As a young entrepreneur in the 1990s, Amir Raveh had no one to talk to about the challenges his company was facing. This is one of the reasons why he founded HYPE Sports Innovation, creating a platform that connects founders, investors, mentors and sports brands. His vision is to combine sport and technology to impact lives around the world. Raveh explains that sports can bring people together in a special way, and new technologies make it easier than ever to share compelling sports stories. He shares that in order to help founders and startups in the sports field, HYPE had to create partnerships with the best sports brands. With these connections, they can help founders break through to the highest levels and help large teams and companies find the best innovations. Areas they are working on include engaging with fans in the metaverse, creating NFTs, and delivering new gameplay looks.
Tell me a little about yourself, how you got into this whole sports world and what is the vision for HYPE Sports Innovation.
I’m a big believer that part of the way to share the HYPE story, and share any kind of vision, is through stories. Recently, I remembered when I was five years old, my grandfather – who was an avid Beitar Jerusalem fan – took me when I was five years old to watch the rival team, Hapoel Jerusalem, because that was the only game that was that weekend. The match was Hapoel Jerusalem vs. Hapoel Haifa. It was zero, he said, “The most boring game in the world.” But for me it was an unforgettable experience.
Now, 40 years later, I am taking my son to Germany, in the Bundesliga, to watch FC Köln v Bayern Munich in Cologne. I’m like, “Hell, not much has changed since I was a kid.”
So later, together with Bernd Wahler, who used to be the CMO of Adidas, we developed HYPE Sports Innovation to the next stage. We had nine sports technology accelerators around the world.
At that point, what is the thesis that you build about the potential of innovation and technology to be integrated into sport? What is your role in this?
At that stage I saw that there is a gap, there is an opportunity. There is a lot of innovation around me and I could not explain why there is not enough innovation in sports. Now, of course, with the new generation, they have to innovate to catch the next generation. And as an entrepreneur on the wrong side of 50, I thought maybe it’s time to do something I really love.
My passion is always sports and innovation. As an entrepreneur, I sold my business in 2003 and then started investing in a small investment house. But I was looking to get back into my entrepreneurial role to create something, to make an impact, to move something forward. With HYPE, what we found was that to help entrepreneurs and startups and later invest in them, we need to have the other side. We must have brand partners. We can work with them and enable them to use the best innovations. Once we have them as customers, we can bring them the best technologies and the best startups.
What is the platform that brings everyone together that allows this innovation to actually happen?
The vision we had is to impact people’s lives through the power of sport and innovation. If you’re an entrepreneur, the biggest hurdle for you to really get over will be getting a pilot or commercial deal with a top-tier club. So that’s basically what we do.
With the pandemic, we launched GVA, the Global Virtual Accelerator. We shut down all the physical accelerators in one day and created this global platform, which to be honest, is much more effective. We have learned to work as a global community of mentors. We have about a hundred mentors from all over the world. We have investors, brands and of course startups. Each side of the platform can engage and provide value to the other.
What are some things you’re excited about as innovation unfolds in sports?
To give you an idea, we are doing this weekend [July 30] a match between Roma and Tottenham Hotspur. They are coming to Israel, to HAIFA, to Sammy Ofer, where we created the I-Tech Cup. We don’t have the restrictions of leagues, so we can set any innovation we want. You will be able to see the ball from the player’s angle. You can see it from the porter. We have a camera for the referee. We have NFT, a metaverse engagement with fans globally so they can engage, talk to each other.
How will this new virtual engagement increase my presence or engagement with this team or player I want?
The full impact is not yet known. But since blockchain is a very real technology that brings a lot of unique value, I think this is the foundation that will be the fuel for all three Webs to continue to grow. Add to that a layer of a new monetization platform that wasn’t there before for clubs, brands, federations. If you hold a ticket to the final at Wembley as an NFT, and that NFT also gives you credit or access to a shop later where you can get something or you can get access to another game at a discount, or you can have this as a reminder, this is something that people will probably use.
We’re making a scarf where we have some kind of NFC chip in them so you can freely enter a game. This allows you to access additional content. So now there’s the metaverse, of course, and you can see that there’s a potential here to create something big. At HYPE, we want to continue to help move this industry forward, help be a force for good, and continue to build our business. We are a for-profit organization. We now have a portfolio of around 250 startups in which we have capital. And have fun along the way, if possible.
That capital is mostly from the accelerator that you bring to those startups and work with them and create that platform for them, right?
Yes. It actually started when I was an entrepreneur about 27 years old. Your age. I remember after I started my company in London, I had four pilots. With the fourth brand, which was Bank of Scotland, I got a no after a three-month pilot. I felt like it was the end of the world and I had no one to talk to. It was 97. There was very little, if any, internet. To talk to someone, you had to call. It cost a fortune. I had very few people in London that I knew. And I was really alone. I remember walking on London Bridge and looking down, literally. One of the reasons we created this startup and founder platform is to enable them to not be on their own, to enable them to have other founders to talk to, to have mentors on different topics. The feeling of being alone is something that I would say had a very strong impact.
If you’re looking at the future of sports, innovation and technology, what are some things you’re particularly excited about as an entrepreneur yourself?
It’s hard to predict how things will shape up. Especially with the younger generation. I know that sport has a very special power to connect people and a special power to do good. I want to see sport more involved in this. If you think about the potential of the metaverse, in terms of equal opportunity. Not everyone can fly and watch the Champions League final. By allowing people to experience, by allowing people to communicate, by reducing emissions from fewer people flying, there are many good things that can happen.
Life is about telling a story. Technology now allows clubs, fans, brands to tell a story even better than they could before. The ability to bring people together, even though you’re alone with an empty fridge, technology has the ability to do that.
Michael Matias, Forbes 30 Under 30, is a venture associate at Innovation Endeavors as well as a venture capital partner at Secret Chord and J-Ventures. He studies Artificial Intelligence and Human-Computer Interaction at Stanford University and was an engineer at Hippo Insurance. Matias previously served as an officer in Unit 8200. 20MinuteLeaders is a tech entrepreneurship interview series featuring one-on-one interviews with fascinating founders, innovators, and thought leaders who share their journeys and experiences.
Contributing editors: Michael Matias, Megan Ryan