Meet The Paris-Based Sports Startup Incubator That Wants To Lead The World In Sport Innovation

Incubators have been crucial in the role of developing tech’s leading companies and leading individuals over the past several years. Recently, incubators have begun to make a name for themselves in the sports community, most notably with the LA Dodgers Accelerator with R/GA and Stadia Ventures.

As the focus often pinpoints these kinds of efforts going on in the United States, we wanted to explore where else in the world similar initiatives are occurring. This two-part series highlights a sports incubator based in Paris, called Le Tremplin.

The following is part 1 and will cover Le Tremplin and how it got its start and what it does for the startups in their domain. And tomorrow, we’ll deep dive into three of the startups in Le Tremplin’s first class of companies looking to become France and Europe’s change leaders in the sports industry.

Paris native Benjamin Carlier worked for the Sports Minister of the French government from 2012-2014, when he then moved over to work for Paris’ economic development and innovation agency, Paris&Co. Around that time Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo asked Paris&Co to create an initiative with the goal in mind of making Paris the leading city for the sports economy. With this intrepid goal stated, Le Tremplin was founded and Benjamin was asked to take the lead on it.

Benjamin was kind enough to host me for a day at the incubator in the north part of Paris, where I immediately spotted their office demarked by sticky notes on the windows visible from the street. Roughly translated as springboard or bridge, Le Tremplin’s number one initiative is to “create partnerships with the Olympics, media, sponsors, IT, health and to do so geographically” for its startups according to Benjamin.

Capture d’écran 2015-11-02 à 17.59.27

After making the announcement that they would be taking applications for their first class, Le Tremplin received 105 candidates for 17 spots. Benjamin said he wanted diversity in the first class across different industries within sports, while at the same time being careful not to select startups that might be in competition with one another. The industries represented by these 17 companies include big data, statistics, video, crowd-funding and event price optimization among others.

Prior to selecting the companies to participate in Le Tremplin’s first class, Benjamin enlisted the help of Vincent Chutel to be his second and only employee of Le Tremplin. In his role as partner, Vincent handles communication and animation for the company aided by his background with an MBA in sports management.

Together, they put together a list of initiatives that they wanted Le Tremplin to deliver to their startups. “Creating jobs first and foremost, aiding in innovation and development, visibility, leveraging partnerships, and interaction with the other startups” were the initiatives Benjamin said are the most important to Le Tremplin.

His life as a founder of this incubator sounds similar to that of a counterpart of his in Silicon Valley: “12 hours a day, 5 days a week, trying not to work on weekends, but that often doesn’t happen” is how Benjamin described his week. The time he spent with me was one of the “two or three days a week” he actually spends at the incubator, and the others are invested in traveling to lobby and partner with “actors” in the industry.

Over the past year, Benjamin has managed to create partnerships with companies who are big players in the French athletic space, to include INSEP, UCPA, and FIFAS. Additionally, pride emanated in his voice when he told me Nike partnered with them recently.

One of the most significant partnerships Le Tremplin has secured was with Jean-Bouin Stadium in southeast Paris to be the permanent home of the incubator. Beginning in May, Le Tremplin and their startups will occupy 3,000 square meters of office space at the ground level of the stadium; a much more preferable working environment physically but also politically as they will be surrounded by people and organizations who will help in Le Tremplin’s intiatives.

In walking around the current home of Le Tremplin, I got a feel for the excitement that startups had for moving into the stadium.

Across the 17 startups in Le Tremplin’s first class, the size of each ranged from two employees to fifteen. Most of whom will be co-locating with Le Tremplin to Jean-Bouin Stadium, but for the ones who may not, it signifies a positive sign. Benjamin said that there is no set time for each startup in the incubator, but the goal is to grow each big enough and take advantage of the partnerships Le Tremplin provided to them so they can operate on their own.

Futur stade jean Bouin - Rudy Ricciotti

Futur stade jean Bouin – Rudy Ricciotti

Some of the current startups are already reaching that point, and won’t be moving to the new workspace, and instead into their own new home. All the while, in his time building partnerships with collaborating companies, Benjamin is looking at what startups are primed to be cultivated next by Le Tremplin to replace the outgoing ones.

Just like any other founder, Benjamin has encountered his fair share of unique challenges and opportunities leading Le Tremplin. He has found optimism via similar kinds of incubators in Brazil and Italy who have “come to us for advice as their respective countries form their own similar initiative.” When asked about what success looks like for Le Tremplin over the next few months, Benjamin mentioned a desire he’s pitched to have “the French Prime Minister bring one or two founders from Le Tremplin to somewhere like China, along with the regular crowd of big companies to display France’s commitment and success in sports innovation internationally.”

The challenges of being in charge of such an initiative also weigh heavily on Benjamin’s mind. He describes “enacting ideas, and the transition of turning all the great ideas into realities” as the biggest challenge he faces currently. There is another topic that Benjamin is candid about that is prevalent in the US tech scene as well, “getting women involved.”

Of the roughly 80 people working in the 17 startups Le Tremplin houses, only three are women. He said to address this he’s been “working with specific incubators that have a heavy female influence to promote what Le Tremplin is doing and to see if they would be a fit in our model.”

It was an eye-opening experience to witness firsthand the innovation and creation Le Tremplin is curating in Paris. It isn’t dissimilar to what we see at home with similar programs in the US, and the companies within Le Tremplin are either doing the same, or at the forefront of, sports technology companies in the US.

In part two of this series, which will be published tomorrow, we will dive into three specific companies who each spent a day with me in their office explaining what they do and what they’re trying to create to realize Le Trempin’s ultimate goal of “making Paris the leading city for sports economy.”

By, Joseph Solosky, SportTechie


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