Centre key to regional hub goal

Microsoft-backed GSIC's Asia-Pacific HQ to drive innovation support for sport businesses

When fitness technology start-up EliteFit was founded last year, it quickly evolved from a software for artificial intelligence remote physiotherapy sessions to teaching users how to exercise remotely during the pandemic.

While it was initially limited to pitching the software to potential clients via Zoom, the company will now have an offline presence to boost their reach to clients.

The start-up is a member of the Global Sports Innovation Centre (GSIC) powered by Microsoft, which partnered with Sport Singapore (SportSG) to launch its Asia-Pacific headquarters at the Singapore Sports Hub yesterday.

The GSIC is an innovation centre set up by Microsoft and acts as a platform to connect the sports industry to technology and innovation. The centre here is its first international office outside Madrid.

Start-ups like EliteFit will have a physical space at the centre to showcase their products to users.

EliteFit co-founder and chief executive Ani Bhalekar, 42, said: "What GSIC enables us to do is to tap into sports and fitness ecosystem in the Asia-Pacific region and globally.

"The value of a space like this is that you can bring people to show them what exactly we can do. If we were doing it over Zoom, you wouldn't be able to try it out yourself, but now you can."

Since its launch in 2015, the GSIC has supported more than 450 members across over 40 countries, including La Liga, Real Madrid and Manchester City.

Sebastian Lancestremere, Microsoft's sports managing director and GSIC president, explained that the non-profit organisation was looking to venture into Asia-Pacific as it wanted to help local sports entities connect with the large sports fan base in the region.

While it had held virtual sessions for those in this region from its Madrid headquarters, the time zones made it challenging.

Lancestremere said: "We saw that Singapore (was ideal) because of the Government's efficiency, the infrastructure and local talent. It's a country that is open to private-public partnerships."

He added that the goal in the next year was to have 50 partners and members, with the long-term aim to build an ecosystem comprising 250 to 300 companies, start-ups and sports entities.

He said: "We want to keep driving the innovation agenda, knowledge sharing, start-up competitions, papers and foster innovation events where sport entities can get to know local, regional and global innovations, as well as for local start-up members to showcase their solutions to sports entities outside of Singapore."

SportSG chief executive Lim Teck Yin believes that the presence of the GSIC in Singapore will help companies grow their digital capabilities, in addition to schemes such as the SportSG Enterprise Innovation and Capability Development Grant.

The grant aims to encourage those in the sports industry to capitalise on growth opportunities in the digital economy, and applications for the third wave began yesterday.

Lim said that the centre will also play a crucial role in Singapore's ambitions of becoming a regional sports hub.

He added: "Sport tech will be a very important value proposition to other sport industry players who want to think about finding a hub here in the region.

"We've been in discussions with other international federations about what we can do together."

In his speech, guest of honour and Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, and Trade and Industry Alvin Tan said: "If we want to stay ahead and work towards our goal of establishing Singapore as the regional hub for sport businesses, we must consistently elevate our local sport tech industry and create opportunities for businesses to collaborate with experts."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2021, with the headline Centre key to regional hub goal. Subscribe