Silicon Valley is the cradle of innovation for high-tech businesses, computer technology and social media platforms. With the help and vision of entrepreneurs Jordan Fliegel and Andrew Hippert, Indianapolis may soon be the Silicon Valley equivalent of the sports tech industry.
The pair have identified Indianapolis as a prime location for the growing sports tech industry to flourish and they’re hosting a business accelerator catered to early stage sports tech companies. Hopeful entrepreneurs will bring their ideas to Indy so they can provide feedback, and guidance, as well as opportunities for key investors in Indianapolis to see the potential. More than any one thing, though, Fliegel and Hippert want Indianapolis to be seen as a hub for sports tech, the ideal location for such companies that’s rich with potential.
“With tech, you think Silicon Valley, right? Well, when you think sports tech, we want you to think Indianapolis. That’s really the (ultimate) goal of this program,” Hippert said.
Fliegel is the founder of several successful sports-oriented businesses. Hippert has a past working in different avenues of the sports world, including interning with the Orlando Magic front office. Together, the duo has brought the TechStars Sports Accelerator to Indianapolis.
Indianapolis becoming the capital of a sports-centric industry? That should come as no surprise.
Sports have shaped Indianapolis into a bustling city known for its walkability, amenities and hospitality, transforming the capital city of a flyover state into a premiere destination for professional and collegiate athletic events.
Fliegel and Hippert are just the latest example of professionals recognizing the unique strategy undertaken by the city and the impact IUPUI can have as part of the city’s ecosystem. One of those unique pieces, the IUPUI Sports Innovation Institute, offers next level research opportunities in the sports industry, including analytics and tech, and the duo was more than happy to speak to IUPUI students and offer them the opportunity to be part of something unique within the city.
“We’re trying to grow the Indianapolis ecosystem and all the talent is here, the ingredients are here,” Fliegel said.
The two TechStars entrepreneurs see Indianapolis as the future sports tech hub and they visited the Sports Innovation Institute to share their vision and plan with students who want a career in sports in the behind the scenes roles such as ticket sales, marketing or the front office.
This summer, Indianapolis will be host to Fliegel and Hippert’s inaugural sports tech accelerator and the companies participating could range anywhere from a new ticketing service that has potential to rival traditional secondary marketplaces like Seat Geek and StubHub, sports performance apparel, that could compete with the likes of Nike or Under Armor, and analytics that can enhance the game or fan experience.
“It’s a boot camp for entrepreneurs. Folks that are early stage entrepreneurs that have an idea in the sports tech space and we take them in and we mentor them,” Hippert said. “We essentially try to get them from point A to point B. Companies participating might not know who their customer base is, what demographic they want to target with their idea or product, or they might have that information and just need to move their product or idea into the right market. By the end of the three month accelerator, those companies will be able to better identify their target base or have their product in the right place.”
The Sports Innovation Institute will hopefully play a key role in the first ever three-month accelerator, with the potential for current undergrad and graduate students to earn an internship or associate role during the summer. Through a variety of teaching methods, IUPUI sports management students have had opportunities to compete at the highest levels in undergraduate research competitions.
“With the methods we’re using to teach, our students are performing well in these (workshop and) competition type settings,” Pierce said. “We look at the number of research projects we complete for our sport industry partners. We’ve had four projects with the Colts, we’ve done three with the NCAA - real things they’re paying for and we give them results on. Students in my sales class, we sell season tickets for the Fuel in the fall and the Indians in the spring. (Now) we want to put the spotlight on the potential of Indy to be a real incubator for great sports tech ideas. It’s a pretty big deal for Indy to have (this opportunity).”
Choosing the sports tech hub, or hotspot, could have been many other places across the world, Pierce said.
But thanks to help from the Indiana Sports Corporation and local franchises such as the Indianapolis Colts and the Indiana Pacers, in addition to the track record the city has with sports as the pillars of development, Indianapolis will have a chance to plant another flag in the ground.
This accelerator will provide the opportunity for early stage companies to gain seed-funding to continue developing their sports tech idea which will provide the chance to earn venture capital to move the business forward.
During this process, the hope is that these companies see Indianapolis the same way Fliegel and Hippert recently came to know it. Indianapolis is anchored by sports and right now the sports tech industry is booming. There was no better place or time than Indianapolis and this summer to start this process, Hippert said.
“The teams that are here, the collaborative nature in which the Colts and Pacers, (the Indianapolis Motor Speedway) and the NCAA have worked together with the Indy Sports Corp, I think that’s hard to do in a larger market. That’s a pretty unique, attractive thing,” Fliegel said. “Indianapolis is really well-positioned to grow as a tech ecosystem with the large companies that are here, all the great schools in Indiana, low cost of living and all of Indianapolis being a federally designated opportunity zone. It’s an easy flight to the coasts, an easy drive to a lot of other major markets. I know a lot of people don’t think about the Midwest in general, or Indianapolis in particular. So, if I can be a part of changing that it would be really exciting.”
To accomplish this end goal, Fliegel and Hippert will utilize investments from the previously mentioned franchises and corporations for the aspiring sports tech startups and they’ll provide students from the Sports Innovation Institute with the chance to be a part of the journey.
For the three-month summer accelerator, they’ll be looking to add about 10 interns and five associates. Fliegel added that the companies looking for the exposure and guidance will all come from outside Indiana, but if they can, they’d like to hire each of the interns and associates from Indiana universities.
“Through these associate roles, (students) will be paired directly with these CEO’s. Students will learn a lot about startups, maybe they get hired by that startup, or take a job within Techstars. Maybe it inspires them to start their own company,” Fliegel said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I graduated college … I don’t expect students to know that they want to be an entrepreneur or work in a startup. But I do look for someone who has dedicated their self to something. If you’ve excelled at something and been passionate about something and they’ve demonstrated that in their application, that makes me think ‘OK, if we expose them to this and it catches their interest they’ll apply that same approach.’ I just want to expose that type of person - who’s hungry to do something with their life and make a difference in the world - to startups.”