Who: Neal Shenoy, Vinodh Bhat and Steve Parker, all 31
What: Sportsvite.com, an online community for sports enthusiasts
Where: New York
What's keeping millions of Americans from playing sports? No, it's not beer or the latest episode of 30 Rock. According to a Surgeon General report, it's the inability to find people to play with. Lifetime friends Neal Shenoy, Vinodh Bhat and Steve Parker saw a solution to the problem. The trio created Sportsvite.com as a way to meet other sports enthusiasts online after finding it difficult to organize their own games while working in New York.
They quickly discovered they weren't the only ones with this dilemma. The Sportsvite community has ballooned to 22,000 registered users since the site was introduced in July 2005. Although many users are twentysomething professionals in big cities and suburbs who want to remain active, Sportsvite isn't dominated by a single age group or gender. About an equal percentage of male and female users in their teens to mid-60s participate in 130 different sports and activities with the help of the site. Members range from semi-professional athletes to competitive rock, paper, scissors players to recreational basketball players--all of whom value Sportsvite as an easy way to form activity groups and meet other enthusiasts.
That variety is what Shenoy believes gives Sportsvite an advantage compared to networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook. "You can use [Sportsvite] for 20, 30 years of adult life. Age doesn't correlate to skill level in sports," he says. A person in his 20s who uses Sportsvite to organize a football game may then come back to find a running buddy in his 30s or a squash partner in his 50s. Sportsvite caters to people of all ages who consider being active a priority.
When it comes to the business side of the site, Shenoy says his and Bhat's previous experience as investment bankers taught them discipline. He also credits Wall Street with teaching him how to raise capital and structure investments for 212 media, the media venture company that houses Sportsvite.
Now, all three of Sportsvite's founders are using their accumulated expertise in management, advertising and finance to develop active marketing initiatives that will augment Sportsvite's organic, word-of-mouth growth. They first plan to encourage more natural partnerships with leagues and athletic organizations, such as New York's United Sports League and San Francisco's Keep Playing Sports, which already use the service to organize their members and attract new athletes. Sportsvite is also participating in business development conversations with large companies that typically invest in collegial and professional sports, but are beginning to see amateur sports as a lucrative market.
In addition to marketing efforts, Sportsvite also plans to expand its offerings and resources. Shenoy says users will soon be able to watch instructional videos, upload videos of their own swings, kicks and pitches for critique, and read sports product reviews on the site.