RU a team player? Ryerson investing into sports technology incubator

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By Emily Moore

Ryerson is teaming up with one of Canada’s leading sport entertainment companies for the love of sports and technology.

The Future of Sports Lab is a sports technology and innovation incubator based at Ryerson University that is funded by both Ryerson and the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) company.

MLSE is based in Toronto and is one of the largest sport and entertainment companies in North America. They own the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto FC along with development teams like the Toronto Marlies as well as the buildings where they play. They also host live music and other entertainment events in these venues.

MLSE works closely with schools, like Ryerson, and the community to spread interest in sports and entertainment innovation.

This is the incubator’s first year, with six startups participating in the first cohort beginning this January and running until April. These startups will get the chance to be mentored by sports industry professionals as well as use the resources offered by the university. At the end of the period, one of these startups can be funded or continue to be helped by MLSE. Of the startups chosen, three are Toronto based, one is from Saskatchewan and two are American.

Supporting American Startups

Stephanie Jones, the Senior Manager of Operations for the Future of Sport Lab, handles program management and events for recruitment of startups as well as being the connection between MLSE and the Lab.

“What we have learned is to have teams that come from different areas in Canada or even the U.S. [This] is good for the Lab because it brings a lot of diversity of thought in the Lab and all the teams really learn from each other,” said Jones. “The teams within Toronto in our lab are learning some great tools [and] tricks of the trade from our American friends.

Gabriella Bunag, second-year business management student, splits her time being the vice-president of Events for the Ryerson Sports Business Association (RSBA). She said, “[although it would be beneficial for American startups], having more Canadian startups would be a priority, in my opinion, only because then they’d be able to grow, start from here, and be able to branch out into the international world.”

Funding the Future of Sport Lab

TRSM faculty members are also involved in the process. Dr. Cheri Bradish, co-founder and managing director of the Future of Sports Lab, said that the funding for the Future of Sport Lab comes from her Loretta Rogers Research Chair in Sport Marketing, five or six grants and MLSE.

The Loretta Rogers Research Chair is sponsored by the Rogers family and given to people who have made great progress in an innovative academic field, with the goal being to fund research and learning opportunities within the field.   

MLSE said in an email that they, “have contributed to the funding of the program but are not funding startups. Instead we are creating access to pilot opportunities within our organization and with our teams and providing mentorship from senior management and key partners and clients.” They could not disclose specific numbers.

Dr. Bradish said, “[MLSE and Ryerson] were so conscientious upfront not to talk about the numbers, we agreed to keep [them] confidential…The nature of our contract is confidential.”

“A big part of our budget this year, [is earmarked] to go directly back to Ryerson students and [fund] events [that] will be rolled out in the spring and in the summer,” said Dr. Bradish. “That’s a real goal of [the Future of Sport Lab]—why would the school go for a partnership unless we brought it back to the students?”

Stephanie Jones said the Future of Sport Lab is looking into pairing students who are pursuing their MBA in Sports Business with the startups. Undergraduate business students and students from other faculties are also being considered to help at the Sport Lab.

Gabriella Bunag said, “a lot of our team hadn’t heard about [the Future of Sport Lab] … it’s been marketed to the MBA Sports Business students more so than undergrads…there’s no postings on social media, there’s no info sessions, there’s nothing really that alerts us to what it is or when anything will be happening.”

Bunag also stated that the RSBA would be happy to become involved with the Lab if the opportunity was presented.

The Future of Sport Lab is looking into pairing with Career Boost in the future. There will be an emphasis on student-centred programming during this upcoming spring and summer.

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