The Israeli sports tech ecosystem may not be as large as established sectors such as cybersecurity and fintech, but it has been developing a base that should support further growth. Five years ago, Amir Raveh, an Israeli former professional footballer, and tech investor, set up Hype Sports Innovation along with Dr. Ilan Hadar, an experienced tech professional, and Bernd Wahler, ex CMO of Adidas. Hype is an Israel-based sports innovation ecosystem with that runs competitions and accelerators worldwide in the field of sports tech and has 11,000 start-ups registered with it. Its success has come from the popularity of the two elements it represents. Amir maintains, “Sports and innovation are two things that you can talk about to anyone, all over the world.” Their Israeli accelerator, run in partnership with Maccabi Haifa FC, accepted its first cohort in July 2019.
The sector has also been supported through the emergence of dedicated sports funds. Hype Capital raised a $75M fund dedicated to sports tech which has already invested in two companies. One of these is an Israeli start-up Tokabot, a digital engagement, and marketing platform for sports fans and businesses. OurCrowd set up the $50M Advantage fund in conjunction with IeAD Sports in 2018 to invest in early-stage sports tech companies.
The field can be divided into five main areas: training and fitness, performance analytics, equipment and clothing, broadcasting, and fan engagement.
Training and fitness contain the largest number of companies. Many of these offer apps that are similar to fitness-related apps available for smartphones but are geared more towards athletes and their specific requirements. One company offering a unique solution is Acceler8. This company was formed by Dr. Erez Morag, former head of global football at Nike, and focuses on improving high-speed decision making in sports, including a lab assessment of sport visual skills followed by an on-field training program to improve game vision skills.
Performance analytics focuses on gathering data during games and practice. This data can then be analyzed in detail to see points of strength and weakness and improve technique. Playsight Interactive is a start-up offering a solution in this area using high-resolution cameras and data analytics systems that can also be used to live stream games and for assistant referees and instant replay.
Equipment focuses on sporting accessories that enhance the sporting experience or allow athletes to monitor themselves more closely while clothing involves advanced materials or manufacturing techniques to create more effective sportswear. One example is start-up Everysight, that makes VR glasses for cyclists. These glasses overlay important information into a cyclists’ line of vision so that they can maximize performance.
Broadcasting involves using advanced video technology to record and share footage of games more widely and in different ways. One such company involved in this field is Texel. They create 360-degree high-resolution footage of sporting events using VR to give the viewer the effect of actually being at the game. They also allow millisecond synchronization between groups watching in different locations to share the experience.
Fan engagement companies generate content of interest to sports fans as well as helping them to reserve tickets, travel to games, and improve their experience. One company in this area is Minute Media that runs multiple platforms for worldwide sports, each of which is individually branded. The essence of the platform is fan-generated content, including commentary and analysis along with video and interactive content.
There are currently 125 start-ups involved in this area in Israel, up from 83 in 2014. Most sports tech companies have less than ten employees, as many of them are creators of apps that only require a small team. An additional reason is that capital is not easily available, and there are few investors involved in the sector. There was just $90M raised in 2018 over 15 rounds with $45M in the first half of 2019 over five rounds. This funding was highly concentrated among a few companies. In 2019 so far, $40M out of the $45M went to just one company (Minute Media) while in 2018, $80M of the $90M raised was in just three rounds. Most of this was raised by companies in either the broadcasting or fan engagement categories, while the vast majority of companies in the sector are in training and fitness as well as equipment and clothing.
As a result, most companies in the sector have never raised external financing. Around 62% of companies are bootstrapped or revenue financed. Of the remaining 38% that have raised capital, 29% have not gone beyond the Seed stage.
Over the last several years, sports tech has gotten more coverage due to some high-profile exits. The largest was the purchase of Replay Technologies by Intel for $175M. Replay captures video images in three dimensions, allowing the viewing of scenes from multiple perspectives. Toptix, a ticketing system, was sold for $56M to Seatgeek, while Orad Hi-Tec Systems, a broadcaster, was sold for $60M to Avid Technologies.
While the focus of investor interest is still likely to be in the categories of fan engagement and broadcasting where the potential for companies to grow is the highest, heightened investor involvement and increased the availability of capital will likely benefit the entire sector.
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