Startups

This blockchain-based startup from Philly made Techstars’ sports accelerator

"Blockchain is really good at cutting out middlemen, and we see it as a chance to connect fans and athletes directly," VO2 cofounder Arpan Bagui said.

VO2's founders.

(Courtesy photo)

Entrepreneurship and startup network Techstars‘ reach is international, but one local startup has joined its 13-week Techstars Sports Accelerator Powered by Indy.

Blockchain-based company VO2, which was launched by University of Pennsylvania students after their sophomore years, lets athletes “tokenize themselves and create fan-athlete economies,” per Techstars’ description. The four-person founding team joined the Indianapolis-based accelerator this month.

Arham Habib, the company’s CEO, told Technical.ly he’d come up with the idea for a platform that would allow athletes and fans to connect in a way that isn’t currently mainstream. While fans can buy team or player merch, many athletes — especially those in college or early in their career — don’t actually see much of the revenue raised via college or pro teams.

He texted COO Arpan Bagui last summer about the idea, and by November, the pair had incorporated the business. The platform uses polygon, an ethereum blockchain technology, to list athlete tokens on its marketplace and to allow for quick transactions and scalability. Fans can buy the tokens to do things like gain closer access to athletes, or get rewarded when your athlete does well. For example, a player could poll token holders about the shoes they should wear at tonight’s game or get first exclusive access to their merch drops before other fans.

“Blockchain is really good at cutting out middlemen, and we see it as a chance to connect fans and athletes directly,” Bagui said.

The team’s CTO, Jun Kim, and Alex Zhang, head engineer, round out the founding team. The platform is currently in beta with a bare bones product to help its proof of concept. They’re looking forward to the networking and business development Techstars will bring throughout the accelerator, as well as the suite of advisors the Techstars network brings.

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“Our team has a lot of talent and heart, but not a lot of experience,” Bagui said. “We’re excited to learn how to run a company, develop a product, and focus on our KPIs.”

After the three months, Habib said the team has eventual plans of raising seed money — they’ve raised about $400,000 from friends and family round — and making the product permissionless so that any athlete can join the platform. They’re aiming to get 1,000 users connected before a public launch, and bring some thought leaders in the blockchain space onboard. The platform is somewhat unique in that space, the leaders think, because its targeted users are 18- to 30-year-old sports fans like themselves, and doesn’t require a wallet setup, just a credit card.

And while the main users are the fans, the product is designed to bring some financial ease to the athletes, too. They’re often left out of the high revenues sports teams make each year, and VO2 connects them to a money-making opportunity directly, the founders said.

“For athletes, a big drag in the market for them is financial literacy,” Habib said. “This is putting them in a situation to actively sustain their careers.”

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