Calling All Sports & Fitness Innovators


We're looking for driven entrepreneurs who are changing the landscape of the sports and fitness industry with their product, technology or idea.

Network with industry leaders, raise funds, create brand partnerships, expand distribution, and compete for a complete digital marketing package from our partners at Empirika Media, at SFIA’s 2019 Start-Up Challenge in Baltimore on September 25, 2019 as part of the annual SFIA Industry Leaders Summit!



Be Part of the Story

Compete on stage and be a part of the growing $130M+ story during the Sports & Fitness Industry Association's Start-Up Challenge.

Pitch Your Game Plan

Present your game plan to an esteemed panel of judges made up of sports & fitness executives, venture capitalists and leaders from private equity.

Network with Leaders

Start-Up Challenge finalists will get to participate in leadership discussions, network at cocktail receptions and over meals all throughout the Industry Leaders Summit.


 Grab the Advantage

16 Start-Ups Presented on the Big Stage

Over $130,000,000 Raised Onsite/Offsite

National Media Coverage



The Start-Up Challenge is featured at SFIA’s Industry Leaders Summit, the premier networking event for sports & fitness executives.

If you wish to attend the Start-Up Challenge as a spectator, you must register for the Industry Leaders Summit.


 Home Run Disruptor?

Swing for the fences and find out if you have what it takes to impress industry leaders to bring home the grand prize during the 2019 SFIA Start-Up Challenge.



 Previous Winners

Since the inaugural Start-Up Challenge in 2016, finalists have raised more than $130,000,000


Nix Biosensors - 2018

Nix Biosensor’s Founder and CEO, Meridith Unger, took home the SFIA’s 2018 Start-Up Challenge $15,000 grand prize. Nix’s high-tech sensors, capable of measuring hydration status via sweat to optimize safety and physical and cognitive performance are changing the game for athletes. Nix has received over $1,500,000 in funding.

Nix Biosensors


ShotTracker - 2017

ShotTracker's Founder and CEO, Davyeon Ross, and Co-Founder, Bruce Ianni, won the SFIA's 2017 Start-Up Challenge with their game-changing product helping basketball players, teams, and coaches get real-time insights on court performance. Since competing two years ago, ShotTracker has raised more than $10,000,000 and now counts Magic Johnson, David Stern, and Ryan Howard as investors.



Hookit - 2016

Hookit’s CEO, Scott Tilton, took the Start-Up Challenge prize in 2016. Hookit's sponsorship analytics platform is disrupting the sponsorship marketing industry by equipping marketers and properties with actionable insights to effectively valuate partnerships. Since winning the inaugural challenge, Hookit has raised more than $16,000,000.



Event Judges

Present your business to an esteemed panel of sports & fitness executives, venture capitalists and leaders from private equity.


Tom Waller

Head of Innovation, lululemon

Kimberly Davis

Executive Vice President, NHL

Eric O’Toole

GM, Sports & Fitness &

Tami Hutchinson

Vice President, Intel Capital

Erik Anderson

Chairman, Topgolf

Brian Finegan

Head of Marketing & Product Management, Amazon Sports

Brian Westbrook

Former All-Pro NFL Running Back & Venture Capitalist, SeventySix Capital

Lorin Hamlin

Innovation Partnerships, Under Armour

Keith Bank

CEO, KB Partners

Alison Minter

Managing Director, North Castle Partners

Tony Armand

Partner, Norwest Equity

Dan Sheridan

COO, Brooks Running

Jared Drinkwater

Chief Marketing Officer, BSN SPORTS

Joel den Engelsen

CEO & Founder, Empirika Media Group

Matt Tingler

Managing Director, Baird


 Your Audience

While in Baltimore, finalists will get several opportunities to network with executives from the sports & fitness industry, along with leaders from retail, venture capital and private equity. These industry leaders, potential investors and the 250+ C-Level executives attending will be your audience, should you be selected as a finalist to compete in the challenge.


Ready to Win?

Compete against other start-ups to earn financial support and mentorship from industry leaders.



“I was blown away by the content, the attendees, the networking, and not to mention the access to industry leaders. Only regret was not winning!”



"The Start-Up Challenge was really well done. Companies should not be shy about asking for capital, and they should present the terms of the investment opportunity while on stage. I look forward to judging in future years to come."



“Participating in the SFIA Start-Up Challenge was a great opportunity for PlaySight. It definitely helped us with our ongoing fundraising efforts as well.”



“asensei seized the opportunity, to share our point of view with the audience - a veritable who’s who in the industry of companies and individuals who we aspired to partner with in their digital transformation. By the start of the 2-day event, everyone knew who we were from the competition, opening the door to many partnership discussions and investments. You couldn’t find a better platform for business development in the sports and fitness industry.”



The Venue 

Join us at Baltimore’s Four Seasons Hotel for the 2019 SFIA Start-Up Challenge - Wednesday, September 25th.

Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore
200 International Drive
Baltimore, Maryland 21202


What to Expect


Application Process

Applications are due by Friday, July 26th, 2019. Once reviewed by our distinguished panel of experts, five finalists will be chosen to compete in Baltimore on Wednesday, September 25th, during the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s Industry Leaders Summit. The five finalists will be announced in August.

If Chosen

Should you be chosen as a finalist, you will receive an official invitation to the SFIA Start-Up Challenge, which will also include a complimentary registration for the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s Industry Leaders Summit (a $1,700 value). You will be responsible for travel to Baltimore, along with lodging and other personal accommodations. The SFIA will extend a discounted group rate to you at the host hotel, the Four Seasons Hotel.

The Opportunity

You will compete for a comprehensive digital marketing program from Empirika Media (Up to 100hrs of marketing services including strategy, creative, and campaign execution). While at the Summit in Baltimore, you will have several opportunities to network with sports & fitness industry executives, other entrepreneurs and potential investors. Should you win, in addition to receiving a free year of SFIA membership, you and your company will be featured in all collateral promoting the 2020 event, as well as in general SFIA marketing and informational material. You will also be invited to speak at the 2020 Industry Leaders Summit.


Prize Packages

The Start-Up Challenge winner may choose from one of the following prize packages from our partners at Empirika Media.


Identity Package

Bring your brand’s visuals to life with Empirika’s comprehensive Identity Package. We’ll provide you with custom logos, icons, presentation templates, ad-unit templates, social media templates and video bumpers.

Your brand on fire.

Launch Package

Launch your product into the stratosphere with Empirika’s full spectrum Launch Package. It includes audience & funnel optimization, analytics, key creative, ad-units, landing pages, email automation, and campaign management.

Get to market faster.

Social Media Package

Establish community clout with Empirika’s Social Media package. Designed to boost your start-up’s social presence the package includes influencer outreach, campaign orchestration, post curation, trend analysis, and performance analytics.

Connect, engage, and activate new audiences.

Digital Futures Package

Define your product’s future and discover opportunities to inject a high degree of innovation with Empirika’s Digital Futures package. We’ll provide a comprehensive app visioning program that includes everything from wireframes and app designs to the final pitch deck.

Be the future.



The Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), formerly the SGMA, is the trade association of leading industry sports and fitness brands, suppliers, retailers and partners. Our mission is to "Promote Sports and Fitness Participation and Industry Vitality" by focusing on core product areas for the industry.

Our purpose is to support our member companies and promote a healthy environment for the sporting goods industry by providing access to thought leadership, industry & public affairs, research and member services. SFIA enhances industry vitality and fosters sports, fitness and active lifestyle participation.