Not too long ago, Black Lab Sports was an empty warehouse and a big idea. We knew we wanted to build something great inside these walls, but we didn’t know exactly how it would roll out, who would contribute, or what shape it would take.
Fast forward a few years to Tuesday, November 13, 2017, at our inaugural Black Lab Sports Investor Showcase. A group of investors gathered in that same space (which is now part of a vibrant ecosystem) to learn about the future of Black Lab Sports and how they might get involved.
Justin Bannan and I set the scene for our guests. We described our successes to date and presented our plan for Black Lab Sports Fund II. We demonstrated why now is a great time for startups and entrepreneurs to enter the sports market, and why our unconventional investment process is working. Instead of taking a product focus, we start by identifying the right founders. Then we surround them with a great team, we invest our time, energy, and money in them, and we coach and develop them to achieve greatness. We understand investing, and with Fund II we will invest in 15 to 30 companies whose founders are what I call Thinker-Doers. Our goal is to set them on a trajectory to do what they love and to provide superior returns to investors.
Next, four founders that operate within the Black Lab Sports ecosystem (and three of which are part of the Fund I portfolio) spoke about their journeys so far. If you want more than the snapshots offered below, I highly encourage you to connect with the founders:
1. Aaron Beach (president, co-founder, and COO of isplack): After launching at the 2014 World Lacrosse Games in Denver, the isplack team learned that getting into major retailers was really hard. But they had a product they believed in (high-quality, colored eyeblack) and a mission they felt strongly about: uniting athletes, teams, and fans through color. Three years later, isplack is the #1 eyeblack sold in the US, an Amazon bestseller, and on the shelves of big retailers including Dick’s Sporting Goods and Academy Sports. isplack has a new product line in the works and exciting plans to go global in 2018.
2. Trevor Wittman (founder of ONX Sports and an 18-time world champion coach): A former pro snowboarder, Trevor was constantly seeing new innovations on the slopes, but none to speak of in combat sports. He decided to fill that void with improved design and technology. First prototyping more protective gloves in his gym and basement, Trevor recently moved his workspace to Black Lab Sports, where he can be found developing and marketing the next generation of combat equipment. He’s just beginning, but his gloves are already in 11 countries and protecting the hands of two world champion fighters.
3. Ryan Woltz (founder of ēdn, Techstars alumni, and SharkTank guest): After a start in a traditional engineering job, Ryan took inventory of his life and reemerged as an entrepreneur. With ēdn, he’s now on a mission to “bring life to where you live” by making growing easy, beautiful, and automated. His world-class and beautifully designed SmallGarden is already making waves in the home gardening industry, and it will soon be joined by the WallGarden and other high-tech, low-stress growing vessels for herbs, vegetables, and flowers.
4. Meredith Unger (founder of Nix and a college basketball-player-turned runner): By and large, people are guessing their fluid needs—unfortunately, with little accuracy. Not only is even mild depletion performance-compromising, it can be dangerous. Thankfully, those negative effects are 100% preventable, and Nix is committed to spreading that message and the tools to achieve it. The solution is an affordable and disposable patch-based hydration sensor. From endurance athletes and team players to military members and laborers, Nix has tremendous potential to change the hydration game.
Finally, we were privileged to hear from John Peters, one of our executive mentors and a senior director of SFIA (Sports & Fitness Industry Association). All the way from Washington, D.C., John stopped by The Lab to talk about SFIA and why it matters to founders and investors in the sports space. SFIA is the trade association of leading industry sports and fitness brands, suppliers, retailers, and partners. From bat specifications to safety gear rules, SFIA helps sports companies and all of us involved in athletics navigate these important implications. SFIA is also the ultimate source for research data on sports participation, market, and more. Even if you didn’t know it, you’ve probably benefitted from SFIA at one time or another!
That’s a wrap on our first Black Lab Sports Investor Showcase. If you were present for the event, thank you for being with us and expressing interest. For those of you who could not make it or are not already part of our community, we’d love to have you join us. If you’re interested in learning more about our Fund II or any of the founders mentioned above, don’t hesitate to reach out.