Comcast NBCUniversal’s Atlanta-based The Farm accelerator has partnered with an international sports tech startup platform to bolster the network of both organizations. The three-year partnership will kick off today at The Farm’s inaugural cohort’s Demo Day in a joint announcement by Comcast executives and the founders of leAD (Legacy of Adi Dassler), a sports-focused startup accelerator and early-stage fund.
LeAD was founded by the grandsons of Adidas founder Adi Dassler to honor their grandfather’s legacy by supporting innovation in sports. The year-old organization is based in Berlin, where it runs a 12-week early-stage startup accelerator. Its $50 million venture fund has offices in Israel and the Bahamas.
The platform brings together an impressive roster of international investors that support the program, many of whom also have ties to sports — among them, a former championship race car driver, the founder of a golf data analysis company and former owner of a sports marketing agency that sold to Bill Gates.
They held their first accelerator cohort last year and saw 15 companies go through the program. Following completion, leAD investors backed eight of those companies with a total of about $2 million. The organization also connects startups to a long list of corporate partners in its rolodex.
“Money is important to startups, but above everything, is access to networks around the globe,” explains Horst Bente, co-founder of leAD. “That’s why we found they came to us. In the first year, even though we represented ourselves as an accelerator, we were getting applications for companies in the Series A stage. They were all driven by that hope that they could get access to the relationships in our network.”
With this partnership, those networks expand further. During this first year, The Farm team worked to establish relationships in the Atlanta investment and entrepreneur community that reach far beyond the Comcast network. Over 1600 registered for the inaugural Demo Day, including some of leAD’s international investor network, many of whom are in Atlanta for the first time.
“To combine the resource base here and there, it’s amplifying exponentially the network between the two programs,” says Burunda Prince-Jones, Managing Director of The Farm. She expects startups in both program will take advantage of the other’s resources — for example, recent Farm graduate Rapid Replay is a video platform that crowdsources fan content at youth and amateur sporting events.
On the flip side, leAD graduate Evolve Basketball is an Atlanta-based team that traveled to Berlin to take part in the accelerator.
“Had that happened 12 months from now, that entrepreneur may still have gone out to do the sports-specific program in Berlin, but they would know when they come back here that they have a place to go,” says Comcast Central Division President Bill Connors, who will announce the partnership with Bente.
Additionally, international market exposure will be “invaluable” for all the companies, according to the team.
“As our companies look to expand internationally, they need to be thinking about how to work with corporations over there,” says Connors. “Jointly we will figure out, how can we really add value to a European cohort — how can we get them in front of a U.S. company — and same thing on our side?”
Though for now the partnership is largely centered around sharing resources, Connors says that down the line there could be co-hosted startup programs in between official cohorts, shared demo days or other cooperative projects.
The partnership makes sense for Comcast, for whom sports is a critical component of the business. Worldwide, more sports are consumed on Comcast/Xfinity than any other platform. In Atlanta specifically, the location of the company’s regional headquarters at The Battery Atlanta, the home of the Atlanta Braves, indicates the strong affinity with sports.
And, though The Farm and Comcast’s other startup accelerator, LIFT Labs in Philadelphia, are not solely intended to build the pipeline for company innovation, Connors says they will certainly use these programs and this partnership to build their investment pipeline. Comcast Ventures will gain first-mover access to startups from The Farm, LIFT and now, leAD.
“We intentionally curated this program to see how can we give exposure to Comcast Ventures to the very best out there,” says Connors.
“My vision is that if you came back in here 12 months from here, you will fully recognize the branding of The Farm, because we will be one year deep into explaining to the local entrepreneur community that The Farm is doing in SunTrust Park in Atlanta,” he says. “But, I think you will also walk away at the same time saying there’s a leAD presence here as well. We will really have that international flavor.”