With a love of sport and a sharp focus on delivering an innovative job search experience, Norwegian startup SportIn Global is a social recruitment platform for the sport business industry where they use artificial intelligence to match job seekers with recruiting organisations.
Of course the mission is to help people find jobs and opportunities in the industry. What SportIn Global’s added trick is they’ve added in the social connection elements to their platform so users can build valuable knowledge and meet people in the industry and academia.
In this conversation we talked to the founder and CEO of SportIn Global Ole Martin Vebenstad.
Let’s go to the genesis of the platform, the early problems that you’re looking to solve.
Ole Martin Vebenstad: “I’ll take it back to when I studied my Masters at the University of San Francisco (USF), which is essentially the birthplace of SportIn Global and it started as a business class project where I had the opportunity to write a short business plan with a group. I could come up with anything, a new idea or a business plan for an organisation such as the San Francisco 49ers or Golden State Warriors.
“One of the things that annoyed me, and this was a year into the program, my peers and I were annoyed about the available employment solutions that were in the market. It wasn’t easy to find relevant opportunities, and the tools that were currently out there weren’t modern, efficient and it didn’t really work. So I came up with the following idea, ‘we need a job search app in order to help students find relevant opportunities in sport at a global scale.’
“So we explored whether there was something in this idea, the group project turned out to be quite successful, we got a lot of good answers but it was still early. There was something about the project that really intrigued me because I felt like there was something in there that needed more researching.
“After the class project, I decided to do my Master’s thesis digging deeper into the challenges and the needs. Luckily USF said yes and I said, ‘okay, if this goes the way I hope I will start my company on this.’ It was a lot of faith from USF and them letting me do my entire thesis, writing a business plan for a company that is non-existent.”
So there was something worth researching and going with from there. How did you develop it from there?
OMV: “As I started digging really deep into the challenges and the needs of students looking for work in the industry I went back home to Norway. I started to compare the market in Norway and the US to also see if the problems existed outside of a US market and get a wider perspective. I essentially talked to sports students to understand if the challenges are the same.
“Then I talked to university faculties that were offering sport related programs. What were their challenges? What was the problems that they were facing? And then of course I spoke to human resources managers to understand what is their key challenges.
“I then turned my focus to clubs and rights holders like the Norwegian Football Association, Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes and Stanford Athletics to name a few. What we realised was that the main challenges were time and resources with the recruitment process. For a university, they lacked the chance to promote their programs in a very real, very relevant marketplace. So they didn’t feel that they could give enough time for their students.
“The next consideration for universities is utilising their alumni as a resource, in many cases they didn’t know where they are, where they were in their journey. There wasn’t much awareness.
“Most of all, the biggest problem is that students found it hard to enter the industry. The sport industry is notoriously difficult to enter, so how can we help them succeed? In many cases students don’t have a big network, they’re fresh, they’re out of school and they lack industry exposure and experience.”
How do you bring all these competing challenges together?
OMV: “We needed something more than a job search app. We needed a platform and what we realised is that a social recruitment platform for the sports business industry is needed.
“What we like to explain is that we sort of have the social and professional elements similar to LinkedIn. The way we match our users with organisations, it’s kind of like Tinder and where are we giving relevant recommendations for users it’s kind of like how Netflix recommends you movies.”
The user experience matters so much. You say Netflix and Tinder, they’re second nature to us. But your tech has obviously got to improve, it’s still got to be accurate and offer chances and opportunities for students. How has that development gone?
OMV: “We’re still in the beta stage at the moment. We recently released our social elements into the platform which had a massive effect on daily activity. Looking into the whole COVID situation, from February, March onwards it was a rough time for everyone as everything stopped. Since then we’ve been having amazing numbers. We’ve been growing every month and we see that people can utilise this platform as sort of like a sanctuary in a sense, want people to utilise this for not only finding jobs but for connecting with people and building knowledge.
“The industry is getting back on his feet now and changing, so we believe in the next few months we’re going to see an increase in opportunities and we have to think how SportIn Global can create more opportunities.”
Why is the sports industry the one you want to improve with your technology?
OMV: “Sports is my passion and I want to play a role helping it. It’s just such a very unique industry which has the ability to bring out so many emotions in people. The second part is, even if it’s so small, it’s so international and so connected globally, which is also one of the reasons why I said once we built this company we need to be global. We have to be a global platform because the new generation, which this platform is built for, want to study and work abroad, experience different countries and find the best organisation for them.
“We want to create an element for organisations where they also need to realise that while it’s great to have local people, the most suitable candidate may well be someone abroad.”
Is that have you observed that could be an interesting opportunity going forward, being able to place really skilful youngsters and students into semi-professional teams. It could be something like helping implement digital strategy, or it could be learning about high performance or it may be a yet to emerge part of the sports industry. That level of sport is vitally and an interesting opportunity.
OMV: “For sure and I think it goes back to one of the challenges for students is that they lack experience.
“Whether you’re in Norway, San Francisco, Australia, if you ask a sports management class: What do you want to be? What is your main role, position, company you want to work for? Everyone is just like ‘I want to work for like the Premier League. I want to work for the Golden State Warriors. I want to be the GM of all the top clubs and franchises.’
“So we try to educate them to know it’s great to have this goal, but to realise that it’s going to take a numbers of years to reach their ideal positions, there are building blocks, a process. A way to do that is starting at smaller organisations, getting more experience and build your way up. We try to educate with our blogs, with our podcast about sharing different roles, different opportunities, and making them understand that there’s so much more to the industry than working for just an NBA team or collegiate athletics – which is the benchmark in the US.”
That’s right, you’ve got the top tier but then there’s all of these leagues, clubs and organisations. When you go global, or venture down the pyramid there’s so much opportunity.
OMV: “Oh yes, and let’s not forget about startups, sports tech startups, there’s so many new companies and startups that need people, they need resources, they need help and we want to help them.
“The major organisations drive the most revenue but we didn’t want to exclude the smaller organisations. Regardless of your recruitment needs, whether it’s once a year or maybe even every other year or whenever you can still benefit from the platform and using it as a resource for connecting with like-minded people, share relevant content and build relationships. And we want to help startups, so we open their eyes for accepting interns into their startup. There’s a lot of startups out there that may well need the one person who is starting fresh. You never know where that person might end up in the business. It’s possible that they become a part of the core team when or could become one of the co-founders.
“We’ve been utilising interns to help us, give them experience and providing them value. Interns can truly deliver more than what is expected of them and you never know where they’re going to end up. The best example is that my co-founder (Eduardo Drapier), our CMO, started as an intern with me over two years ago. So if you put in the effort, if you provide the value and you of course have the opportunity then you never know what it’s going to lead to.”
l always ask younger companies, emerging companies this but what could the next six or 12 months look like?
OMV: “We had a goal of providing a thousand opportunities through our platform within a year of release. With opportunities that doesn’t just include jobs, it’s everything from events, to programs and more.
“We’ve got to go where the markets are going sooner back into their normal state, helping those and providing value as much as we can. We’re looking at the user growth of our last six months, I feel there’s a lot of potential still to be untapped. It’s been better than we expected. Making progress at all points of the business matters that’s my number one goal to reach.”