YOU don't have to be Pep Guardiola, Ian Cathro or Dave Brailsford to come up with a game-changing innovation in sport. Whether at the elite end of high performance or merely the participation part, be it marginal gain or giant leap, developing the right device or gizmo at the right time can make a lot of people very happy, and make your fortune into the bargain.
Say what you like about whether Scotland is a world class sporting nation - in some areas yes, in others not so much - but Herald Sport can reveal that our budding sports entrepreneurs are set to benefit from an enviable new piece of assistance. The UK's first-ever sports business incubator will be officially launched at Stirling University Innovation Park this Thursday.
Called the Sport Hive, and drawing on the established sporting links at the University of Stirling, this is a hub where entrepreneurs, students and businesses come together to develop ideas that enhance the world of sport. It is the latest venture by the Sporting Chance Initiative, which was set up in 2010 to create and support Scotland’s next generation of sports entrepreneurs. That project already claims to have helped over 700 Scottish companies realise their business potential.
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The brainchild of programme manager, Ryan Carenduff, the incubator will see Michael Harkins, Scotland's first on-site "sports entrepreneur", take a lead role. Harkins, lead swim coach at one of Scotland's biggest and best swim clubs, the Dolphins swimming club at Livingston, is currently developing a multi-award winning children’s flotation aid called Turtle Pack which promotes the correct body position for children learning to swim. He will be joined by five fellow sports entrepreneurs - all award winning sports business innovators themselves - who will all receive business mentoring from industry experts to help grow their respective businesses.
While certain details are still being kept under wraps, some of the ideas in development include a revolutionary new body protector for equestrian sport, a patent-pending hydration product which converts water instantly into an isotonic sports drink, an innovative sports sock that increases performance and reduces the chance of injury, training apparel fitted with SMART sensors for motion capture, and a pre-sport energy drink which doesn’t contain any artificial ingredients.
Harkins is at the testing and production phase of his design, which allows parents to remove parts of the shell when children become more confident in the water, while the even distribution of weight teaches more efficient swimming methods than old-fashioned armbands or floats. A talented swimmer who previously studied chemistry at university, ironically Harkins credits his work with the sporting chance initiative for helping him get out of HIS shell.
"One of the biggest challenges for starting up a business is getting funding so it is great to have someone to let them know about competitions and organisations they can get in touch with so they can get access to vital funds to really push forward their business," Harkins told Herald Sport. "We will try to meet up every few weeks, get thinking outside the box, feeding off each other and generating other ideas to push the businesses forward. It’s a great honour to be part of the Sport Hive and I’m looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience with the other start-ups. Going to the workshops and learning about business, IT, marketing, general business development, has really brought me out of my shell.
"At the moment my project is not launched, it is still under development," he said. "We have put in our first production order, testing it on swimmers of all ages, then it will be a case of identifying what changes might need to be made, then do our second production order.
"But I have been a swimmer pretty much all my life and that is how I have come up with the idea. I am a much better swimming teacher than I ever was a swimmer myself and I have identified things where I thought coaches went wrong with me.
"Two facts I identified quite early in the journey were that 40% of kids in the UK can't swim, and drowning is the third highest accidental death in Britain. I am really passionate about what I do and really involved in pushing the kids on and helping them lead a healthy and active life and achieve as much as they can from swimming.
“We know from our national entrepreneurship programme, the Sports Innovation Challenge, that the next generation of Scottish sports entrepreneurs are brimming with innovative ideas for sports products, services and technologies," said Carenduff. "The Sport Hive will help us nurture and support these entrepreneurs and other start-ups through mentoring, investment and our international links to other sports incubators in France, the Netherlands, the United States of America, Canada and Australia.”