Unicorn hunting - Finding the next $1bn sports-tech business.

Over the past decade, technology’s role in sports has evolved and expanded. And there is no sign of it slowing down.

  • The sports tech market is projected to be $31.1bn by 2024, growing at a CAGR of more than 20%, according to MarketsandMarkets.

  • Since 2012, venture funding for sports tech start-ups has grown nearly 30% year over year, according to a study by TechCrunch and Tableau.

The recent history of sports tech unicorns


This year has seen no shortage of unicorns emerge from the sports-tech scene. The past three months have all seen significant announcements;


September: Zwift, an online fitness platform for cyclists and runners, raised $450m in a Series C funding round.


October: wearable technology provider Whoop was valued at $1.2bn following a $100m Series E financing.


November: Strava, the popular running and cycling app that combines GPS tracking and social media, reached unicorn status after raising $110m.


So, what makes these companies so special?


Besides having a strong product, they all have something Bill Gross identified as 'the single biggest reason why start-ups succeed'. Ironically, it hasn’t changed since his TED talk in 2015.


It’s timing.


The companies have all been at the right place at the right time. For instance, Whoop, whose wearable strap captures physiological data, saw their global profile raised during the pandemic as many users noticed changes in their health scores as early indicators of coronavirus symptoms.


Similarly, Zwift, who deliver a gamified, immersive experience for runners and cyclists through their app-based subscription were thrust into the limelight by the shut-down of live events. As such, the company hosted high-profile events such as the first Virtual Tour de France in July, which attracted 117,000 participants.


The same can be said for Strava, too. The social platform, which boasts 70m members in 195 countries, has added two million users per month in 2020 as running grew in popularity due to lockdown restrictions.


When hunting for the next sport tech unicorn, then, it is best to look outward at the sporting landscape - and at the companies best fitting it...

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