Kedreon Cole thinks influencers should own the rights to their “digital kingdoms.”
His company, Frisco-based XR Sports, is a launchpad to build fan engagement hubs so they can have more control—and more of an equitable split from the value they drive. “We have our eyes set on supporting the largest original content creators from sports, music, and entertainment,” said Cole, XR’s founder and CEO.
Sports and media properties are “leaving significant value on the table when they collaborate with third-party platforms,” he said.
Cole wants to “level the playing field” for these content creators, giving them “true ownership” of their online businesses. Using data science, analytics, and blockchain technology, the XR Sports platform aims to address long-time challenges in the creator economy, such as data access and attribution for digital content.
Now, as one of five early-stage startups added to the Mastercard Start Path startup engagement program, XR Sports has notched a significant accomplishment as the founder and CEO expands the startup’s operations.
XR Sports joins Mastercard Start Path
“The ability to directly access Mastercard resources is an incredible win,” the founder said. Thanks to the program, XR Sports will gain access to the fintech’s blockchain/crypto technology and additional payment technology.
“Mastercard has an interest in the future of commerce, specifically at the intersection of “Creator Economy” and “Fintech” and that’s where XR Sports lives,” Cole said.
The startup program also will allow the entrepreneur to leverage a global network of subject matter experts, world-class data tools, and industry best practices to scale and accelerate the startup’s innovation.
A string of accomplishments
Last year XR Sports Group was selected for Google for Startup’s second cohort, receiving $100,000 in non-dilutive capital.
“One year into the Google Black Founders fund, we’ve gone on to raise over $500,000,” Cole said. The company also added key team members including “two exceptional women executives, Monique Claiborne, our head of CX with Princeton background and Niesha White, our head of product and an HBCU computer science graduate.”
The last few months have been significant, he says.
XR is focused on creating more operational efficiency for content creators by eliminating their reliance on third-party platforms and helping them directly monetize their fan communities through microtransactions and digital assets. Previous pilots have included the Dallas Mavericks, Conference USA, and the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Cole’s team has built a suite of tools that make it easy for sports and media properties to gain customer insights, including access to their own social graph.
The future of commerce
Cole is working with Accenture in the realm of social commerce, which is the fastest-growing sector of ecommerce, he says, pointing to research by the tech and consulting giant.
“Social commerce offers something radically different from traditional e-commerce by weaving buying and selling into the fabric of everyday life and through a real sense of community and connection,” Accenture wrote in a 2022 report. “This will impact every brand, retailer, and platform business.”
According to Accenture, it’s a trend that’s set to sweep the world, growing into a $1.2 trillion wave of change by 2025.
XR Sports intends to ride that wave.
Founder Cole aims to reconstruct the value chain and business model between third-party platforms such as social media and original content creators—literally reinventing “how fandom is displayed, experienced, and measured.”
XR’s newly sharpened toolset includes a “system of intelligence” that complements its system of record and engagement. Cole also sees the Mastercard Start Path program as “an excellent opportunity” to leverage its resources and expertise for XR Sports’ Web3 Wallet and fintech solution.
What is Mastercard’s Start Path?
In 2021, Mastercard announced the Start Path In Solidarity program, in an expansion of its acclaimed startup engagement program. It was a crucial step in assisting early-stage firms with historically underrepresented entrepreneurs, the company said in a news release. The initiative, which is still being expanded, is part of Mastercard’s efforts to help women and people of color have access to the finance they need to build and advance their businesses.
It’s a key part of a $500 million In Solidarity commitment in goods, services, technology, and financial assistance, Mastercard says.
Fostering inclusive growth
Fewer success stories are produced because of underrepresented entrepreneurs’ exclusion from important networks and resources, the fintech giant says.
Everyone must have equitable access to the physical, technological, and social networks that drive the modern economy if inclusive growth is to be fully realized, Mastercard says. Access to seed and angel funding is essential to growth in the startup ecosystem, but Black business owners have historically been left behind with limited access to finance and bank loans. The fintech notes that startups with at least one Black founder only garnered 1.2% of total venture dollars invested and 1.9% of transaction counts in the U.S. this year. And last year, just 2% of venture money went to female founders.
Michael Froman, vice chairman and president of Strategic Growth at Mastercard, says the company is on a journey to “build an economy that works for everyone, everywhere.”
Meet the other Start Path startups
“We’re investing directly in startups led by underrepresented founders and increasing procurement with Black-owned businesses to catalyze economic growth for these communities,” Froman said.
Joining XR Sports in the program are Goodfynd, Fund Black Founders, Tatum Games, and Paerpay. Per Mastercard:
Alexandria,VA-based Goodfynd is the first all-in-one business platform built to enable food truck owners and mobile businesses to run their operations seamlessly.
Fund Black Founders
New York City-based Fund Black Founders is a crowdfunding platform matching contributions made to Black-owned small businesses and startups focused on the needs of the Black community.
Santa Clarita, Calif.-based Tatum Games developed MIKROS, a SaaS product, that helps developers and game studios improve monetization through advanced data and insights.
Boston-based Paerpay helps merchants accept contactless payments without the hassle of changing point-of-sales systems, processors, or downloading an app.
XR Sports and the other startups in the Start Path In Solidarity program get “stage-relevant” assistance, including training on enterprise partnership readiness, a dedicated mentor who will help them find collaboration opportunities, introductions to investors, and contacts with Mastercard partners and customers.
Benefits also include chances for technological cooperation and forums where they may present potential customers with their ideas. Mastercard will evaluate grants or investments in participating firms on a case-by-case basis as it pursues its goal of ensuring that startups with underrepresented founders have access to the capital they require to grow.
XR Sports and the four other businesses will join the 350 startups that have taken part in Start Path globally since 2014 in more than 40 different countries.
Get on the list.
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