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What you want to know about Sports Tech Tokyo (Scrum Ventures) and Michael Proman !
What you want to know about Sports Tech Tokyo and Michael Proman!
Michael Proman from Scrum Ventures
Michael Proman from Scrum VenturesThe Business Journals

SiS- Michael, great speaking with you. To start with, could you let us know about yourself?

MP - Great to chat with you. I've been fortunate to experience numerous perspectives over my 15+ years in the sports & entertainment industry. It started on the brand/sponsor side with Coca-Cola working in their Worldwide Sports group on some of the highest profile global sports properties (i.e., Olympics, FIFA, NBA, etc) and with some of the most respected marketers in the world. Not a bad way to begin my career -- in fact, I owe that team (and Peter Franklin in particular) more than I could ever repay: they took a chance on me and provided invaluable learnings that I very much rely on today.

I then moved to the property side with the NBA -- helping build their brand and business around the world. I didn't know it at the time, but my timing at the League was quite good: international was growing at a ridiculous rate -- fueled by China (when I started in October 2004, we literally had two people on the ground in China; when I left 4+ years later, we had 125 and had just spun out NBA China). Plus, one of the best benefits of working at a tech-savvy organization like the NBA was the talent around you... when you look at where some of these folks are today, it's humbling, to say the least.

I left the NBA in late 2008 to move back to my native Minnesota and start a company called OptionIt with a former NBAer and close friend, Mark Mastalir (now the CMO at Halo Neuroscience). Leveraging some IP and a couple dozen partnerships with various rights-holders, we essentially introduced a fundamentally new product that enabled our team partners incremental revenue and fans enhanced convenience and flexibility when making purchasing decisions: an option on sports tickets. We sold the company to a private equity firm in 2011 and then I went on to consult to a number of companies in the very early days of the sports tech industry -- I think you could count the number of sports tech companies on two hands. it was pretty pathetic in comparison to where things stand today.

In 2015, I joined the team at Fancam to run their North American business and by 2018 we had both a content company as well as pretty robust biometric capabilities (and data set that was solving real problems for teams). Fancam has an unquestionably bright future and I truly enjoyed helping develop that business.

Then last Summer, Scrum Ventures came to me with an opportunity and here I am today working on the investment/venture capital side of the industry. It's been an incredible 5 months and hard to believe how much we've accomplished in such a short time. I guess that's what happens when you have outstanding partners and colleagues!

SiS- And about Scrum Ventures?

MP- Scrum is the brain-child of Tak Miyata, our Founder, and General Partner. Tak realized that the VC-LP relationship needed to be more than just a transaction; we could add value in so many ways beyond a return on an investment (and that's where the secret sauce begins)... We formed Scrum Studios and started working with our Japanese partners in ways that made a real difference -- effectively helping them innovate by way of curating some of the best and most promising early-stage companies. While we don't make investments on the Studio side of the business, we do create meaningful relationships with startups that enable them to realize tangible revenue opportunities in an area of the world (APAC in general and Japan in particular) that is completely underserved and poised to explode from a growth perspective.

SiS- You have recently launched Sports Tech Tokyo (http://sportstech.tokyo), along with Dentsu. Could you share with us your objectives and more about the program?

MP- We had run programs with Panasonic (electronics) and Nintendo (gaming) so when Dentsu came to us last year to start a sports tech program, this was a no-brainer. As you know, Tokyo is about to host two of the most high profile sports events in the next 16 months and the region couldn't be more ripe for innovation in the space. But we didn't want to create a classic accelerator for a dozen companies that had an interest in being part of the action; we wanted to build a community that could solve real problems facing the industry -- mainly the notion of fragmentation and lack of a support system for more advanced startups. You do that by recruiting over 150 best-in-class companies across all stages, all geographies and all areas of focus -- in many ways, Sports Tech Tokyo is very similar to the way the Olympic movement brings together the best athletes from around the world to a centralized location to deploy value. It's hard to believe how broad the enthusiasm for STT was: hundreds of applications, representing 33 countries and 5 continents -- I knew we were onto something special, but I didn't every think we could drive that type of excitement in the first 90 days.

While the companies that will be part of our Kickoff next month in Tokyo might have growth ambitions in Japan, we know STT transcends Tokyo and helps these companies in whatever geographic region is important to them. That's our commitment to them and one of the main reasons we have such outstanding companies in the cohort -- companies that would never apply to a traditional accelerator. I love the diversity that this program offers. I can introduce a pre-revenue company to a number of our mentor investors and then turnaround and connect a company that's raised $30M and starting their C round to a different set of opportunities. That's pretty cool.

