Founder and CEO, The Movement Athlete

gives you a new dimension of motivation. It’s an alternative to all the current home-based workouts where you end up doing the same exercises over and over again and counting your calories. When you train for a skill, you are naturally forced to develop multiple attributes like strength, mobility, flexibility, skill and in the process you lose weight, build muscle and get healthy and lean,” says Agnieszka.

She explains that the programme is organised just like a game – for example, there are 15 steps before you get to do a handstand. Each step is an exercise that you need to achieve before you can move forward, and once you unlock the handstand, you move to tougher variations.

What makes it easy for the user to go from very basic to more advanced moves is the innovative AI-powered tech at the backend. “We work with a variety of different coaches to distil their knowledge into a simple interface and build a solution that acts just like a coach and does things like adjusting training based on your mobility assessments and guiding you through that journey in a safe, effective and step-by-step manner.”

What's interesting is that they haven’t yet released their mobile app, and have only been selling a web version of eight fundamental moves, which has seen a huge amount of traction.

“People are hungry for a solution, for something new and different. We have a community of over 40,000 people, and our customers and their success stories are our biggest motivators. What we do differently is understand that what people crave is not another six pack in six weeks, but a way to move consistently every day, injury-free, in a safe and effective way. Our system is designed for a constant feeling of progress and satisfaction as every day you are moving forward little by little towards your goal,” she says.

When they applied to the leAD programme, they had been bootstrapping for almost a year and had already seen a lot of traction. “We were ready to take it to the next level, but cash was tight and it was not something we would be able to fix unless we invested in product development. Also, we founders were hungry and understood that the company will only be able to grow if its founders grow. So we were searching for a network that would understand our vision and could help us take it global.”

On why they chose leAD, she says, “leAD brings a rare combination of a huge passion for sports, entrepreneurial knowledge, legacy and network, which I think a lot of other accelerators are missing. The whole programme is designed for startups that are trying to push the envelope, and leAD has an incredible network of mentors and partners who are very hands-on in helping you address challenges and help you get to the next level. It also brings the legacy of the Adi Dassler family and you can feel that spirit throughout the programme.”

The Movement Athlete at leAD

She says while the experience was intense, with a lot to do and learn in a very short time, it was worth it. “We got a lot of hands-on support with a variety of experts – from long pitching sessions, helping us with financials and providing advice on anything from team building to marketing strategy. What I also loved is that sports have been an integral part of the experience.”

Her advice to those just starting out on their entrepreneurial journey is this: “Get traction and proof of concept first. Programmes like LeAD can really accelerate you if you are in the right place and ready to take it to the next level. Secondly - get the right people on board - team is everything and your ability to execute fast will be critical.”

And, she has a special piece of advice for girls, “Don’t be intimidated!”

Click here to apply to the leAD sports accelerator.

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