Calling corporate Australia – our high potential sportstech sector needs your support

Date: 22-Feb-2024
Australia is a sporting nation. That’s no secret. Less well known is that Australia is also one of the world’s leaders in sports technology. Of the nine recognised verticals of sportstech, at least three are dominated by Australian companies. Australia now has over 750+ sportstech companies that generate more than $4 billion in Gross Value Add to the Australian economy every year and employ almost 13,500 people.
Calling corporate Australia – our high potential sportstech sector needs your support

But many of Australia’s sportstech companies are startups and scaleups. Like sporting teams and codes, these sportstech startups need support and investment from Australian corporates to drive their success. One such company is Aircast.

Aircast an Aussie-born startup that provides the world’s fastest in-venue, low-latency video and audio streaming technology. Aircast was lucky to be supported by the national sportstech industry body, the Australian Sports Technology Network (ASTN). Having completed early-stage, growth-stage and export-ready programs with ASTN, Aircast came to the attention of Comcast in the United States. Comcast has now picked Aircast to provide its services for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics.

As much as this is a success story for Aircast, it's important to acknowledge that not every sportstech startup experiences the same level of fortune. For many sportstech startups and scaleups their Growth is constrained by a lack of local investment and support. What could be a great story for Australia is often one of missed opportunity as Australian tech talent and entrepreneurs leave for other shores where their potential is better recognised and supported.

Australian state governments are working hard to close these funding gaps by supporting a range of programs across the country. In Victoria, our ‘Sporting Capital’, LaunchVic – the Victorian Government’s agency to support growth of the State’s startup ecosystem, has delivered the VC Support Program and supported ASTN’s Open Innovation Pathways Program.

LaunchVic CEO, Dr Kate Cornick, recognises that Victoria needs greater engagement from corporate Australia to increase investment locally.

"Access to early-stage venture capital has been a significant issue for Victorian startups, with little movement in early-stage funding levels since 2016 despite the number of startups tripling in the state."

"To ensure the sector's sustainable growth, we need more investors looking to startups as an asset class. Our data shows that on average, startups receiving more than $1-4M funding scale twice as fast."

In Queensland the Department of Innovation, Tourism and Sport has invested in a Women in Sportstech program with the support of Advance Queensland. Additionally for the first time, the State Government of Western Australia through the New Industry Fund X-Tend has supported ASTN’s early-stage accelerator program and industry engagement program to be delivered in Perth in 2023/2024.

Yet, whilst the programs offered by ASTN and funded by LaunchVic and the Queensland and Western Australian State Governments are starting to attract interest from local and overseas venture capital, corporate Australia needs to step up. Truly successful and sustainable startup, growth and scaleup accelerator programs require corporates to engage and partner with the fledgling businesses.

ASTN reports that for 12 months it made a concerted but ultimately unsuccessful effort to engage Australian corporates such as those that run our stadiums and venues and the 5G and broadcast groups of the domestic telecommunications companies. ASTN’s aim was to encourage these corporates to engage with and provide visibility for relevant emerging startups and technologies. It seems the local corporates are not as interested in innovation as their US counterparts.

For Aircast, having engaged with Comcast, its future looks bright. Encouraged by Comcast’s support and business introductions, Aircast’s CEO and Founder is now considering relocating from Australia to the US.

The problem isn’t just that Australian corporates are missing the innovation boat – certainly they are with Aircast and with many others. The bigger problem for Australia is the continued loss of capability, of investment, of high skill employment opportunities and of a future that includes strong innovative, employing, high tech Australian companies.

ASTN wants this to change.

“Despite the Australian sportstech sector punching well above its weight globally, corporate Australia is mostly lagging in terms of engaging with the sportstech startup sector. Instead of matching entrepreneurial ingenuity with corporate access to markets, like in so many other advanced economies, corporate Australia is failing to recognise the significant opportunities available and missing out on our home-grown tech talent through open innovation programs like those offered by ASTN,” said Dr Martin Schlegel, Executive Chair, ASTN.

Dr Schlegel and ASTN are appealing to corporate Australia to support Australia’s innovative sportstech industry. ASTN is encouraging and welcoming engagement from corporate Australia to join other stakeholders and take a seat at the table to seize these exciting opportunities.