The Tennis Industry Association (TIA) staged its own version of “March Madness” recently and even crowned a champion—in less than one hour. The TIA’s “March Madness” event was the Tennis Industry Innovation Challenge, a “Shark Tank”-like competition to identify the most innovative and creative product or service in the tennis industry.
The Innovation Challenge took place on March 27 during key tennis industry meetings at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando. Six companies, which had been selected from 37 overall applicants for the Innovation Challenge, each gave a five-minute presentation on what makes their tennis product or service special, unique and important to the growth of the sport.
In the final analysis, the panel of judges picked Tennibot, which is based in Auburn, Ala., as the winner of the inaugural Tennis Industry Innovation Challenge. Tennibot (www.tennibot.com) is a robotic tennis ball collector that detects tennis balls on the court using cameras, sensors and complex algorithms. The Tennibot unit also comes with an app that allows the user to choose where to pick up balls and keeps track of how many balls it picks up.
“I am thrilled to win,” says Tennibot Founder Haitham Eletrabi. “At first, I was worried because there was so much that I wanted to tell the judges in just five minutes. And, the other finalists had great ideas. Our product helps people maximize their time on the tennis court and improves their overall tennis experience.” (Eletrabi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 334-444-8968.)
The other five finalists in the Tennis Industry Innovation Challenge were:
- Billie Jean King’s Eye Coach, based in Mount Pleasant, S.C. — This stationary, oscillating product (www.theeyecoach.com) is based around point-of-contact training and simulates live-ball timing, using the concept that 80 percent of the information needed in tennis is dependent on a player’s vision receiving the correct feedback on time. (Contact Lenny Schloss, email@example.com; 800-716-9004.)
- Essential Tennis of Milwaukee, Wis. — Essential Tennis Academy (www.essentialtennis.com) is an online resource for tennis instruction. It has more than 26 million views, 83,000-plus subscribers on YouTube, expanding social media platforms, and serves more than 6,000 paid students in over 145 countries. (Contact Kirby Bridges, firstname.lastname@example.org, 402-578-3324.)
- Laykold Masters Gel from Advanced Polymer Technology (APT) of Harmony, Pa. — APT’s Laykold (www.laykold.com) Masters Gel product is a cushioned court system with a fluid-applied gel layer, and is comprised of 60 percent renewable resources. (Contact Wesley Baum, email@example.com, 724-452-6253.)
- Playmate Ball Machines iGenie, based in Raleigh, N.C. — The iGenie (www.playmatetennis.com) allows the player to select their level, shots they want to work on, and direction of the shots—all programmed into the unit. Players and coaches also can create up to seven drills to seven positions across the court with a drill restart delay to allow the player to get back to the baseline after finishing a drill at the net. (Contact Stan Oley, firstname.lastname@example.org, 919-544-0344 or Anna Norris, email@example.com.)
- Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) system, based in Cambridge, Mass. (at the Harvard Innovation Lab) — UTR (www.universaltennis.com) is a rating system for all players, no matter skill, gender, age, etc.—from beginners to top touring professionals. The 16-point scale, combined with a dynamic digital platform, allows all players to participate in a “single ecosystem” that helps give players “level-based match play” and maximizes the chances for matches at compatible skill levels. (Contact Sue Hunt, firstname.lastname@example.org, 203-682-5331.)
“We were thrilled with both the quantity and quality of our Tennis Industry Innovation Challenge applicants and finalists,” says TIA Executive Director Jolyn de Boer. “Many thanks to all those who took the time to apply and to tell us about their innovative product or service which is helping to grow tennis and industry businesses. The TIA was pleased to offer this unique platform to entrepreneurs, with an eye toward increasing tennis participation and enjoyment for all consumers.”
“With so many strong applicants, it was difficult for the judges to choose among them to identify the finalists,” adds international performance strategist Carlos Salum, president of Salum International Resources and a member of the SportsCouncil Silicon Valley, who was the moderator for the Innovation Challenge. “All of our finalists had high-quality innovative products and services, which bodes well for the future of the tennis industry.”
As the winner of the Tennis Industry Innovation Challenge, Tennibot received $1,000; a national news release to about 2,000 media outlets with a potential audience of 30 million consumers; coverage in Tennis Industry Magazine; a commemorative trophy; a membership in the TIA; and other benefits.
Judges for the Tennis Industry Innovation Challenge were:
- Matt Colton, a cloud architect for IBM, entrepreneur, and founder/owner of Stringjob LLC
- Walid Fattah, entrepreneur and co-founder of Kourts, specializing in mobile apps and tennis management systems
- Dr. Stuart Miller, senior executive director of the International Tennis Federation
- Mike Volkin, entrepreneur, marketing strategist, and owner of Tennis Club Marketing
The Innovation Challenge competition took place during the Future of Tennis Forum, which was presented by the Tennis Industry Association. Following the challenge, the TIA’s Tennis Owners & Managers Conference began. Both conferences brought together leading experts in facility management, programming, technology, sales and marketing, staffing and other key areas to provide vital information that address the needs of all types of tennis facilities—public, commercial, private, country clubs, resorts, etc.
About the TIA: The Tennis Industry Association, the not-for-profit trade association for tennis, is THE unifying force in the tennis industry whose mission is to promote the growth and economic vitality of the business of tennis by working closely with its industry partners and in support of the USTA in their development of initiatives to increase tennis participation. Core TIA activities include producing more than 70 U.S. and global research reports annually on participation and consumer/trade research, managing the largest relational database, along with hosting annual TIA Tennis Forum, Leadership meetings and the TOM Conference at major tournaments and events. Visit TennisIndustry.org or call 866-686-3036.
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