A recent math and business graduate from the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University was working at an investment bank in New York last year, when he finished work on a warm May night and walked past an empty basketball court on his way home. He wanted to play a game of pickup basketball, but didn’t have anyone to play with. It surprised him that, in a city bustling with so many new graduates, it was hard to find people. There was nothing designed for that sort of social interaction — at least not among people looking to play sports — so he decided to do something about it.
Chris Cheng, 26, is the co-founder of a startup called OpenSports, one of 10 finalists in Ryerson’s Next Big Idea in Sport Competition (NBISC). In its final stages of development at the DMZ, the mobile app is being heralded as “Tinder for sports,” because it allows users to quickly find nearby recreational sport activities, facilities and players.
Divided into four parts: what’s happening, facilities, organizations and people connect, the latter is the section that’s reminiscent of Tinder. Like the dating app, when users create an OpenSports player card, they can specify the age and gender their profile is viewable to. They can give feedback and report people who are malicious.
Users can book facilities through the app. Once an event is created, people within the group are notified. Users can use the app to organize pickup games, setting the sport, location and time, and sharing it on Facebook. They can set privacy controls for events and player cards to make them accessible to everyone or exclusively to people within a private group, university or league.
In addition, users can build profiles that reflect their credibility as people and athletes within a sport. In sharing photos and information such as interests, hobbies, sports played and accomplishments, it’s easy for users to connect with those who are similar, which OpenSports co-founder James Gibbons, 26, contends adds to the likelihood of people meeting and getting along.
“One of our goals is to make it easy for people to be active and to get them comfortable with playing with other people,” Gibbons said, noting a huge drop-off in such activity after high school and especially after university.
This is consistent with General Social Survey Time-Use data from 2010, which shows the national sport participation rate of Canadians 15-years-old and older has been declining since 1992. In 2010, 26 per cent of Canadians over 14 regularly played sports.
Not only does the app link people who want to play sports together for fun, it can help people who want to coach or be coached.
“If you want to get better at a sport, you can use the app to connect you with a coach,” Gibbons said.
The app’s developers are also working on an initiative with SportsCorps, a non-profit organization that connects volunteer coaches with new immigrant youths for introductory lessons in sports. They’re teaming up so SportsCorps can carry out its mandate through the OpenSports platform and include Ryerson Rams athletes.
Prior to incubating in Ryerson’s DMZ, Cheng, Gibbons and the third OpenSports co-founder, Sirui Song, who have been friends since 2003 and attended high school together, studied at Waterloo. They entered a few hackathons, where they won money to help fund the creation of their app, and received a boost in resources through the NBISC. The competition ends Oct. 29, with the top three startups winning $50,000, $30,000 and $20,000, respectively.
Gibbons said the contest has provided his team with many invaluable opportunities, including the mentorship of the Toronto Blue Jays’ senior vice-president of business operations, Stephen Brooks. They have also connected with industry leaders like former Canadian Football League commissioner Mark Cohon.
“OpenSports is doing really well,” DMZ media relations officer Dasha Pasiy said. “Startups like them contribute to the overall success of the DMZ.”
The developers are working with different municipalities on customized versions of the app. Newmarket will be the first town to launch one that’s tailored to its citizens.
OpenSports will be available for download by the end of this month.
Moving forward, the developers envision app usage expanding from the GTA to all of Canada, the United States and, finally, the world. They recently attended a conference in Las Vegas where they presented their product and met people who are interested in using the OpenSports platform, seeing it as tool that complements social networks like Facebook and Instagram.
“We are building it to be a completely global platform that people in any area can download and adopt regardless of language because sports transcends so much,” Gibbons said.