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Global Sport Institute, Arizona Coyotes fund diverse lineup of startups at 2021 venture challenge

Four sport start-ups earned funding in the latest Demo Day for the Global Sport Venture Development program.
January 13, 2022

Over the past four years, the Global Sport Institute has forged meaningful partnerships with Arizona pro sports organizations who are aligned with the goal of melding sport and innovation.

After successful innovation partnerships with Phoenix Rising FC and Sun Devil Athletics, this year brought the Arizona Coyotes Venture Challenge, the first collaboration between the Institute and the Coyotes, which featured $60,000 in awarded funding and an opportunity for ventures to work alongside the Southwest’s first pro hockey team.

Twelve ventures pitched a panel of judges from the Global Sport Institute, the Coyotes, and fellow venture challenge partners DLA Piper and M.A. Mortenson Company. In addition to funding, winners earned access to pro bono legal services from DLA Piper and beta testing opportunities with local construction firm Mortenson. Perhaps the most enticing prize of all is the chance for the winning venture to beta test with the Coyotes organization.

After 12 pitches, Suji, a compression band firm that uses its technology to maximize recovery and workout through scientifically calibrated pressure levels, emerged as the top prize winner. They were followed by Train Fitness AI, a software firm that uses artificial intelligence to track, measure and give feedback on an individual’s exercise, and Adapt the Game, a user interface brand that seeks to improve gameday experience for fans with disabilities. Organic Robotics, a biometrics firm that uses its Light Lace technology to spur informed decision-making in sports science who was also the winner of the Sun Devil Athletics Venture Challenge last spring, earned an honorable mention.

The idea to use Organic’s technology to prevent workplace injury was intriguing to Mortenson Vice President Ben Goetter. Moreover, the overall diversity of product and innovators gave the judges a lot to consider.

“I was extremely impressed with the quality of the companies and the commitment of the Global Sport Institute and the Arizona Coyotes,” says Travis Leach, a judge on the panel and partner at DLA Piper.

As existing partners of the Coyotes, DLA Piper and Mortenson caught wind of the venture challenge when it was first announced earlier this year. The two companies also work closely with ASU, and offered support for the venture challenge as a way to combine both worlds. Legal assistance is key for any smart start-up, and Mortenson’s care for the physical performance of its workers drew them in. The partnership presented a good fit all-around.

From the Coyotes perspective, the winning ventures brought in not only smart ideas that could be used to further the hockey and business operations of the organization, but also diverse and purposeful operations that will serve the team’s fans well.

“Community impact is a business strategy, and each of the ventures we selected demonstrated that purpose,” says Marina Carpenter, a panelist and the executive vice president of business affairs and general counsel at the Coyotes. “The business plans looked different, ranging from bringing a technology to individual consumers to enhancing the sense of community at large events for diverse population segments.”

After a successful collaboration with Phoenix Rising FC in the fall of 2019, the Arizona Coyotes Venture Challenge marked another pro sports partnership for the Global Sport Institute’s innovation programming. Returning to the local community and tapping into the fertile pro sports landscape in the Phoenix area enriched the opportunities available to the firms pitching and furthered the relationship between the Institute and the Coyotes.

In the coming months, the winning companies will not only receive financial support but the chance to ensure the viability of their ideas by testing it at the professional sports level. In this way, the Institute provides a unique opportunity at the intersection of sport and entrepreneurship.

“We created these venture challenges to educate and empower founders that were looking to break into the sports landscape with their innovative ideas,” says Jeff Kunowski, the associate director of innovation programs at the Global Sport Institute. “Although the funding component is important, our partnerships are what really add value to these venture challenges. We strive to always include mentorship and beta opportunities for our ventures within each of our partnerships to ensure both validation and traction.”

The Global Sport Institute continues to adapt this model for each potential partner and the solutions they seek. Best of all, the knowledge built through these important collaborations work towards the Institute’s mission to create positive impact through sport.