Four former Harvard athletes, including two football players, are using their athletic backgrounds—and their shared belief in the power of sports—as the investment thesis behind what they say is the first early stage, institutionally-backed venture fund.
Founded by former football players Isaiah Kacyvenski and Brian Reilly, Boston-based Will Ventures bills itself as the first venture capital fund focused exclusively on leveraging the power of sports.
“We believe that sports are going to prove out the next great wave of technological innovation, whether that’s in consumer, tech or media,’’ said Kacyvenski, who also played in the NFL.
The firm has raised about $55 million and is backed by stakeholders that include two “large’’ university endowments—one in Boston and another in Texas. Partners also include eight team owners from the four major U.S. sports leagues and MLS, as well as private equity investors, Kacyvenski and Reilly said in an interview, citing regulations for their inability to be specific.
The fund, which includes former Harvard women’s lacrosse player Alexis Nicolia and former women’s basketball captain Kirby Porter, has a basic guiding principle: that the influence, reach and allure of the sports make it an ideal centerpiece for innovations that scale beyond the field of play and into other areas.
“Sports opens up massive adjacent markets,” Kacyvenski said. “Starting in sports and scaling to large markets – that’s our entire focus for the fund.”
Will Ventures has so far put about $13 million to work, investing in 10 early stage technology companies in areas accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic: esports, connected fitness, skill-based gaming, health and wellness, and telehealth. Specifically, the fund has stakes in Armored Things, Fitbiomics, JockMKT, Player’s Health, Custom Club, Playfull, Rewind, Rupie, Breathwrk and Liteboxer.
“We still have a lot of dry powder left for the fund,’’ Kacyvenski said. “Over history, during times of recession and depression, tumultuous times, there have been amazing ideas and companies created.”
As an example, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced games to be played without fans, many sports commissioners and owners, as well as their broadcast and business partners, sought ways that technology could be used to enhance the at-home experience.
The pair say the firm’s name comes from the common denominator they see in entrepreneurs: willpower.
“People need community now in sports more than ever,’’ Kacyvenski said. “It’s so aspirational. There’s so much intensity it has been a proven ground for innovation.’’