Posted on November 24, 2017 by staff

Northern Stars winner on mission to save minority sports


Tech platform Sport:80 says it could safeguard the future of many minority sports after becoming one of Tech North’s Northern Stars.

The Sheffield-based business was one of ten to succeed among 20 who pitched in front of 300-plus people and four judges last week.

Its online platform helps national and international governing bodies organise their sport’s activities through intelligent use of data.

Head of operations Jonny Turner set up the firm with CEO Gary Hargraves in 2012 and delivered the successful pitch which he hopes will be a “springboard” to grow the company.

“We’ve already been invited to a Government roundtable by someone from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport on the back of it,” he told BusinessCloud a few days after the event at Manchester’s Stoller Hall.

“We’re trying to influence an industry that’s entrenched: a lot of these organisations are government-funded and rely solely on cash from Sport England to deliver all their services.

“We’re trying to help them become self-sufficient and drive their own revenues so, if Sport England pulled the plug tomorrow, they will still be there for their members. This has a big impact on participation levels.

“Getting those doors open for us, and becoming part of the wider Northern Stars support network, is really exciting.”

Each Northern Stars winner will receive a comprehensive prize package which includes pitch and media training, a stand at TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, presentation slots at investor pitch events in London and a ministerial roundtable with key members of Government.

Sport:80 counts more than 20 federations among its clients, a number which will grow to 30 in the New Year. They include British Fencing, Archery GB, British Weightlifting and USA Archery.

The Paralympic sport of Boccia has particularly benefited from its platform, which allows members to enter events and sign up for coaching courses among other things.

Boccia is a ball game which was originally designed to be played by people with cerebral palsy but now includes athletes with other severe disabilities which affect motor skills.

“Our first international governing body to sign up back in 2014 was BISFed (Boccia International Sports Federation). At the time they had no infrastructure at all and a dreadful website,” said Turner.

“We produced a website for them, got the platform going, built them an events module then a competition management system. They now have 60-something federations around the world using this system: all the athletes, coaches, staff, officials and volunteers.

“Entries for events around the world come into the competition management system. It automates the draw and provides courtside scoring for the referees, which serves live scoring on the website. The results will then generate their world rankings list.

“We’ve automated a process which was previously a mess of paper around the world. Through this tech they’ve grown their member base and are the fastest-growing Paralympic sport at the moment.”

Sport:80 is named after Port:80, which was typically the port you would access the internet through at a time when internet cafes were doing brisk business.

It has nine full-time staff including three developers who are working on restructuring the platform in a modular way so clients can pick and choose which parts of the system they need and bolt them on accordingly.

Turner and his mentor Hargraves met when they worked together on a project ahead of London 2012.

“We worked together on the London Prepared Series, which was a series of official World Cup series test events ahead of the Olympics,” said Turner. “The logistics and management of one of them was outsourced – shooting – because of its size and complexity.

“2,000 people attended the event from 130-odd countries. It was the first time firearms – shotguns, rifles and pistols – were being brought into the UK for a major event. They couldn’t just be brought in on a licence so we had to work with the Met Police among a shedload of other stakeholders.

“Information around events at that time flew around via fax, Word documents, PDFs, Excel spreadsheets – everything was manual. We were looking for something to solve that problem and couldn’t find anything so we built our own management tool.

“It became clear to Gary and I as the event went on that, if you could use the data more intelligently, there was a real business opportunity there, across many sports.”

He added: “By end of next year, the aim is to have a completely new platform which is scalable.

“We’re looking for investment and considering an IPO so we can increase things more quickly.

“We’ve been pushing ourselves to break even as quickly as we can, and so far have had success from our own revenues.”