On Tuesday, hundreds of people converged at the University of St. Thomas for SportCon — a gathering of entrepreneurs, executives and experts who are helping advance the infusion of technology into sports.
The conference was put on by MinneAnalytics, and no one could accuse the organization of under-doing it. Free to attend for the general public, SportCon featured a schedule so packed that event-goers often had to choose between simultaneously occurring presentations and panels.
Should I watch Jordan Bloem of Navigate Research explain how our perceptions about the fan experience differ from reality, or Dave DeLion of SportsTech Consulting speak on improving performance through biomechanics data?
Afterward, I could either catch veteran venture capitalist Jeff Hinck sharing his insights on raising money for sportstech startups, or Robby Sikka of Mayo Clinic illustrating the ways teams are trying to create the “perfect player” through medicinal analytics.
It was tough to go wrong. For a sports fan with an acute interest in tech, such as myself, there was no shortage of interesting and compelling new frontiers to learn about. For business founders, investors and others with a stake in the community, networking opportunities abounded.
Local start-ups took the spotlight in the main auditorium for the better part of the morning, with nine different budding companies making pitches as spectators shuffled in and kicked snow off their boots. The concepts and models varied greatly, from cutting-edge concussion sensors designed by Prevent Biometrics to an automated in-depth content engine developed by Inside Edge.
Amidst the notable diversity, there was one noticeable theme: the spreading roots of SportsEngine within this ecosystem. Acquired by NBC last summer, the youth sports league platform formerly known as Sport Ngin has already partnered with three of the start-ups that presented during the showcase.
So it seems fitting that the company’s cofounder and CEO, Justin Kaufenberg, took the stage afterward as part of a start-up panel that also included Hinck, whose early investment in Sport Ngin helped spur its impressive growth. Alongside those two was Paul Charchian, a defining force in fantasy sports since the pre-internet era.
Following lunch, the focus shifted away from entrepreneurship and business development, veering more into the nuts and bolts of analytical applications in pro sports. The afternoon panels offered a strong balance of unique viewpoints. During one session, the directors of research for the Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Bucks sat with Inside Edge cofounder Jay Donchetz and ESPN VP of Stats and Research Jeff Bennett.
While the early morning’s presentations were less attended due to the weather, by this time the collegiate lecture hall was filling up nicely. The latter part of the day featured some big-name appeal, including new Twins top front office exec Derek Falvey and former big-leaguer Corey Koskie.
The first SportCon offered something for everybody, and kept things from getting too serious with a casual atmosphere and a mid-day mascot romp that saw iconic costumed characters from each of the local teams rambling exuberantly from room to room with boomboxes.
This conference was an ambitious undertaking, befitting the rapidly growing sportstech scene here in the Twin Cities, and with its successful execution MinneAnalytics set a high bar for future iterations.