The Florida Panther’s FLA arena might be where the on-ice action goes down. But on Wednesday night, the exciting action was most certainly happening a few miles south in Davie.
The recently-opened Alan B. Levan | NSU Broward Center of Innovation (the Levan Center) hosted the Magical Hockey Stick Challenge, a sports tech pitch night aiming to highlight the top innovations and innovators that can bring the Panther’s tech prowess to the next level.
Seven entrepreneurs pitched their solutions to a panel of tech experts: Bryce Hollweg, Florida Panthers Executive Vice President; Sam Doerr, Florida Panthers Chief Strategy Officer; and Rob Petrosino, Head of Innovation and Technology at Boynton Beach-based digital strategy and implementation company PeakActivity.
The challenge was open to entrepreneurs in all stages of development, from startups at the ideation stage to enterprises that already have a global reach. Applicants fell into one of the challenge’s three themes: immersive technology, venue/facility innovations, and consumer engagement.
From mascot management to performance-enhancing wearables, there was a range of tech on display
Nashville-based Colleen Flynn of MascotLink came in first place. The judges were impressed with her platform, which simplifies the process of booking team mascots for events such as birthday parties and weddings.
The idea is that her platform will replace the scores of PDFs and online forms to more efficiently match mascots with fans. Through MascotLink, mascots can accept payment, manage their events, and plan their routes. As Flynn noted, it’s better not to have your performer and your accountant be the same person!
Coming in first place provides MascotLink with admission to the Levan Center’s Incubate Program, a virtual membership to the Levan Center, tickets to a Panthers game, a customized Panthers jersey, and a one-on-one introduction to the Panthers’ executive team. All participants received a virtual membership to the Levan Center.
“As an early-stage startup, this event was a great opportunity to aggregate our research and demonstrate the success of our MVP for a well-informed audience,” Flynn said. “The fact that the organizers, the judges, and audience came from a blend of innovative roles in sports and startup ecosystems really helped validate our journey and boost our confidence.”
She continued: “As we work to launch our platform (beta) into new markets this year, we are looking forward to staying engaged with the Levan Center and taking advantage of the generous resources they afforded to us as winners of this pitch competition.”
In second place was Athlete Sense, a Virginia startup that has developed a wearable device that converts physical play into digital and audio data streams for performance improvement and player safety motion tracking.
Third place went to FanSaves, an Ottawa-based digital couponing SaaS platform that helps sports teams increase fan engagement, activations, and sponsorship revenue while tracking important customer demographics for teams and their partners.
Two South Florida companies also presented at the event: Miami/Norwegian compliance and user engagement company Multilot (shown below) and West Palm Beach digital gift card startup Happy Gift.
The first of more corporate venture partnerships to come
Sam Doerr, the Florida Panthers’ Chief Strategy Officer, said he quickly saw the value of collaborating with the Levan Center, having participated in a similar corporate challenge with Arizona State University while he worked for the Phoenix Rising, a Major League Soccer team.
“The Levan Center has been very enthusiastic and supportive,” Doerr told Refresh Miami. “It was the perfect marriage, being introduced to the Center and the University.”
Doerr noted technology is playing an increasingly important role in sports – both in terms of gameplay as well as the business side.
“We’ve invested a ton in technology, especially related to consumer insights,” noted Doerr. “The competition for the dollar coming out of COVID is really really fierce and so the things you can do to set yourself apart from a fan experience standpoint are huge.”
John Wensveen, NSU’s Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Director of the Levan Center, was equally excited about the partnership. “I was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada and am a huge hockey fan,” he said.
“When I moved to South Florida, I knew that it was not necessarily a hockey town. But I was committed to trying to figure out a way that we could have some kind of a partnership with the Florida Panthers. That ended up in a win-win for all of the stakeholders involved.”
Wensveen signaled that this partnership with the Panthers could be a model for future corporate innovation challenges with other major South Florida enterprises.
“We anticipate going to many other brands, outside the sports world, and asking what challenges they have as an organization that technology could possibly resolve,” he explained.
The Levan Center, which had a soft launch last year, is now in full operation. It includes ample coworking space, a range of programming for startups from all sectors and at all stages, a military-grade cybersecurity range, and a space tech program.
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