Skip to main content

ASU looking to fund startup projects that will change the world through sports

New Global Sport Social Impact Challenge to offer mentorship, cash investment

September 26, 2018

Sports and social issues are inextricably linked, and now Arizona State University is looking for innovative ways that people can harness sports to actually drive social change.

The Global Sport Institute at ASU has launched a new $10,000 competition for ideas that improve communities through sports. The Global Sport Social Impact Challenge will reward people who come up with inventive concepts, such as bringing a sport to an area that doesn’t have it or repurposing a facility to offer sports.

“It’s a broad category,” said Jeffrey Kunowski, associate director of innovation programs for the institute. “It can be a youth mentorship program, or an educational platform, or starting a new league, or possibly an idea based on diversity in sports.

“We're looking for individuals or groups that are looking to make a positive impact in the world through sport.”

Last year, for the first time, the institute offered the Global Sport Venture Challenge, a funding track for startups that focused on sports. Many of the competitors in that contest created products.

“We were trying to find ventures that were looking to make some kind of social impact, but we realized that it didn’t make sense to force that model onto an existing venture,” Kunowski said.

“So the idea was to create a separate competition.”

The grand prize winner of the Global Sport Venture Challenge last year was Billibars, a startup that invented a detachable handlebar system for bicycles. Founder Trevor Heder, who earned a master’s degree in industrial design in May, received a $5,000 investment and a trip to the Portland, Oregon, headquarters of adidas for mentoring. Three other teams also won funding and mentoring.

Kunowski said the Social Impact Challenge will be a similar competition, with mentoring throughout the year and a cash award in the spring, although details are still being finalized.

While the Social Impact Challenge likely won’t produce a product, the judges are looking for a well-thought-out idea.

“They’ll have to have some of the same components you would if you were trying to start a for-profit business, like a business plan,” he said. “We don’t want a sketch on the back of a napkin.”

Entrepreneurs who want to compete in either of the Global Sport Institute challenges must first apply to Venture Devils, a program in the office of Entrepreneurship + Innovation at ASU that provides space, mentorship and access to funding to startups launched by students, faculty, alumni or community members.

Last year, Venture Devils supported 114 teams with $829,501 in funding across all of the programs, according to Tracy Lea, the assistant director for venture development in the Entrepreneurship + Innovation unit at ASU.

A key component of Venture Devils is mentorship, and the model has been tweaked for this year, Lea said.

“Before, each team got mentorship from a dedicated mentor who was hired on, but we weren’t able to leverage the entire pool of 51 mentors,” she said.

“This year, there’s a dedicated mentor but also access to the skill set of the whole pool, which opens up for our mentees to get connected to the right expertise at the right time.”

Entrepreneurship teams in Venture Devils compete at a daylong pitch competition called Demo Day, held once every semester. Startups that register by Oct. 3 are eligible to participate in the Nov. 30 Demo Day. The next Demo Day will be April 26.

Top image by Pixabay

More Business and entrepreneurship


Illustration of four different people sitting around table having coffee

Skills new managers need to master

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the spring 2024 issue of ASU Thrive magazine. Stepping into a new leadership role doesn’t have to feel like you are starting at square one. By…

Students sitting in a classroom with VR headsets on.

VR helps students learn about supply chain management

What if students could learn about business challenges and processes from real-world scenarios, while never having to leave the classroom? Students in Arizona State University's Planning and Control…

Anjelina Belakovskaia sitting in front of a red and black chess board smiling at the camera.

Thunderbird at ASU professor uses chess to build students’ business acumen

To be a grandmaster in chess takes dedication, patience and an understanding of the ins and outs of the game. You also have to prepare yourself for setbacks and upsets. Such is the road that…