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Monday 26th February 2018
Tags: guest blog, Q&A

In this Q&A we hear from Jonny Turner, Head of Operations at one of Yorkshire's most exciting start-ups and Northern Stars 2017 winners - Sport:80!

Sport:80 is an award-winning sports technology company based in Sheffield that combines extensive sports industry expertise and a highly talented in-house development team. Founded in 2012, Sport:80 has quickly established a reputation as one of the most exciting technology companies in its field and now works with sports organisations across the UK and United States.

The company’s flagship product, the Sport:80 Platform, is a proprietary sports CRM that enables sports organisations to work in more efficient, engaging and profitable ways. Uniquely the CRM enables sports organisations to manage numerous business operations from a single system whilst providing online services to athletes, coaches, officials and clubs.

What initially sparked the idea to start-up Sport:80?
We first had the idea for Sport:80 in 2011 when myself and Gary, our CEO, worked together on a number of sporting events in the run up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London. During this time we realised how far behind the sport sector was in terms of the use of technology. Many event organisers and governing bodies were reliant on aging or disparate IT systems, and in some cases were still working from complex spreadsheets or paper-based systems. One of the major contributing factors to this problem was that there was a complete lack of technology that specifically catered for the operational or business management side of sport. So we incorporated Sport:80 and started work on our platform. 

Who is Sport:80 aimed at? Who uses it?
The Sport:80 Platform has been built for organisations that govern or manage sport. It’s typically adopted by an International Federation, National Governing Body or Sports Club who use it to manage key areas of their organisations. Uniquely, the Platform can also be made available to participants – athletes, coaches, officials etc. – who can manage their personal involvement in the sport, such as purchasing their membership, entering competitions and managing their qualifications for example. We built the technology with this specific aim in mind; it was important that it could be used at every level to provide the governing body with an entire overview of their sport.  

Being a growing start-up, what challenges have you encountered so far and how have you overcome them?
I think our biggest challenge has been around behavioural change. The reality is that people fear change and because our technology has an impact on so many areas of a sports organisation, these feelings are often amplified when we get in to the detail of a project. Quite early on in our journey we had to come up with a way to quell our client’s fears and give them confidence in our technology and our people. This has actually resulted in what is arguably the most valuable element of our business model; our partnership approach. We invest a lot of time in establishing strong working relationships with all of our clients and we take the time to carefully guide them through every stage of a project. Once the Platform is live and in operation, we provide on-going support and a personal level of service that most organisations are not used to receiving when it comes to their technology.  

You were winners at the Northern Stars grand final! How did you find the Northern Stars process and how has it helped the growth of Sport:80?
It’s been fantastic to be a part of Northern Stars and since the final it’s been a bit of whirlwind. We were able to exhibit at the Tech Crunch Disrupt event in Berlin and have been involved in round-table events at the Department for Media, Culture and Sport. Part of our philosophy has always been that we are doing this because of our love of sport, and we have a passion to give back to it  – being able to help influence thinking at government level is definitely something we have been really pleased to have been able to do. Hopefully we will continue to be included in conversations that can help to aid progress in both the sport and tech sectors!

These kind of opportunities simply wouldn’t have been available without the support from Tech North and we are very grateful for the recognition and exposure. 

(Photo by Tynsight)

What would your advice be to other start-ups looking to get their business off the ground?
Have a big vision, a clear goal and don’t be afraid to dream big! Being truly passionate about what you are doing will help you through when times get hard but will also shine through when you are promoting your company and product/service.

We set out on our journey with a passion to change the way our industry works, in order to help it progress and create opportunity for future generations. There’s no way we would have received the level of support that we did from the outset if we didn’t have this clear vision and obvious passion for what we were doing. Some of our earliest supporters made it clear that this solidified their belief in us and our ability to achieve what we promised. This passion combined with the successful implementation and continual improvement of our product is ensuring that we continue to grow year on year.

Saying all of this, once you are up and running: be focussed and do everything you can to stay on a clear and defined path towards your goal. It is easy to get distracted by opportunity that sits outside of your natural product suite or development plan. Assess opportunity carefully and be brave enough to turn away offers that may hamper your ability to be the best at what you do.

Sport:80 is based in Sheffield. What do you like about the digital scene in Sheffield?
It feels like Sheffield has been playing catch up to the likes of Leeds and Manchester for a long time, but it’s really coming in to its own now. The city’s digital scene is growing at a crazy rate but it hasn’t lost that community-feel which is great. Take Kelham Island where we are based for example; just a short walk from our office you will find award-winning design agencies, app and game developers, and digital marketing specialists, all of which have set up home in old steel works and factories. Having so many innovative businesses on our doorstep is great as it creates so much potential for collaboration. 

What’s next for Sport:80 in 2018?
I think 2018 is going to be a huge year for us. Soon we will be announcing a significant partnership with one of the sport industry’s biggest influencers, as well as a number of other partnerships and projects that we are very proud of. There will also be more to come from our work in the United States where we have established some great foundations. Our hope is that all of this will result in growing our team in Sheffield and attracting more tech talent to the city.
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