When companies ink an important partnership or venture into a new business vertical, they usually do so utilizing data and information to help support their decisions. But based on what former NFL linebacker and veteran entrepreneur Isaiah Kacyvenski has seen in the growing-yet-nascent sports technology world, this is happening far less often than expected.
That’s why Kacyvenski is teaming up with 4-time U.S. women’s hockey Olympic medalist Angela Ruggiero and former Forrester VP of Research Josh Walker to launch the Sports Innovation Lab, a new Boston-based company that has developed a market research and advisory platform for the sports and fitness industry.
The founders are working to build a hub that has more than 1,000 vendor profiles categorized in 30 sectors and within four major trends: the quantified athlete, smart venues, immersive media, and next generation sponsorship.
The idea is to help anyone interested in potential sports tech and fitness business opportunities — entrepreneurs, investors, agencies, startups, large companies, teams, leagues, etc. — get a better sense for what’s going on in this burgeoning world of sports and fitness. The group also provides access to an advisor network.
Kacyvenski, a former linebacker who spent eight seasons in the NFL including six years with the Seahawks, found off-the-field success after his playing days. He was an early employee of MC10, a wearable device and healthcare company; he graduated from Harvard Business School; and he has invested in 15 startups.
Kacyvenski first met Ruggiero when the two former collegiate athletes were attending Harvard; their initial encounter came about because Kacyvenski was the “ice hockey stick security guard,” as he tells GeekWire.
Ruggiero, who was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015, has spent more than a decade in sports administration, working with organizations like the International Olympic Committee and the Los Angeles 2024 Olympic bid team.
Walker, meanwhile, spent more than six years at Forrester and knew Kacyvenski from the Boston startup scene. He said Sports Innovation Lab is essentially mimicking what companies like Forrester and Gartner do, but with a focus on sports tech and fitness.
“We’ve continued to see that nobody was doing this,” said Walker, who is also a startup investor. “It wasn’t a single lightbulb moment; there was just a constant need for us to help the people we were working with understand what’s happening with sports and technology.”
Added Kacyvenski: “We come at this from multiple angles, but we see the same opportunity.”
Sports Innovation Lab will make money similar to how firms like Gartner and Forrester generate revenue, by charging membership and subscription fees in exchange for access to its platform, network, events, videos, and more.
Walker said this is the perfect time to launch Sports Innovation Lab given how much interest in technology there is from athletes, coaches, trainers, owners, team executives, arena operators, and seemingly everyone in between that is looking to get an edge both on and off the field. There are also large tech companies like Microsoft, Intel, and others are realizing how their technology services and products can be utilized in sports.
“We just believe now is really the right time play this card,” Walker said.
Kacyvenski called the sports tech and fitness industry a “ridiculously fragmented space” and he hopes the Sports Innovation Lab will bring clarity for its clients. Ruggiero added that the opportunity extends beyond just the U.S.
“Technology doesn’t have a language — you can take it and deploy it across the world,” she said. “The sports space is ripe to take what is best in class in one part of the world and leverage it across the industry. The sports landscape has become a big business and now technology is going to enable it to grow at a really increasing speed.”
The three founders, also managing directors, have self-funded Sports Innovation Lab, which has several founding partners like IBM, Octagon, Gatorade, Booz Allen Hamilton, Go4It, STACK Media, Portico Capital, Harvard Innovation Labs, MIT Sports Tech Research Group, the USC Center for Body Computing, and the NFL Players Association.
Sports Innovation Lab is also a founding partner of the OneTeam Collective, a new organization run by the NFLPA — the union for NFL players — that is similar to a business accelerator with support from tech companies, venture capital firms, and more. Kacyvenski is an inaugural member of the collective’s athlete advisory board.