How is technology transforming the world of sports start-ups?

Esade Careers

We sat down with Rohn Malhotra, co-founder of Sports TechX, to talk about sports tech start-ups, and how technology is reshaping the future of sports.


Do Better: What are the most common challenges facing start-ups in the sports industry?

Rohn Malhotra: There are two main barriers. The first one is funding. Fortunately, this situation is changing. If you have a clear idea of what you want, and have a good product, you can now find more seed opportunities. In Europe, there are over 25 incubators – and numbers are also growing in the US and Asia.

The second barrier is scaling your sports business. Everybody wants to work with a top football club. But even if you magically get to work with one or two of them, you have to ask yourself: “How many more clients will I get from this collaboration?” The pool of companies offering enterprise solutions for the sports industry is tiny in Europe. The big challenge is figuring out how sports tech start-ups can scale, and also how they can get into the consumer market.

What do tech start-ups bring to the sports ecosystem?

It is a well-documented fact that many innovations come from start-ups. In any industry, large organisations have innovation labs separated from the core business. Why? Because innovation does not work well under standard processes – it needs dynamism. When trying to innovate, you need to be able to change your mind every once in a while, you need to adjust, pivot, and be quick making decisions. Start-ups bring agility and have the capacity to test hypotheses quickly. And when many hypotheses turn into “yeses” then you have a business.

The pool of companies offering enterprise solutions for the sports industry is tiny in Europe (Photo: Yulia Zatula/Getty)

Is innovation the field in which start-ups outperform major organisations?

Definitely. Big companies cannot test hypotheses quickly. Start-ups can, and that’s why they are needed in the market. Take Sky Sports as an example. Say they are working with two-hundred screens. They need to tell start-ups: “Hey! Throw some betting or emojis in your feed.” This kind of testing can only happen in small groups, and once these hypotheses are accepted, then they can become a reality for larger companies.

How has big data changed the sports industry?

We are now passed the digital revolution age. Today, everything has to do with digital and big data. Companies without a digital angle are already dead. Every business should be data driven. Digitalisation and democratisation have given more start-ups a chance to emerge and get off the ground.

Companies without a digital angle are already dead

You co-founded SportsTechX. What’s the purpose of your company?

We started doing research on the sports tech ecosystem to see what was going on and spot global trends. This way, once we spotted a trend, we could jump on it. The data market in sports is really fragmented: investors in Germany don’t know what is going on in Spain, not to say China. We wanted to bring transparency and help the whole ecosystem mature. If it does so, it will be good for everyone.

What would be your advice for those pursuing a career in the sports sector?

Many candidates often have an idea of the big company they want to work with. But if you really want to find a new job, you have to open up to new horizons, and for me start-ups are an incredible place to work. These companies are fantastic places for innovation, and they need people like you, full of talent and abilities. Also, taking a pay cut to work for a start-up is not the case anymore. There are lots of companies successfully raising funds and growing their talent pool. If you can contribute to turn an unknown company into a known one, that will become a huge achievement on your CV.

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