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IWD 2024: Breaking barriers in sportstech through cross-industry engagement
Fri, 8th Mar 2024

Sports and technology innovation – otherwise known as ‘sports tech’ – is often thought to be a narrow, niche area of both the sports and technology sectors. A small, specialised sector limited to those with a narrow expertise and interest. However, recent insights from Australian Sports Technologies Network’s 2023 Sports Innovation Report paints a different picture. The report reveals that the Aussie sports tech sector generates approximately A$4.25 billion, driven by a thriving ecosystem of 758 companies and employing over 13,438 people. This proves that Australia’s sports tech sector offers an expansive industry landscape brimming with opportunities, ripe for cross-industry engagement and collaboration. 

It’s unsurprising that the fields of ‘sports’ and ‘tech’ have long been predominantly male-dominated industries. And it is widely acknowledged that fostering greater female representation in these domains remains an ongoing challenge. In fact, currently, less than 10 per cent of sports tech startups have a woman founder or co-founder. From my own perspective from within the sports tech field, I have found that many women don’t necessarily consider themselves to be in the business of ‘sports’ or ‘tech’ and therefore ‘sports tech’ can be an even further reach.  

Sportstech represents a dynamic industry that has so much to offer, as well as so much to gain through greater participation of women. By breaking barriers and driving innovation, women play a pivotal role in shaping the future of Australia’s sports tech sector and paving the way for a more inclusive and diverse landscape.

Redefining the sector and expanding opportunities

A contributing factor to the lack of female representation in sports tech, and one that we are working hard to change, is the narrow perception and definition of the industry. Many are unaware of the vast array of opportunities that exist within sports tech, and how skills and solutions from adjacent industries can seamlessly translate into the sector. There is a wealth of untapped ideas, skills, knowledge, expertise, products, and solutions that would greatly contribute to the growth and innovation of the sports tech sector. 

In the world of sports tech, the technology isn’t just about the big leagues and elite athletes. It’s also about what we use in everyday active living or wellness pursuits, ranging from wearable technologies to app-based workouts or health-tracking products used at home. Sportstech includes what we wear, the equipment we use, entertainment and even infrastructure. Technology innovation enhances our sports experiences from start to finish.

Sportstech thrives through engagement and contributions from diverse industries, offering a unique opportunity to address the gender gap. STEM-based sectors such as health are often the most obvious, while others within the creative space, the arts, music, and fashion, may not be. Cross-industry engagement allows for existing solutions from adjacent industries to be adapted into the sports context. It also provides an opportunity for the sports industry to serve as a testing ground to apply ideas and innovations, which can then be expanded to other sectors.

Products and solutions tailored specifically to women

Fostering diversity within the sports tech sector is imperative to ensure a broad spectrum of perspectives and innovations. Greater diversity in sportstech will mean better outcomes for athletes, officials, and fans, and more innovative approaches to participation, access, engagement, and operations.

Despite assumptions, the market for sports-related products and solutions for women has been largely overlooked until now. Having appropriately designed shoes, fit-for-purpose gear for protection, or access to accurate information about our bodies seems so obvious and is (often, incorrectly) assumed to be available. 

Diverse input isn’t just critical when designing products for the female form, but also so her psyche is accounted for and designed for. If prediction models are only based on male data sets when developing machine learning algorithms and generative AI, a bias becomes intrinsically built in which means women have an inhibited experience when engaging with the technology. 

In positive news, ASTN has started to see a significant increase in the enrolment of female founders in its sports tech programs over recent years, with many creating innovative products tailored specifically for women. Brands led by women sports tech founders such as IDA, BodyICE, Boob Armour, Femro Armour and Zena Sport, NETFIT, Femmi and Perfect Pelvic Floor – are not only helping women to engage in sport but are proving the case that there is an abundance of opportunities in the sector to be seized and supported.

Fostering innovation and diversity 

Australia's position as a leader in the sports tech sector further emphasises the significance of cross-industry collaboration. With its skilled workforce, vibrant entrepreneurial community, and diverse customer base spanning various sports and active pursuits, Australia serves as an ideal testing ground for innovative solutions.

We should not only be looking to adjacent industries for ideas, products and solutions, but actively inviting those skills and expertise into the sports tech sector and reinforcing the breadth of opportunities that are ripe for the taking. 

Increasing the representation of women in sports tech is not merely a matter of addressing gender imbalances; it is an imperative move towards enhancing innovation. As women continue to make their mark, the industry can expect a surge of creativity, novel solutions, and a future where sports tech is truly representative of its expansive potential.