on the right track

International accelerator launches sports tech program in Houston

A new accelerator program is looking for startups that are using technology to enhance the sports industry. Getty Images

MassChallenge, an international accelerator with headquarters in Boston, is seeking startups with tech solutions in sports and athletics.

The MassChallenge SportsTech track is made possible with the organization's partnership with St. Louis, Missouri-based Stadia Ventures, an early stage investment and innovation hub focusing on sports and esports.

"Our goal with the MassChallenge SportsTech track is to provide a conduit for that knowledge to orient itself to the most promising sportstech startups from across the world," says Jon Nordby, who leads MassChallenge Texas in Houston.

The program is an additional track to MassChallenge's seed stage accelerator, which accepts innovative startups that have raised less than $1 million in funding and generated less than $2 million in revenue. Houston's program launched just over a year ago.

InnovationMap asked Nordby a few questions about what startups can expect from the program and why Texas

InnovationMap: Why is Texas a market for sports tech?

Jon Nordby: We have the great fortune of living in a part of the country where sports are not a hobby — they are a way of life. There are 10 professional sports teams across the Texas Triangle covering every major league sport. More importantly, the Texas business community has for decades worked at the intersection of industry and technology and there is a huge knowledge base here that can use the sportstech industry as a vehicle to have a major impact on the world.

The inventions, product, and discoveries being made on the field today will make their way to commercial markets within the next five years or so. These discoveries are possible only if these startups have access to experts in health, materials, analytics, and communications — all of which Texas has in droves.

IM: What type of startups is the program for?

JN: For the SportsTech Track we are looking for companies that fit that criteria and have a product, service, or offering for the sports world. This could include anything to help humans perform better in a competitive environment (field, arena or online) or teams and leagues to better support their players and fans.

The seed stage accelerator is open to all early-stage startups from any industry. MassChallenge defines early stage as young companies whose founders are building creative and disruptive solutions to meet a market need. They have raised less than $1 million in funding and generated less than $2 million in revenue.

IM: What does the partnership with Stadia Ventures bring to the table?

JN: Stadia Ventures is a premier force in the sportstech industry with their startup accelerator and investment fund. Together we are creating a pipeline of support for startups from seed stage, through scale-up, and beyond. Stadia's elite network of more than 200 professional sports and esports executives paired with MassChallenge's global startup programs and curriculum will offer benefits to entrepreneurs from all industries.

IM: How will this program differ from MassChallenge's industry agnostic programming?

JN: The SportsTech track is in addition to the core MassChallenge program. Startups invited to participate in the SportsTech track will have access to additional industry-specific programming, events, and dedicated experts. These startups are eligible to compete for the equity-free cash awards and receive all other benefits and access associated with being a MassChallenge finalist.

IM: What are you looking for in mentors?

JN: MassChallenge experts are the foundation for all MassChallenge accelerators. They serve as our judges, mentors, and curriculum facilitators, interfacing directly with the startups and helping them identify scalable solutions for their businesses. Experts come from a variety of backgrounds including business executives, industry experts, subject matter experts, local political leaders, lawyers, engineers and beyond. All of them share one common thread: they want to help create the future. Anyone interested in applying to be a MassChallenge expert and supporting the startups in this year's cohorts can apply online.

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Building Houston

 
 

After working with thousands of interns, Allie Danziger of Ampersand Professionals says she's now got a product to upskill and train new hires for employers. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

After seeing success with her internship training and matchmaking platform, Allie Danziger, founder and CEO of Ampersand Professionals, has expanded the concept to include a new hire training service that allows employers to better optimize the onboarding process and have a well-trained new staff member from day one.

In just over a year, Ampersand has worked with over 7,000 professionals through its original concept of upskilling and matching young professionals to internship programs. A few months ago, Danziger and her team expanded to include career development training for students first entering the workforce with the City of Houston's Hire Houston Youth program. Danziger says it was developing out the platform for this program that proved there was a need for this type of training.

"While we have focused on matching professionals with businesses for paid internships, we recognized a further gap with employers that have their own recruiting/talent acquisition teams, or just their own preferred way of bringing on entry-level talent, and didn’t have a need for our matching platform," Danziger tells InnovationMap. "But, they recognized the benefit of our proven training platform that pre-vets and de-risks their hires, and still wanted access to the training for their own hires."

The new program has evolved from training interns to new hires, so parts of the program that focuses on interviewing or applying for a job have been removed. Instead, the 8.5 hours of training focuses on networking, best practices for working with a manager and team, performance reviews, common software training, and more.

Danziger says usually new hires need the most experienced mentor or manager, but they don't usually get that support — especially when it comes to businesses that don't have their own built-out mentorship or training program.

"Ampersand’s new training product fills that gap — it gives employers of any size any easy solution to provide basic job readiness training to employees, access to our team of dedicated coaches, and a detailed report at the end of their training summarizing how their new hire did in the training and any trends recognized and tips for managing this employee based on what the platform uncovered," she says. "Businesses can also sign up for additional coaching sessions and customize training materials, as an add-on if interested."

The program costs the employer $100 per new employee, and checkout online takes less than a minute. Through both this program and the original internship program, Ampersand is constantly evolving its training content.

"These professionals are going through the same training experience that we have proven out over the last year, and we are constantly adding to based on data we see in the user experience," Danziger says.

Danziger recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast discuss some of the benchmarks she's met with Ampersand, as well as the importance of investing in Gen Z hires. Listen to that episode below.


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