SiS- April 8-10th, you will organize in Tokyo a gathering with the first selection of startups, could you tell us more about that?

MP- When it all comes together and the final bottle of sake is consumed, I'll have a big smile on my face; until then, it's an up-at-dawn, late-night-every night kind of vibe around our office. I'm so fortunate to have an amazing team in SF and Tokyo helping make this a reality, but it's all-consuming (and we're still 2+ weeks out). The time going into the event is a reflection of the personalization we want each company to experience -- and we have quite a few of those! It's about immersing these companies with some of the best and brightest corporations, teams/leagues/properties and individuals that are driving innovation in Japan. We'll do that through large-group formats, roundtables as well as 1:1 curated meetings that enable all audiences to learn and develop actionable outcomes.

Coming out of the 3-day event, we'll work with Dentsu and our program partners to determine which companies will become program finalists. These 10-20 startups will then participate in a primarily virtual, 3-month program that pairs them Japanese companies (as well as some incredible mentors) to help them develop what we hope are some mutually-valuable partnerships. In parallel to the "finalist track," we'll be supporting all 150+ companies through a full slate of virtual and occasional in-person event content. The program will culminate in late August in San Francisco with our inaugural Demo Day and celebration of the entire cohort.

SiS- Where are the startups coming from, and from what business areas mostly?

MP- Short answer is "all over." This is by far the most ambitious program ever executed in sports tech but also the most diverse. Just over 50% of the cohort is from North America, but it extends all around the world, including places like India, Australia, Israel, and Hong Kong. I know it's cliche to say 'we want to be everything to everyone,' but when you look at where companies are coming from, the areas industry focus (3 core categories and 13 sub-categories) as well as the stage-agnostic approach (pre-revenue to >$5 in EBITDA), it really does reinforce that narrative. And the companies are not the only component that reflects this diverse trend... our mentors come from all around the world and (spoiler alert), a large percentage of them are not experts in Japan; we wanted to provide a network that helps these companies -- no matter what their pain-points and growth opportunities are.

Michael Proman
Michael Promanscrum.vc

SiS- What about the winners, how will you keep on adding them value apart from that event in April and its related networking opportunities ?

MP- I don't believe in participation awards (you can ask my kids about that). Not everyone is a winner in the "finalist" sense, but that's OK, because they are just as much a part of this community as a startup that ultimately goes onto develop a POC with a Japanese company -- and we're committed to support this community in every way we possibly can. That could mean helping on fundraising to top-line growth opportunities.

One of the reasons why we have such fantastic mentors is that they want to 'lean-into' this community because they recognize the collective value that these companies have. We're going to be working with our mentors -- some of whom work with some pretty high-profile teams and properties -- to identify STT companies that could positively impact their businesses and execute dedicated "STT days" at their respective organizations, which would not only provide these companies exceptional partnership opportunities, but also help demonstrate the power of the community to new, incremental audiences that are thousands of miles away from Tokyo.

Brands are always infatuated with providing consumers "money-can't-buy" experiences; I'm obsessed with providing some of the best and most promising sports tech startups access that they arguably wouldn't have if it weren't for STT.

SiS- To develop this program, you need partners, who's part of this great adventure?

MP- I can't give away all my secrets... stay tuned for some BIG announcements leading up to our Kickoff.

SiS- Sports Tech Tokyo is the first step of Scrum Ventures into Sports, what's next in Sports for Scrum Ventures?

MP- Good question... it keeps me up every night when the scotch doesn't do the job. Thinking about it gives me an adrenaline rush: there's so much opportunity (and not just in Japan). Sports Tech Tokyo could be just as relevant to places like Beijing, Singapore, and Bangalore in the next 5 years. You have some incredible momentum in Asia and there's not a startup in the space that doesn't want to be part of that conversation. But we're thinking much broader than just world-class events coming to APAC; we want to develop more palpable ways to support this robust community and that starts with revenue and relationships but also places an emphasis on ensuring that these companies have the growth capital to achieve their potential. I think that's an area that STT will look to make an impact (and leave a lasting legacy)! 

Jeese Lovejoy at Beyond Innovation SummitBeyond Innovation Summit
Craig Spence, International Paralympic Committee Chief Marketing & Communications Officer.SiS
Hervé Andre-Benoit, FISE Founder and Hurricane Group CEOSiS
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