Israel, a country with a population of less than 10 million, has seen a boom of investments in sports tech, which has led to a string of successful startups in the past decade. Zone7, a proprietary AI platform helping teams and athletes mitigate injury risk and reach peak performance raised $15 million to date. Video fan-engagement platform WSC Sports has raised $36 million in the last decade. And Pixellot, a video platform that facilitates sports broadcasts, has raised $60 million since 2012.
The most recent success story out of Israel is BlazePod, a reaction-improvement system that blends physical and cognitive training that raised $8.5 million last year.
“Israel has been an extremely innovative country in tech. It was manifested in cybersecurity and fintech and enterprise software,” Tal Brown, the CEO of Zone7, told Sportico.
Zone7 has partnerships across LaLiga, the English Premier League, NFL, MLS and the NBA, and operates from Palo Alto, Calif., but has offices in Tel Aviv and London. “But in a country where there are not a lot of big sports teams, when we started a few years ago, it was challenging to connect with advisors and to connect with investors who knew the market well.”
BlazePod has raised $10 million in total, thanks in part to the fact that some of the world’s top athletes use its product, a touch-based training system that helps improves reaction times, decision-making and fitness levels. Formula One drivers Max Verstappen and Chico Perez are among the early adopters.
“Most of our growth has come organically,” Simon Jacobs, head of education and professional development at BlazePod, told Sportico. “They’re putting it on their social media posts. [Pods] have even been on Netflix’s Drive to Survive. We have been very lucky in that respect, because a lot of high-end professionals have kind of jumped on it themselves.”
Like most Israeli sports tech startups, BlazePod is marketed to professional athletes and teams. “We don’t consider ourselves a consumer product,” Jacobs said. “But within that, you do have consumer types, personal trainers, performance coaches, small studios, small clinics for physios, that kind of thing… but someone’s not buying it for their home, necessarily.” A few Bundesliga teams, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Brooklyn Nets were among the first clients of BlazePod’s training system. The company also has paid partnerships with West Ham United in the EPL and Odell Beckham Jr. and Marshawn Lynch’s performance coach Jamal Liggin.
The growth and early success of the Israeli sports tech ecosystem has helped the sector, as investors and major companies and organizations—both locally and globally—have invested. Last year was the strongest yet. According to Sportechx, an independent sector research company, $12 billion were invested in sports tech startups worldwide in 2021, more than the last three years combined.
“I don’t think [the trend] is 100% unique to Israel, but Israel is a very good example of a global trend that we’re seeing in sports tech,” Lior Carmel, an analyst for Blumberg Capital in Tel Aviv, told Sportico. Blumberg’s $225 million fund helped Zone7 raise $8.5 million in its last round. “If I have to put my finger on why the sports tech is getting popular, it’s kind of what was behind our thesis when we invested in Zone7. We cannot ignore the trend where sports teams become much more digital. And the adoption rate of the technologies [and] data analytics systems into sports teams is increasing. And this is just creating more and more opportunities for innovation.”
According to Brown the trend is here to stay. “In the last few years, mainstream VCs are becoming more and more interested in the sector,” Brown said. “For everybody, really, if you look at us, almost none of our VC investors are sports-specific. They’re all funds that invest in anything as long as it’s the right thing, and I think more funds are now open to the sports market as an area they can make good investments.”
(This article has been updated in the first paragraph to correct the money that Pixellot has raised since 2012.)