It was the fourth time they ran the program for start-ups, the men of Sport eXperience. The past five weeks, the five startups came together every Tuesday. They pored over their own plans, but especially also over those of the other participants. During the last meeting, the remaining startups told E52 about what they were learning and how they’re moving on.

“There were actually six signups”, says Arno Hermans, who started with an accelerator program specifically for sport startups one and a half year ago. But eventually five started. “The Irish startup, Think Biosolution, refrained from participation at the last moment. They just told us per e-mail they want to do a custom made program with us next month.”

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    Also after the second meeting there was a dropout: Reprosports from Aalten. Their idea for a shin guard that adapts to the football player, appeared to be no viable product, after critical questioning by the coaches of Sport eXperience and the other startups. “Cheap failure is what I call it”, says Hermans, “Ultimiately, such a decision saves a lot of money. It’s better to find out now rather than after many investments. A courageous decision.”


    “It’s amazing how some things suddenly come at the right moment.”Menno Van Pelt – Deen, Swim Games

    Of the remaining four, there are two that can “hopefully’ launch the upcoming months. “Hopefully because there has to be someone who’s willing to pay”, says Menno Van Pelt – Deen, founder of Swim Games. Their product is a LED screen that stands next to the swimming pool and a camera above the water that films the swimming children and directly puts it on screen.


    His idea to increase the number of visitors at a swimming pool came during his promotion research five years ago. Together with students of the TU/e and Fontys, he was looking for a way to get young people to move. “Games are fun and swimming is injury free and a good match to get young people to exercise.”


    For three years they explored all kinds of possibilities to make swimming more fun, says Van Pelt – Deen. “The most fun turned out to be a ‘cannonball’. And then we figured it would be very cool if you could see your own cannonball.” They developed a camera with which you can watch your own cannonball in slow motion under water. They put a game element into it: the young people could decide for themselves who had made the best cannonball. “Because of this, children would jump up to 10 – 15 times,  they were moving a lot without noticing it and they determined the game element themselves.”


    Van Pelt – Deen thought that this would be the answer to the declining number of swimming pool visitors. “Due to the game element, children want to come back.” So he, Rob Tieben, with whom he did the promotion research, Mark van Kuik, game producer Lapp and Luuk Waarbroek, developer and designer of Napalmtree, decided to put it on the market. “But we needed hardware for that, a waterproof screen that could show the recordings. And those are hard to find. I remember saying on a Wednesday ‘this is not going to work’. One day later VDH called, saying they saw us two years ago at a symposium and that they had developed a waterproof screen. It’s amazing how some things suddenly come at the right moment.”


    As an academic, Van Pelt – Deen was used to give presentations about his research, but his ‘vague designing terms’ weren’t in line with the target group. “Selling is clearly different from doing research. The last sessions I have learned to be concrete and clear about where our quality lies.” He also shifted from municipal pools to private resorts. “We need money and the municipal pools don’t have that, resorts do. And at the resorts the swimming pools are empty half of the time.” Van Pelt – Deen is going to sharpen his plans with the knowledge he has gained and then he wants to launch, “if there is an investor”.


    Also the Lithuanian startup Forts Axis, is hoping to find a partner in the next few months with which they can put their Corden on the Dutch market. A product that’s already being sold in Lithuania, especially in the yoga world. It is a sort of massage tool for the vertebral column. “If you lie down on it with your body weight, you come closer to your muscles than with a regular massage”, says Andrey Popov, CIO. “Corden offers all sport players the possibility to prevent or alleviate back problems. A few minutes for about 10 times a month and your problems are gone.” Van Pelt – Deen, who broke his back at the age of 21, also tested the ingenuity and he confirms Popov’s assertion: “It was the best and most gruesome massage ever. It is just necessary that it is put on the market here.”


    Popov participated in the program because they want to go into the West European market. Through Sport eXperience they came in touch with banks and entrepreneurs. Martin Stockman, coach at Sport eXperience: “Them finding a partner is a matter of time. They are very modest but they receive nothing but positive reactions. Shortly, they will be signing a contract in China.” Popov stayed in Eindhoven for a month and learned English. Something of which he thinks it needs improving: “I want to be able to tell the message in a story.”


    The remaining two participants, SportAny and FreeSense Solutions are not ready to launch on short notice. Jophri Janssen from SportAny has developed a web application through which the sport players are offered the possibility to sport anywhere without a subscription. “I learned that I needed to sharpen my message: less is more. This program has also helped me with financial issues and it taught me to make decisions in an early stage, such as saying goodbye to a person or to an organisation. To me, the time of making plans is over, I must take action now. I’m ready for it.”


    For Hermans himself, it was good to see that the startups were questioning and criticizing each other constructively. “Because they’re all in the sports market, they were really challenging each other. It is always exciting to see if it actually happens.” Hermans is also already looking ahead: “Early next year we are going to the headquarters of Under Armour in Baltimore with a number of startups. We just discussed that in a skype conversation.”

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    About the author

    Author profile picture Corine Spaans is a writer. She is particularly interested in the stories of the people behind the innovations and has a passion for sport (innovation).