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Sun Devil Athletics’ Venture Challenge offers mentorship, grant opportunities for sports tech startups

The competition will provide mentorship for the selected companies


Jeff Kunowski, lead venture mentor and co-founder of ASU's Global Sport Venture Development program, stands in front of the Global Sport Institute at the ASU SkySong Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018.

Sun Devil Athletics has partnered with the Global Sport Institute and the J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute at ASU to launch a new venture program for small, sports-related startup companies. 

The program, called the Sun Devil Athletics’ Venture Challenge, will pair each participating company with a mentor who will then help develop and continue to perfect the company. This process also gives the entrepreneurs access to resources and the opportunity to use their product at Sun Devil Athletics' facilities. Winners can receive up to $25,000 and there is no set number of winners to be chosen. 

Applications for the program opened Jan. 15 and will close March 1. Startups will participate in a live pitch competition at ASU Demo Day on April 30 as the conclusion of the challenge.

Jeff Kunowski, associate director of innovation programs at the Global Sport Institute and J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute, will run the challenge. He has worked on similar projects before, collaborating with groups such as Phoenix Rising FC and Adidas.  

Kunowski said he took on the project to provide a launchpad for new ideas in the world of sports, while Sun Devil Athletics is looking for new and innovative ideas to incorporate into its program.

“I think it’s benefiting both sides and that’s what we love about this,” Kunowski said.

In fall 2020, the Global Sport Institute launched a similar program with over 74 applicants. The institute awarded a total of $16,000 to eight winners. 

One of the winners from the previous program was Wager Champs, a risk-free sports betting website, which was granted $1,000. 

“The money that was provided is going to be a huge help because it will allow us to run and maintain our website for at least a year,” said Rayan Vatti, the founder of Wager Champs and a graduate student studying digital audience strategy.

Sun Devil Athletics partnered with the Global Sport Institute and the J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute to focus on startups with products that fit into the world of athletics. Companies must think about how they can incorporate their ideas into the SDA program. The groups also have a years-long history of working together.

“It was an idea that was born from our partnerships,” Kunowski said. 

The competition's online application is open to any startup, not just ASU students. Applicants must answer questions about their pitch and explain the structure of their company.

“If your company has one, then you submit a pitch deck as well. Not all companies had one, but ours did,” said Danny Harris, founder of GMDY, a branding company for athletes that also won in last fall's competition.

The selected applicants will be assigned a mentor, who will help them with the final plan for the live pitches in April. Winners will receive grants to go toward the development of their business.

“I went through the application process and was really excited to be selected as one of the companies to participate,” Harris said.

Editor's note: Rayan Vatti previously worked at The State Press but did not contribute to the reporting or editing of this article.

Clarification: This article has been updated to show Wager Champs is a risk-free sports betting website, not a sports betting website.

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