A cat feeder that your cat hunts and tutors to improve your online game skills may not seem to be a natural fit for an NBA team, but as part of the starting lineup for the Sixers Innovation Lab in Camden, these start-ups could be a slam dunk.
Of the four ventures unveiled Tuesday at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the 8,000-square-foot space inside the new 76ers Training Complex, only two have an overt sports connection.
But all four are consumer-facing and focused on areas experiencing rapid growth — e-sports, the pet-care industry, cause media, and daily fantasy sports — explained Sixers Innovation Lab managing director Seth Berger, a seasoned entrepreneur who first hit it big with the basketball sportswear brand AND1.
“We look for projects that are unique and cool, that have a strong entrepreneur and support staff, and are in areas that our team can offer expertise and other benefits that they couldn’t get from other accelerators,” Berger said.
- Doc and Phoebe’s Cat Co: An alternative cat-food dispensing system dreamed up by University of Pennsylvania vet school alum Elizabeth Bales. With marketing support from Maven Creative, the company is now turning a product “initially pitched to vets” into something that will resonate directly with animal lovers. Bales’ award-winning indoor feeder maximizes a cat’s natural instincts to hunt and play by having pet owners hide the food inside toys. The vet first showed the product as the NoBowl Feeding System, raising a quarter-million dollars in product orders through Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Now the company is being re-branded as Doc and Phoebe’s Cat Co., with a revised website that’s boiled down “53 pages of medical science to three easily digested pages explaining how the system works.”
U Git Gud: An online tutoring program to improve your video game skills thought up by two Cornell graduates and launching this month in beta form. Multiplayer video games have become a spectator sport with professional and amateur teams that compete in major championships and draw huge crowds. An arena dedicated to Esports competitive play recently opened in Las Vegas. Forty universities even offer Esports scholarships. “And I’d argue that this thing has only just started taking off,” Berger said. At launch, this innovative electronic coaching program will obsess over game videos transferred by League of Legends players — analyzing their performance, utilizing machine learning, and suggesting ways to improve with live experts and coaching videos. If the program takes off, more help should launch for other popular gamer pursuits, such as “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” which set a new Twitch record in January with more than one million concurrent viewers for the grand finale match.
- Monster Roster: The first project launched last year in the lab is a player-tracking/recommendation service that helps to equalize fantasy sports team building for the vast majority of roster makers who don’t have the time to make it their career. Berger believes the failed merger of FanDuel and DraftKings this year works out well for Monster Roster. “The two services will now be competing again to acquire users, and open to working with third parties that help them in the cause,” Berger said. “We’re currently offering a promotion with FanDuel that’s shown promising results. Our analytics have also found that Monster Roster users win 40 percent more often than the average player does on DraftKings.” And while fantasy football remains the initial Monster Roster draw, “65 percent of football customers are also using Monster Roster for basketball lineups and roughly 75 percent of basketball customers also used it for baseball lineups.”
- Live Life Nice: Videos that make people smile often score millions of hits through social media, encourage random acts of kindness, and also help associated brands’ reputations. The “cause-driven digital media company” Live Life Nice is now pushing the agenda by producing compelling original content that infuses positive news into society, suggested project founder Christian Crosby, who has worked for the 76ers in a variety of capacities since 2007. While he sees his start-up encouraging people to “Be Nice, Do Nice” with stories about “the world’s greatest grandmother” or neighbors helping neighbors in distress, there will also be opportunity for product placement — for “cause-minded brands to integrate directly into the stories.” Berger said the company has “just started to talk to sponsors, and already have an exclusive partnership with a major international player, a platform that will start to carry the content in the fall.”
The Sixers Innovation Lab’s consulting partners include Pepper Hamilton LLP and Morgan Properties, and advisers include the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Stub Hub, DraftKings, Rothman Institute, First Round Capital, and NovaCare Rehabilitation. The lab was furnished by Kimball Office.