Updated Feb. 22, 2021: Dallas-based nVenue was picked as one of 10 startups for the first annual Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech Accelerator. The startup, founded in 2018, was selected from more than 1,000 applicants in 70 countries.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that sports fans are tech-savvy and hungry for more ‘in-game’ connection.”
According to Kelly Pracht, CEO of nVenue, sports fans are frustrated. Whether watching in a stadium or at-home, she noticed attention spans often wane in and out throughout games. Plus, phones are always in-hand.
With nVenue, Pracht set out to marry tech and sports in a way that enhances the game-watching experience. She dubs her team “sports-fanatic techies” that make real-time, AI-based software and tools designed for multi-sport live interaction. The goal is to save customers time and money, while at the same time delighting fans watching live sports.
“There are simply no ways to connect, engage, and interact with the game and other fans in real-time and virtual way,” Pracht told Dallas Innovates. “The return from COVID-19 will only highlight the lack of virtual ways to feel the thrill and connection of sports we love. Businesses that serve masses of fans know they need to deliver more but they are struggling to make it happen.”
Founded in 2018, Dallas-based nVenue partners with businesses that have a high fan reach to “revolutionize the world of fan-engagement.” It’s a growing market, according to Pracht—analysts forecast over $4 billion in revenue by 2024 for companies serving up tech solutions and 11 billion eyes are on sports in the U.S. year over year.
She predicts that once the virtual fan-engagement market is opened, a new market will be uncovered.
“We see a world where once we connect up the fans with the live game, with each other, and with the teams, players, and leagues, we can do so much more,” Pracht says. “We can open up new buying channels, new playing channels, and make live sports something so interactive and personal—it will be amazing. To us, this is way more exciting than just connection or even VR. We want fans to really be part of the game.”
To-date, Pracht and her tech-experienced founding team—Drew Williams (CFO/COO), Bruce Sears (CPO), Mik Stearns (CTO)—have raised $400K from what she says is a “handful of investors that had blind faith in us and our idea.” The money was devoted to a full year of development for the MLB and NFL, but she is now raising capital to move past MVP, productize the APIs, and expand to eight sports in the coming year.
nVenue’s first product line will launch when sports start returning. Currently, the team is working to make its insights available commercially to media and broadcast customers. Though they pivoted a bit with COVID-19, Pracht sees no perfect time to enter the market.
“Our core value to the sports industry is all about helping businesses in the fast changing environment. This is what we are all about,” she says. “The reason we were so frustrated year after year with the big misses in sports tech was because there was no ecosystem. But with the fan demand disrupting—we are on the verge of something amazing.”
Learn more about Pracht and her team at nVenue in our Q&A. This installment is part of a new Dallas Innovates series in which we highlight some of Impact Ventures’ Spring 2020 Fellows. You can also read about Exgratias, Education PowerED, HVACIntel, and Latinx Spaces.
“When we first applied to be part of the Impact Ventures’ cohort, I had no idea how important it was going to be for me personally or our company. As a company, we were reeling when COVID-19 hit and shut down live sports. All our plans changed. Benjamin [Vann] and team helped us pivot, find SBA funding, kept us positive, and focused,” she says. “Personally, I never knew how much rejection there would be from all sides while running a startup. Impact Ventures gave me a safe space to take a break from ‘rejection’ and think about traction, momentum, and success.”
What would be success be for your business in the next year—and longer term?
The industry is a lot of talk right now—good talk. But we cannot really claim success until we see our customers really adopting new players in the space. Success for nVenue in the near term is to launch our product, get our first sets of tools into the market, and land the first big customer.
Our longer term vision of success is when things like ‘game AI tools’ and ‘insights’ are so common that we get to start working on the next wave of ideas in our idea chest.
We have some ideas that we know other fans will love, but we need the sports-ecosystem to be a bit more mature and our customers a bit more ready for this.
What are you most proud of in terms of your startup?
Is it arrogant to say that our tech is simply awesome? However, I think the reasons I say this might surprise you.
You see, when we ran our beta trials during the MLB 2019 and NFL 2019 playoffs, our fans didn’t feel like they were even using AI and machine learning live tech. It was so simple and straightforward and fun that it felt natural and kept the focus on the game.
That is the sign of something special, I think. I am very proud of that!
What do you wish people knew about nVenue?
First: All sports fans are not sports betters. The majority of sports fans are regular fans that just want to have fun, enjoy the game, and be a part of the ‘something special’ that sports brings.
When I talk about our ‘fan’ vision, I often get written off as being naïve or even ‘girly’ for not immediately wanting to address and play in the betting market.
I believe that serving a hungry audience with 11 billion-plus annual views on lie sports is just great business. And the fact that so many are tunnel vision towards betting just makes this market even more open for companies like nVenue.
Second: I wish investors and partners could see past the ‘one hit wonder’ thinking. We are not just one app or one sport. We are about filling up the ecosystem with amazing tools for as many sports as we can scale.
I can’t wait to get to golf, tennis, or even curling when the Olympics return. Sports is fun—and it isn’t just baseball and football. There is so much work to do and the space is wide open.
What mentors, partnerships, or deals have been pivotal to your initial traction?
We are still early in the partnership and deal time—so hopefully we can speak of traction there in the very near future. We have a few advisors that are very helpful and encouraging to us.
Rogers Healy (a local Dallas entrepreneur) believed in us from the beginning as did a few personal mentors, such as Paul Santeler (Kelly’s former GM back in HPE days).
Drew Williams (our COO/CFO) came to us from Tinder and was a part of the success they are today.
It was so fun to fly out to meet the founding team at Tinder, show them our first click thru prototype, and talk about how to be a startup. They are still a source of encouragement today.
Bruce Sears came to us from companies like Verizon and previous stints at 4th Wall Media. Patrick Peters, an expert in the broadcast and media space from 4th Wall Media, brought great GTM advice and help in pivoting towards B2B.
How did you name your startup nVenue?
Everything was about making fans feel the thrill of live sports. In the venue or out—hence nVenue. That simple!
What can you tell us about your company culture and/or mission?
Sports is family and connection to us. We were raised playing sports and watching sports and fully believe in the positive, healthy, and connective nature of sports. We want to foster connection and the healthy engagement sports brings—and tech is part of how we will make it happen.
What sector trends are you most excited about?
Right now, the trend I am excited about is the acceptance of virtual play and connection in groups we never thought would adopt tech. My 79-year-old mother is on Zoom with her Sunday School, for goodness sake.
That means that whole group can get into virtual connection when we thought maybe they couldn’t. We need to build on this!
Do you have any proprietary technologies or processes?
We do punch out results in a very fast way—and we will hold tight to that. It takes some skill to work with massive data sets and live feeds to get results in seconds.
Has the pandemic and social environment shifted your plans this year?
Oh yes! We were originally planning to offer our app in the B2C space and go after our own fan base. We just didn’t think the media entertainment world was inspired enough to go get it right.
COVID has made us rethink that for many reasons. Mostly, we see how desperate companies are for ready tech like ours—especially with the need for virtual engagements ramping up. So in March we pivoted our business to go after B2B revenue instead of B2C. We think this is actually a great direction.
Dallas Innovates is highlighting startups in Impact Ventures’ spring cohort, which aims to assist the underrepresented startup community.
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