Over the course of the past decade, the lines between the sports and startup worlds have become significantly blurred with the advent of the athlete investor and the emergence of “Sports Tech” as a sub-sector of investment in the tech space. The term has been so overused that the true meaning has become conflated – and as a result, it’s difficult for even the most astute insider to understand what constitutes Sports Tech anymore. “Sports Tech” is essentially a catch-all term for much broader sectors that have powerful applications in the world of sports or that used sports as a proving ground.
Though it may sound like a cliché, two former Harvard football players have set out to bring the sector back to its fundamentals and are doing so in a way that is unlike any other investors in the sector. Over a decade apart in age, Will Ventures Founding Partners, Brian Reilly and Isaiah Kacyvenski, who spent the better part of seven seasons in the NFL before getting his MBA at (you guessed it) Harvard, originally met when their tenures overlapped at the Massachusetts-based wearable medical device, MC10. Together, they have spent the better part of the past decade dealing with sports-related tech companies in a number of different capacities as investors, advisors, vetters of deals, etc, which has earned them, as Kacyvenski proudly notes, “A right to a point of view,” or put more simply, “You can’t have a point of view on something you don’t have a point of view on.”
Unlike other venture funds who set out to invest in sports-related tech companies, Will Ventures is taking a much bolder and more methodical approach. With an emphasis on research and leveraging the resources of their major university LP’s, Will Ventures is filling a major gap that exists in the funding ecosystem for companies of this sort. “We looked around and saw that there were no seed stage ‘smart money’ funds in the space and we saw an opportunity to be those guys,” said Reilly. With a war chest of over $50,ooo,000, Will Ventures is willing to make what some venture capitalists might describe as inherently riskier bets on largely unproven earlier stage companies at the seed and pre-seed stages, often times choosing to be the lead investors during those funding rounds. That’s not to say, there isn’t a reasoned approach as the venture fund, which was officially launched today, is focusing its energy on two main buckets within the world of sports technology innovation: health and wellness, and media and content. As they note, “We aren’t “spray and pray” investors—we lead with conviction and roll-up our sleeves alongside the entrepreneurs we partner with.”
“We think there are more opportunities in these spaces than ever. People need sports more than they ever had given everything that is going on in the world,” said Kacyvenski.
To see an example of their thesis at work, you don’t need to look any further than the make up of their initial portfolio companies. Among that initial batch are companies like Retainer Club that offer direct to consumer mouth guards and retainers delivered right to your door as well as home fitness company, Lite Boxer, which developed a machine that can bring high intensity boxing workouts to your living room without the need for a trainer, similar to what Peloton has done for spinning. Both companies illustrate how Will Ventures is betting on companies that use sports as a vehicle to address a much broader market.
It’s one thing to be able to raise money and write a check but winning quality deals that fit within your thesis and ethos as a venture fund is an entirely separate challenge. According to Kacyvenski and Reilly, much of their success in amassing their current portfolio, which is at 10 companies and counting is attributable to the fact that they themselves are founders, which resonates with the founders they invest in. “One of the reasons we win deals is because we can relate to founders. We’re hungry and we’ve been there,” said Kacyvenski.
Given the way that the Coronavirus pandemic has a dramatically changed our lives and the world of sports, it’s hard to argue with the premise that sports are as important as they have ever been, so making a bet on the future of sports – and in doing so, the future of human performance and wellness is something that the world needs right now and Will Ventures is leading the charge.