UK-based startup TeamSportz has a straight up goal that they’re on a mission to solve. They want anyone that enjoys sport and wants to improve their performance to have access to a sophisticated bit of technology without barriers.
Utilising artificial intelligence, TeamSportz has developed a way to capture a person’s performance using their phone to provide analysis for individual athletes and teams. They are positioning their tech around accessibility so their platform can be the partner, teammate and the one constant for athletes no matter the age, level, coach or team.
As founder Francisco Baptista explained to Bullpen, “I finally thought that I would be able to use technology to improve my performance on the court yet no matter where I looked I was unable to find a solution that could be used indoors and could perform an analysis of my game rather than just tracking how far I have run or my heart rate. Thus the concept for TeamSportz was born.”
With a team of nine and co-founders spread across Dublin, Lisbon and London TeamSportz is a distinctively international business and we spoke to Baptista about the long-time vision that has allowed the product to come to fruition.
It’s quite a personal journey that’s gone into TeamSportz, perhaps a bit of an underdog story as well. and is it fair to say that you’ve put a lot of your upbringing into the development of TeamSportz?
Francisco Baptista: “I think you’re right, and I don’t think that there’s any other way to develop a product. When it boils down, it takes a lot out of you, both personally and professionally. In fact it often comes to a realisation that you don’t have all the skill sets needed to put a product out into the market. So you need to keep reinventing yourself which adds to the weight or burden to create something new and truly cutting edge to the market. You need to bring yourself completely unmasked, your true self and bring your journey along because at times building products can be hard.”
It’s almost a dream like vision to build a viable product. I find that pretty interesting because it’s a startup story that is decades in the making.
FB: “Looking back at this, the genesis of TeamSportz actually started when I was a kid playing basketball, admiring my mum’s newspaper clippings of her achievements. Of course I didn’t know I would build a product for sport but it was great to actually be immersed in that amateur athlete experience since I was a child.
“I’ve been able to do that since I was a child and realising that a lot of athletes, amateur athletes have exactly the same problem. In many ways I’m fortunate to have had this experience, had I not been an athlete myself I wouldn’t have been able to bring my experience into TeamSportz. This is a journey that actually started when I was 12, 13 years old, as far back as I can remember.”
Let’s get into the product, describe the technology that your company is building right now?
FB: “We use artificial intelligence to help athletes improve their performance, and yes that is sort of a broad statement. The reality is that we leverage a very strong device, which is your phone and we developed our custom machine learning models to track the athlete’s body, the ball, and a few other sports objects and we run it on the phone.
“The idea of running on a phone is because we wanted to make TeamSportz freely available to everyone. So if you have a poor network, don’t have access to the cloud or don’t have Wi-Fi or data on your phone, you could still run TeamSportz. We packed that sort of cutting edge technology – machine learning, computer vision – into your phone and let you analyse your’s or your team’s performance during a match. The statistics and data it generates can be shared with your friends and teammates and all of them can do exactly the same thing as you’ve done at a very low cost.”
Describe the validation and the testing of the platform you’ve done. You went from a hardware based product with sensors into software.
FB: “The journey started with hardware, initially I felt it made sense because we live in a world where people are accustomed to wearables. The idea was to leverage people’s familiarity of using wearables and apply that into sports to measure yours and your team’s performance. So we actually went and manufactured a PCB, we could detect any player indoors without 3G or 4G in under 10 centimetres of accuracy. Hardware is difficult, it’s difficult to get started and it’s not easy getting investment. As we were already writing some of the software to analyse the data from the PCB we realised that we could just write a software solution and we could use the camera on your phone as your wearable in that sense. The benefit would be instead of having multiple wearables from many players, one phone and one camera is needed to capture everyone. We’ve replaced an input of data from being a piece of hardware with a video stream, and we take that video stream and then apply the same code to analyse performance. In a nutshell this is what computer vision is, taking any video input and analysing that.
“I am pleased that we took that journey and that validation because a product can only be as strong as its tested for its possibilities. We did test a possibility of hardware to the point that we built, perfected, wrote code and had a solution that we could have made TeamSportz a wearable solution but it made no sense financially. As TeamSportz is for the amateur market we can’t expect amateur athletes who may have limited funds and expect them to buy another piece of hardware.
“We aim to provide sports analytics data for everyone. The journey from hardware to software enabled us to understand how unviable hardware was for the market that we want to serve.”
What markets and sports do you currently serve?
FB: “We’ve launched in the UK because we started our journey earlier last year inside the Sport Tech Hub accelerator and we built a relationship with London Sport. We have successfully raised funding from London Sports which opened a huge number of doors, including the most exciting one, which is Harlequins Rugby Foundation. So we’re currently working with 13 other clubs in London to launch TeamSportz with them.
“So at the club they take kids from the very beginning of their journey to their senior team or professional league which makes them a very good fit to what we’re doing and what we want to do, which is tracking the athlete journey. This starts as an individual, possibly when you are young, to your teenage years, continually capturing data, tracking the improvement of performance and development. You’ll have multiple coaches and teammates naturally throughout life but you’ll have TeamSportz following you all the way through your sporting journey.”
What users are you working with and proposing to work with?
FB: “We have 13 clubs here in the UK in five sports – netball, football, rugby, basketball and American football. We’re going to launch TeamSportz to them first which will be an opportunity for us to understand where our market fit is and work out what value we actually drive and provide to those users. We’re going to stick to those sports first before expanding outwards.
“We want to develop our partnership that we currently have with London Sport, we’re going to be launching with our five sports for now and that will be our next six months. Beyond that, hopefully open up to everyone. So if you do have a team and you play your five-a-side during the week, you’d be able to download our app, invite your teammates, start exercising, start working on your drills and your performance, seeing one another and motivating yourself by being able to see your teammates exercising and performance.”
How did you put your team together? And how have they impacted the company and product development?
FB: “I started the journey on my own but as my ambitions grew I knew I wouldn’t be able to execute this by myself. As early as developing the hardware, I felt that there was something here that was worth putting together properly. I approached the only person that I could ever approach, which was my first co-founder, who curiously enough was the person that gave me my first job as a developer when I was a young lad! So we’ve been friends since and if I knew there was someone that would believe in such a distant, remote idea that I had it would it be him.
“I brought in a couple other friends who I knew would definitely add a lot of value from a marketing, sales area. As this is cutting edge technology we needed more development power other than myself and Jorge. Jorge brought in the next co-founder, Ricardo, and he’s a software developer.
“There wouldn’t be a TeamSportz without them and we know for sure that we need to be open to attract more talent to help us realise TeamSportz’ vision as we have global ambitions. We are interested to speak to partners that believe in our vision and want to execute it alongside us. The company is no longer just my baby its all of our babies, or one baby with multiple parents!”