While the area has always been a sports hotbed—particularly when it comes to fierce college basketball rivalries—the Triangle is beginning to turn heads for what is happening off the court, as a burgeoning sport business ecosystem has emerged in North Carolina. 

Last month, we shared the stories of 11 local startups making a dent in the sport and fitness industry. Now, the next crop of sport startups in North Carolina and beyond are getting the chance to put themselves on the radar. 
Sport Court and Sports Tank are two new sport-themed venture competitions—hosted in Chapel Hill and Charlotte, respectively—that are giving fledgling sport companies a chance to win funding, guidance and exposure as they break into the competitive sport business market. 

Students pitch sports biz ideas 

The inaugural Sport Court pitch competition was held on Friday, February 19th at Kenan-Flagler Business School on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill. Hosted by Kenan Institute Sport, the competition attracted eight student-run sport business ventures from NC State, UNC-Pembroke and UNC-Chapel Hill and included a mix of for- and nonprofit ventures. 
Pitching in front of a six-judge panel and a room full of UNC students and local business owners, the winning team was Cool Soles, a UNC-CH team led by former Tar Heel football player Jeff Battle, along with seniors Kalil Duncan and Chris Donaldson. The team (pictured above with event organizers) pitched a cooling insole, designed to help athletes avoid the blisters that often come from competing on artificial turf in hot weather conditions. 
Battle and Duncan came up with the idea during an entrepreneurship and business planning course in the fall semester, and added Donaldson in preparation for the pitch competition. After receiving considerable validation of their idea last fall, Battle and Duncan continued to work on the concept and created two prototypes that they claim are working as expected. During their winning pitch, they displayed a screenshot of a text message to Battle from an NFL tight end asking if the insole was on the market yet. 
Second place honors went to PT Wired, a mobile app designed to help keep physical therapists and their patients in sync while providing additional exercises and health education throughout the rehab process. 
Designed as a learning experience for the participating student startups, each pitch was followed by five to seven minutes of Q&A, which included constructive feedback and guidance from the judges. The panel included: John Austin, director of Groundwork Labs; Martina Ballen, CFO of UNC Athletics; Ashley Brown, lead analyst at the Kenan Institute; Art Chanksy, author and sportswriter at Chapelboro.com; Will Pleasants, COO of Wasserman Media Group (Raleigh); Erroll Reese, an IT consultant at EWI Technology and local radio personality 
Kenan Institute Sport is the business school’s community outreach arm, promoting sport entrepreneurship throughout North Carolina. Led by Dr. Deborah Stroman, the organization also hosts the annual Basketball Analytics Summit in April. 

Welcome to the Big Leagues 

While the inaugural Sport Court has established a platform for student companies to receive feedback and exposure, Sports Tank is aimed at giving high-growth sport startups a chance to attract funding from major investors in the space. 

Combining the elements of funding and guidance, Sports Tank includes a panel of five venture capitalists to go along with a “Sports Advisory Panel” of six executives working in professional sports. The advisory panel includes Indiana Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard and the Carolina Panthers’ Director of Ticketing, Chrystal Rowe, among others. 
A new addition to the Sports Tank event this year is a “ThinkTank” event on March 31 as a precursor to the main event. The ThinkTank is designed to showcase product innovation and ideation around three main topics: wearable tech in the sport and fitness industry, injury prevention and reduction and ways to improve athletic performance. It’s open to companies that might not be selected for the pitch competition. 
As the sport startup landscape continues to grow nationally and throughout our state, these two tentpole sport-driven venture competitions display a commitment to continuing innovation in the field.