Startup Showcase: nVenue Predicts the Future of Sports
It’s one thing to build tech that improves sports, but it’s an entirely different thing to see it in action.
For nVenue, a predictive analytics startup that recently completed our first SportsTech Accelerator program got to see that play out in real-time on a Major League Baseball game. Their prediction technology became a prominent part of a game between the Chicago White Sox and Oakland A’s—a pilot that was forged with NBC Sports as a direct result of nVenue being part of the Comcast SportsTech Accelerator program. Access to mentors and partners in the accelerator led to close collaboration on ways to improve and enhance the ways fans engage with sports broadcasting.
"Makes perfect sense, right?"@nVenueTech just changed the game of predictive analytics. Turn your sound on and check out what this #SportsTech Alum did in real time with @NBCSAthletics. https://t.co/qVY7pBHmuZ
— Comcast SportsTech (@ComcastSport) September 8, 2021
We recently had time to catch up with Kelly Pracht, CTO of nVenue to learn more about the work that’s been accomplished since finishing our accelerator as well as some of the best lessons learned during their time with us. Kelly provides some awesome product updates as well as some of the things she learned about joining an accelerator during one of the most challenging times in sports history.
You joined our accelerator program during a global pandemic, one of the most challenging times in modern history—what did that teach you about yourself and the work you’re doing as a startup founder?
Looking back over a year later, I am amazed that we not only survived as a business, but incredibly found a path to thrive! Our team, Bruce, Drew and I, had a ton of faith in ourselves and our vision, perhaps we even were blessed with overconfidence because deep down we knew we were on to something that was just “right.” However, it did get a little dicey for a while. I clearly remember the day that MLB halted all games indefinitely. I had been in denial that it would happen as that would be a killer blow to nVenue. How on Earth could live sports stop!? No baseball. No games. No predictive analytics. No launch of our app. All calls stopped. Every contact turned off their phones. Promises dried up and even the small accelerator that we were in at the time pulled back our small grants!
But … we kept going. We kept pitching. Kept pivoting. Kept calling. I contracted COVID in July of 2020. I was extremely fortunate to recover with no major issues, but during the waking moments of my very long recovery and quarantine I was modifying code, adding features, testing for accuracy, and improving the product. I watched old baseball games and ran simulated games to keep our tech getting better. And nVenue stayed alive. And then I got a call from Jose at Boomtown to come talk about the Comcast/NBC accelerator. That changed it all.
Was there a moment in the program when you realized that joining the program was not just a good decision, but an important shift for your business and momentum as a startup?
Seeing the very first video announcing all of the cohort companies was a rather big moment for me. There was a gravity and professionalism to that video that gave validation to everything we had been doing. And watching it was a surreal moment that reinforced that we had survived something pretty terrible and were headed into a new day. It was a big deal and I did not grasp it until right then.
What aspect of the program did you enjoy the most? What was the hardest part for you? What surprised you?
I enjoyed so much of the program that picking a single part is really tough. We had to pinch ourselves daily at who we were meeting, talking with, and presenting. I was a fan-girl more than once at some of those meetings. Truth be told, I get star struck with folks like CTOs at NBC, The VP of Product for Comcast, Digital Content decision makers for Sky sports, and the Atlanta Braves back office team! I mean—these folks are doing tech and sports everyday! I also loved to get to meet some really strong women in the industry, too—Jenna Kurath and Alysse Soll. Not only did Jenna help bring Comcast SportsTech to life, she owned it and invested in each one of us. Her level of commitment and ownership was something I have rarely seen from big corporations.
You’ve had a few months since you’ve finished the program. Tell us about your traction since—media coverage, new customers, milestones, growth, investment, etc.?
In September of this year, NBC Sports tapped us to do a live trial of our predictive analytics feeds on-air! We had built some relationships with the teams from during the cohort and the talks continued! We integrated our live technology into live broadcasts— from nVenue servers, directly into the production trucks and to fans watching at home! The on-air announcers used our content for four full games, plugging nVenue, talking about the live numbers, how we did it, and using our predictions and insights to complement live baseball! Through NBC Sports, the whole world saw that our tech is leaps and bounds ahead and since then, the phone has been ringing a lot. We are now in the process of showcasing our tech to all the national and regional broadcasters via a new and exciting partnership that is in the works!
What advice do you have for our next class of SportsTech startups?
We were told on our very first day….”Congratulations! You were hand picked by the industry’s best of the best. This is a big deal.” I’d tell the next class to be proud of where you are! Enjoy it, because it goes too fast!
The Future is Bright
Understanding what’s next is a key part of sports technology. For nVenue, what happens next is material knowledge for the die-hard fan, but it also helps usher in entirely new audiences who can use this information to process, learn, and understand the game.
Beyond the fan experience, there are implications for this technology in many realms of sports, from fantasy to live betting.