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Global Sport Innovators Venture to Adidas HQ: Freebowler

Winners of the Global Sport Venture Challenge meet with the global brand for a formative experience
July 10, 2019

At the center of the Global Sport Institute’s mission is “to support interdisciplinary research and innovation that examines critical issues impacting sport and all those connected to sport.” We have remained strongly committed to the pursuit of inspiring innovative thinking to positively shape the future of sport. Our work in the space is best exemplified through our venture funding opportunities and partnership with ASU Entrepreneurship + Innovation and Venture Devils.

Our two main venture competitions are the Global Sport Social Impact Challenge (GSSIC) and the Global Sport Venture Challenge (GSVC). The first challenge was created to support cultivated ideas that positively change the world using sport as a platform. Whereas, the second challenge is designed to help ASU-affiliated entrepreneurs grow their early-stage, sport-related product or service ventures. Winning ventures from each are eligible to receive grants and guided mentorship through our partnership with ASU Entrepreneurship and Innovation. In addition to the chance to compete for seed grants biannually (each fall and spring semester) on ‘Demo Days,’ students pursuing this track who become ‘Demo Day’ winners also qualify for a coveted chance to win a trip to the adidas North American headquarters in Portland, Oregon for an immersive experience.   

Pratt Palanethra, from Freebowler, discusses his mechanical pitching product with product development and marketing experts.

 

Our 2018-2019 winners took their trip in early June with a total of three teams spending two full days at the adidas Portland, Oregon campus. Trip highlights included a behind-the-scenes tour of the national headquarters, one-on-one coaching sessions with adidas executives matching their interests, and a guided “creator experience” in the adidas Makers Lab.  

Two of the three selected ventures surrounded our 2019 academic theme of ‘Sport and the Body,’ while a third focused on a traditional regarded international sport looking to grow and break into the U.S. mainstream sport market.  

To learn about their time with adidas, we asked each venture to share a little bit more about the valuable takeaways from the visit. Below is our Q & A with one of the three winning ventures, Pratt Palanethra, co-founder of Freebowler.

Freebowler logo, Courtesy of freebowler. 

 

  • 2nd place winner at the 2019 Global Sport Summit in March, 2019. Awarded $5k + Trip to Adidas HQ. 
  • Bio: “ At freebowler, we believe in innovating cricket and developing accessible training aids which helps all cricketers train like the pros. Freebowler embraces the culture of innovation. We recreate products, services and experiences for all cricketers to stay ahead of the game. The first of-its-kind non electric and portable cricket machine that solves the limitations of the existing bowling machine regarding usability, size, power requirements, use of machine balls and expense.” 

Our readers know the basics from your organization’s bio listed above, but can you shed light into the beginning stages of how you founded freebowler to fulfill a gap or need?   

Yes, I've written a Medium blog about the beginning of Freebowler called, "Freebowler Superthrower: Why I decided to build cricket's first portable cricket ball thrower.” 

At what stage of development would you categorize your venture in and why? (Concept, Start-up, Growth, or Late-Stage)  

I'd like to consider that we're in the 'Growth Stage' given the amount of progress we've made and traction we’ve gained since Freebowler’s product launch in late September 2018. You can see more in our product launch video.  

We now have over 200 users and currently being used in significant cricket playing nations (India, Australia, UK, South Africa) and in over ten countries. There's a lot of interest from potential marketers, distributors, prospective buyers, etc. We have been fortunate enough to be covered by some of the major national news and media channels mainly in India, post product launch, which has opened up doors and opportunities. So we are now looking to take this opportunity and momentum to reach out to our target audience globally. 

How has Global Sport Institute and your trip to Adidas impacted your venture’s journey? 

I've been working with Jeff over the course of the last year, even before the product launch, when we only had a prototype, not even a pre-production model. We've come a long way and winning the pitch competition not once but twice with ASU GSI/ E+I has been very reassuring. It's had a significant impact especially for a cricket based hardware startup to make our presence felt in the US. We are very fortunate to have received the recognition and to have been rewarded for our efforts. We’re hopeful and equally excited about the future opportunities with ASU E+I and GSI to popularise cricket in this part of the world.

The visit to adidas HQ only made it better. Again, their people appreciated our work and were thoroughly involved in the presentation through interaction and feedback. They offered their support through introductions to ‘adidas Cricket’ that will help us grow the company in the next phase. All of this positive reassurance is aiding our efforts at freebowler. 

Photo courtesy of Freebowler

 

What was your biggest takeaway from your visit to the adidas, North American HQ campus?  

Firstly, I've been to one of the biggest cricket equipment and sports equipment manufacturing facilities in India myself. So the campus visit to Adidas HQ was a very educational experience in a contrasting way, mainly to see the organizational setup and the process involved in bringing products to life.  

Secondly, the visit to the brand center and the campus tour with Tom were the highlights of the trip, I got so much out of it. I especially liked Tom’s take on “branding” over “product” and adidas’ vision for a sustainable ecosystem as well as the steps they are taking to set examples through unique initiatives was a standout.

Lastly, the one-on-one sessions were very productive and everybody in the session had very valuable feedback to share. There were some really great ideas from a branding and marketing standpoint, especially with influencer marketing on YouTube, creating mini-experience centers across the nation in major cities, targeting emerging cricket playing nations, and more.   

How do you plan to capitalize on the connections made or things learned from this experience to reach your goals? 

I’d really love to get connected with the Head of ‘adidas Cricket’ and the Brand Managers through the connections I’ve made at the adidas HQ. ‘adidas Cricket’ has a dominant presence in major cricket playing nations and has signed some of the most popular, successful and legendary cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar who’s called the ‘God of Cricket’.

Gaining access to the distribution network through 'adidas Cricket' either through a brand licensing partnership or otherwise would be very useful. adidas Cricket too has quite a few grassroots cricket development initiatives all across nation (India) and open trails as a part of a talent hunt program and much more. Since our focus is also in cricket development, it'd be interesting to explore synergies with adidas Cricket and freebowler to see if we can be a part of their initiative in a small capacity, even if it means just renting out ball throwers for the event. We believe it'll be a great learning experience for us to simply interact with adidas Cricket and learn about the process, becoming more knowledgeable and building industry connections as we move along.  

Is there anything else you’d like to share?   

At this stage, we will continue to build a global distribution network that is key for us to truly reach the cricket audience across the globe. We plan to do so mainly by creating the accessibility to the product, exposure, visibility and educate them on the importance of the product and how it can fulfill their basic cricketing needs and complete the training experience. 

For more on freebowler, visit their website. 

Do you have a business idea that can change the world of sport? For more information on how to participate in the Global Sport Institute’s biannual venture challenges with ASU Entrepreneurship + Innovation, visit the Global Sport Institute website, or check out the links below: 

https://entrepreneurship.asu.edu/launch/global-sport-venture-challenge 

https://entrepreneurship.asu.edu/launch/global-sport-social-impact-challenge