Homecoming

Silicon Valley-founded sports tech startup relocates to Houston

Win-Win, a gamified donation platform, is moving to Houston this summer. Photo via Facebook

It's a homecoming of sorts for Mike T. Brown, a professional athlete turned entrepreneur, who is moving his Silicon Valley-founded startup to his hometown of Houston. Win-Win is a tech-enabled platform where fans can donate to their favorite athletes' causes through a gamified donation platform.

The company launched in 2016 and since raised $1.2 million in funding. Win-Win is ready to scale, according to a press release, and launch full-scale during the 2019 NFL season. Currently, the company is accepting investors on a crowdfunding site.

Brown will move his team into The Cannon this summer and enter The Cannon's Venture Studio.

"I couldn't be more excited about returning to Houston to become a part of the city's tech revolution," says Brown in the release. "After visiting The Cannon, I immediately felt the energy and have witnessed their commitment to pushing Houston's tech startup movement. I can't wait to get fully plugged into the city's ecosystem, to start hiring local talent and raising money from local investors."

Brown spent four years in the NFL, and was at one point a linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts. He hung up his helmet in 2013, taught himself to code, and moved to Silicon Valley. He worked as a mid-market growth lead for a $32 million venture-backed startup called Kiip. Growing up in Houston, Brown attended Alief Taylor High School before playing football at Duke University, getting a degree in public policy.

Win-Win is moving to the city at a time when sports startups are thriving, says Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon. Gow is the son of InnovationMap's parent company's CEO. The Cannon is also home to sports tech startup sEATz.

"Houston has long needed better entrepreneurial resources to stop our startups from leaving for greener pastures, and we are excited to be part of the local entrepreneurial growth over the last couple of years, helping to provide a landing spot for a young, growing company like Win-Win," says Gow in the release. "On top of that, Houston is extremely well-positioned to be the home for sports-tech startups, and Mike moving back can be a great catalyst towards continuing to establish our city as a sports-tech hub."

Win-Win is joining fellow sports tech startup sEATz at The Cannon.Courtesy of The Cannon

Technology is changing America's pastime, and the Houston Astros have the lead off. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Over the past decade or so, sports franchises have seen a boom in technology integration. The fact of the matter is that both the teams and the players need to tap into tech to have a competitive advantage on the field — and especially when it comes to the business side of things.

"Technologically advanced companies want to do business with technologically advanced companies," says Matt Brand, senior vice president of corporate partnerships and special events at the Houston Astros. "Old cats like me need to realize you have to stay current or else you're just going to get passed up."

Brand was the subject of a live recording of HXTV — the video arm of Houston Exponential — at The Cannon. He addressed several trends in sports technology, and shared how the Astros are approaching each new hot technology.

The Astros are pretty ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, Brand says, and the trick is keeping a pulse on potential game-changing technology far in advance of implementation.

"The things that we're developing now in 2019 and 2020 are the thing that are going to help us in 2024 and 2025," Brand says.

The approach to technology in sports is changing as younger players enter the scene.

"This generation of players want all the technology they can get," Brand says. "They want what's going on up to the day."

From esports to sports betting sites, here's what the hometeam has on its radar, according to brand.

The evolution of pitching technology

One aspect of the game that's been greatly affected by technology is pitching. Brand says that pitching coach, Brent Strom, is better able to do his job nowadays that there's better quality video and monitoring technologies. Brand cited the transformations of former pitcher Charlie Morton and current pitcher Ryan Pressly. Both saw impressive transformations in their pitching ability thanks to Strom and his technology.

"Brent has the ability to take technology and blend it with the craft," Brand says.

The players as industrial machines

One way the franchise thinks about its players is as machines — in the least objectifying way, surely. But Brand compares baseball players to major, expensive oil and gas machines, and in heavy industry, it's very common for a company to drop $30 million or more on a machine. Of course the company would schedule preventative maintenance and service appointments to protect their investments.

"We've got players now who are high performance machines," Brand says, citing players like Justin Verlander. "We want to make sure we have the best technology and the best care around them."

From doctors and nutritionists to the latest and greatest technologies, implementing the best practices is a good way to protect your assets.

Wearables and sleep technology

Another trend within sports is tracking sleep using technology. Wearable devices to track sleep and health are widely used, says Brand, but the Astros weren't comfortable with the constant monitoring.

"They feel like it's an invasion of privacy," Brand says. They feel like the data would be used against them when it came time to negotiate their contracts.

But prioritizing sleep is crucial in a sport where players travel across the country playing 162 games a season. Brand says investing in the players' sleep equipment is something they make sure to do.

Esports

Brand says, somewhat controversial, that esports is pretty low on the franchise's priority list, and there's one reason for that: Money.

"A lot of these sports teams aren't profitable right now," Brand says, noting that he knows that will probably change over the years.

While the teams themselves might not be making money, the number of users of video games makes for a different avenue to revenue.

"The platforms are what we see as profitable," Brand says, explaining how he's seen brands like Nike advertise in gaming apps.

"There's definitely a pathway to profitability, but esports means different things to different people," he says.

Sports marketing and betting

Looking toward the future, Brand says he sees movement coming in marketing and betting within sports.

With mobile devices in the hands of most sports event goers, brands have access to authentic, engaging content.

"Everyone with a phone is a producer of content, and a lot of brands want that content," he says.

Sports betting technologies have seen profitable success in other United States markets that allow it.

"Betting is the next biggest thing in sports," Brand says. "All the major leagues are saddled up with big money there. In Texas, it's illegal still, but it's coming."