Toronto pitches itself as leading tech ecosystem to athletes looking to invest

Toronto’s booming tech ecosystem has long been garnering global interest from industry players and now, even professional athletes are starting to look to Canadian companies as potential investment deals. Last year alone, NBA player Stephen Curry invested in SnapTravel, with former Blue Jays player and MLB All-Star José Bautista investing in Endy.

“The parallel really to take is, being a world class athlete and a world class founder are really the same thing.”

On Friday, the inaugural Athlete Technology Summit looked to create even more opportunities for investment and partnerships between pro athletes and local tech companies. The event brought together NBA and WNBA players, Olympians, venture capitalists, startups, and more, as organizers looked to pitch Toronto as one of the best places for athletes to invest their dollars.
 

“Modern professional athletes have business interests that go well beyond the court and playing fields,” said Randy Osei, founder of the Athlete Technology Summit. “They are savvy investors and entrepreneurs who have become incredibly engaged in new business and innovative technologies. We want to make sure they are informed and well connected to Toronto’s amazing tech community.”

A handful of startups including Finaeo, Acorn Biolabs, and Axion Games were given the opportunity to take the stage to pitch their companies to the attendees. The event also included discussions from venture capitalists like StandUp Ventures’ Michelle McBane, and Dragons’ Den’s Bruce Croxon, as well as booths where athletes could meet a handful of companies, including cannabis tech company Grow Ratio, and even a video message from Mayor John Tory, imploring someone to develop an app that can help bring the Stanley Cup to Toronto.

“Events like this are very important, because, you allow athletes [and] entrepreneurs to get in the same room with innovators,” former NBA player Al Harrington told BetaKit. The basketball player, turned entrepreneur, has made a number of his own investments in tech companies, even going on to found his own cannabis company, Viola.

Al Harrington was a first round draft pick in the 1998 NBA draft. He spent the first part of his career with the Indiana Pacers.

Athletes entering the world of investment is nothing new, with active and retired athletes alike often working with hotels, restaurants, or even developing their own brands. Aly Dhalla, co-founder and CEO of FinTech startup Finaeo, who donned his Jordan shoes for the occasion and noted his interest in the potential to meet athletes looking to invest, explained to the audience that pro athletes are natural entrepreneurs.

“The parallel really to take is, being a world class athlete and a world class founder are really the same thing,” he stated. “We make a lot of sacrifices, you put a lot of time in, you spend every single waking and sleeping moment thinking about how to get better.”

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Manu (Swish) Goswami, the CEO and founder of Canadian tech startup Trufan, noted that he has seen first hand a growing interest in these athletes wanting to work with, and be, entrepreneurs. Goswami’s startup, Trufan, uses an algorithm to help brands and influencers identify and reward their top fans on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. Trufan, itself, saw Davon Reed, a 24-year-old NBA player for the Indiana Pacers, participate in its pre-seed round, last year.

With tech becoming a central part of many economies in North America, athletes are now turning to the sector to invest, in addition to more traditional industries. Croxon, also the managing partner at Round13 Capital, noted that many athletes are even working with VC firms to source potential deals.

“No industry on the planet is not being disrupted by tech,” he stated. “As an investment class it is the fastest growing, and has the most potential to disrupt, of any industry. And that will exist for the rest of our lifetime.”

Croxon also called Canada the best country to start a tech company, arguing that it “swings way above its weight” in tech talent. This sentiment was emphasized by a number of speakers at Friday’s event, with many pitching Toronto as the right place to make those investments. Many argued that the city being home to the 2019 NBA champions, as well as a large portion of the country’s tech startups, makes it an ideal option.

While, there did not seem to be a large number of athletes in attendance at the intimate 150 person event, many, including the City of Toronto’s acting chief information officer, Lawrence Eta, also emphasized the city’s diversity, low costs for operating (compared to US cities), and “world-class” talent, as key reasons for the athletes to put their trust in local tech companies.

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“I think clearly this is the upward trend of sport and tech and innovation in this city,” Cheri Bradish, the executive director of Ryerson University and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment’s Future of Sport Lab, told BetaKit. “It really speaks to a lot of good things that we’re looking [at] and hearing are exciting on a global stage.”

Bradish noted that along with potential for athletes to invest in typical tech companies there is also a growing number of sport tech companies that could offer similar interests – offering everything from player performance data to fan engagement, as well as an increasing number utilizing AI, and focusing on esports.

“Obviously, tech is very risky, from the standpoint that, you know, there are a lot of losers,” Harrington noted to BetaKit. “But, if you can find a good strategic way of how to spread out the risk, [and] diversify your portfolio within these tech investments, I think that you can find a way to be somewhat successful. I always say, sometimes you only need one to hit big.”

Feature image courtesy Bradley Fletcher via Twitter

Meagan Simpson

Meagan Simpson

Meagan is the Associate Editor for BetaKit. A tech writer that is super proud to showcase the Canadian tech scene. Background in almost every type of journalism from sports to politics. Podcast and Harry Potter nerd, photographer and crazy cat lady.