Tove Okunniwa, CEO of London Sport
London Sport chief executive Tove Okunniwa explains why the capital is well poised to become a global leader in the rapidly growing SportTech sector.
To say that technology is the future of sport is really a cliché now…
…in fact, if we continue to talk about technology as a silver bullet of the future for organisations like us that focus on helping people to live more physically active lives, we run the risk of forgetting that technology should, in fact, be part of the present for our efforts to get people moving more often.
The progress made in the past 12 months is striking. From an under-explored and under-supported tech vertical, SportTech, FitTech and HealthTech has emerged as one of the most vibrant, creative corners of the technology market. And with that spirit of innovation is coming real support from organisations, like London Sport, tasked with supporting people to do have a stronger connection with physical activity and sport.
As recently as 2015, tech incubators and accelerators dedicated to SportTech, FitTech and HealthTech start-ups were near unknown in the UK. Now, three – London Sport’s Sport Tech Hub, ukactive’s Active Lab and the Open Data Institute’s OpenActive Accelerator – are operating exclusively in the space, and other major initiatives, like the Arsenal Innovation Lab, are bringing new and different opportunities to market.
So powerful is the innovation emerging from these new hotbeds of tech that digital products and solutions are beginning to hint at powerful new ways to challenge the global physical inactivity crisis which, in the UK alone, costs £20bn each year and contributes to almost 40,000 deaths.
Much of that innovation begins here, in London. Four years ago, when London Sport was founded, our team recognised that a failure to engage with digital innovation risked suffocating our ability to support people to lead physically active lives.
In 2016, we announced our plans for the Sport Tech Hub, and last year we opened its doors in the new House of Sport, providing start-ups with not only access to support and mentoring, but with direct access to organisations in the sport industry on a daily basis.
Finally, late last year, we launched a new strategic vision for technology and sport in London – a vision that will make London the Heart of the Sport Tech World and a place that the greatest innovation in SportTech, FitTech and HealthTech will increasingly come to call home.
And now, we are making efforts to ensure that the support and backing offered to these start-ups is aligned across all parts of the sector, led by a new joint-vision between London Sport, ukactive and the Open Data Institute to provide a start-up superhighway to drive physical activity sector growth through digital innovation.
We know that the future for SportTech, FitTech and HealthTech is bright. The eyes and ears of government are open to opportunities; the commercial businesses with an eye on the next big opportunity are awake to new possibilities; and, a massive population of people across the country and the world – those who are active today, and those who will become active in the months and years to come – is waiting as a captive audience for the sector’s boldest innovations. Much of that innovation is beginning now, in London, and is following in the footsteps of the FinTech, FoodTech and TravelTech leaders that have come before.
So instead of saying technology is the future of sport, I would suggest something slightly different: that London is the future of technology for sport participation, and that future is extremely near at hand.