We sure have enjoyed plenty of duck boat parades in this city. When was the last one? February seems so long ago now.
But what about winning the race to become the next sports tech hub? Can Boston win that title, too?
Janet Holian and Rashaun Williams sure hope so. They have joined forces to launch a new venture here called Drive by DraftKings that aims to build a support system for sports tech entrepreneurs as well as pro athletes interested in investing and working in the field.
Drive’s launch, unveiled Thursday, has been in the works for months. DraftKings, the Boston-based tech company best known for its fantasy sports competitions, had wanted to launch a “venture studio” to foster the next generation of sports tech firms. Holian stepped down as chief marketing officer at DraftKings, which employs more than 700 people in Boston, to help make that happen. Holian connected with Williams, an Atlanta-based venture capitalist and DraftKings investor who also coaches pro athletes about investing and entrepreneurship. Together, they decided to fold his work into this new venture, offering classes and other kinds of support to athletes and startups.
The venture will be based at DraftKings’ headquarters in the Back Bay, rely in part on DraftKings’ staff for support, and trade on the DraftKings name. But it’s not a direct subsidiary and has roughly a half-dozen staffers of its own. Holian and Williams secured funding from three venture capital firms in Boston: General Catalyst, Accomplice, and Boston Seed Capital. The three VC firms and DraftKings are all minority investors in Drive.
Williams says he already has more than 100 athletes lined up to participate, predominantly current or former pro basketball players. They’re all interested in learning more about investing with venture capitalists or launching a VC fund or their own startup. (Drive just started accepting applications from startups for its venture studio on Thursday.)
Drive’s first course for athletes kicked off this week: Twenty or so athletes, including Celtics rookie Grant Williams and former Patriots star Matt Light, visited various companies in Boston to kick off a five-week “internship” to teach them more about VC investing. (Most of the coursework will take place online.)
Among the places they visited: Whoop, a 70-employee firm in the Fenway that focuses on using data to improve athletic performance. The firm sells something akin to a high-end FitBit, available through a monthly subscription, that provides 24/7 monitoring and assessment of physical activities, recovery, and sleep. It’s exactly the kind of startup that Drive wants to encourage in Boston.
Whoop vice president Kristen Holmes says she hopes her firm can get more involved with Drive, in part for the feedback from the athletes. The Drive launch is just the latest reason Holmes thinks Boston is a great place for a sports tech business. She also cited the city’s sports teams, its universities, and its venture capital community.
About those VC firms. Their biggest motivation for investing in Drive appears to be bolstering the local startup ecosystem.
Ryan Moore of Accomplice says he wants to share what he’s learned over two decades of working with entrepreneurs; he doesn’t think there’s a city better primed to be a sports tech hub than Boston. Olivia Lew at General Catalyst agrees: Along with the pro sports franchises and their ardent fans, Lew points to the concentration of sneaker companies here — Reebok, Converse, New Balance, and Puma among them — and all the tech talent. Plus, there’s the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, considered one of the most important events in the emerging field.
The VC firms aren’t investing in Drive for direct profits, at least not right away, though this represents a sweet networking opportunity. Holian says Drive won’t charge entrepreneurs or athletes for services. Eventually, she says, the hope is to monetize this group after a critical mass is built, perhaps through sponsorships or other revenue opportunities.
But they also have this goal in mind: Maybe Boston can beat out Silicon Valley to be the reigning Title Town in sports tech. That type of victory would bring benefits that last long after the confetti gets cleaned up and the duck boats drive away.