This month, the Innovation Fund announced its latest funding round, injecting $250,000 into seven Northeast Ohio startups. This cycle was a first for us—it was our first venture into gaming technology.
The GLIDE and Innovation Fund team got to know Joel A. Crites and his company, Micro Fantasy, really well during the vetting process. His company is redefining sports spectating by letting fans compete against each other for prizes by predicting plays in real time. Any stadium, arena, school, or even sports bar that offers the game can use Micro Fantasy to increase their revenue through better fan engagement, advanced analytics, interactive advertising, and increased attendance.
With a $25,000 Innovation Fund grant, Joel plans to develop automated result updates, and transition Micro Fantasy from development to public release through widespread marketing. Marketing the app begins at Progressive Field with the launch of baseball contests on opening day. Then, funds will help further spread the game to high schools, colleges, minor leagues, professional venues, sports bars, and international stadiums.
Joel recently told the GLIDE team how he came up with the idea, what's in store for his company and what he thinks about other software companies leaving town.
What was the inspiration behind Micro Fantasy?
I was at a baseball game with my oldest son, Koby, on September 6, 2014 when inspiration hit. We were bored, so I came up with Micro Fantasy to make it more fun. That experience is a great memory for me and my son to this day (top right in the picture). I kept trying the idea with other people and it was a big hit every time. So, I decided to start a company with the goal of making that same fun experience available to everyone, especially kids.
What makes the technology different than anything else on the market today?
Our technology allows fans to predict outcomes of live sports while watching the game and see instant scoring updates on their mobile devices, even faster than ESPN gamecast or anything else available. The interface is deceptively simple, which enables faster response times. Another key is how we apply mobile technology to deliver a unique in-game experience. Other companies provide contests based on predicting results during the game. But they aren't geared toward in-stadium use, small local contests, or sports below the professional level. They are also usually player specific, overly complicated, or rely on entry fees to make money. These characteristics exclude the passive fans and younger audiences because they are targeting fantasy sports experts willing to put money at risk based on their knowledge. Micro Fantasy is the alternative. We have no betting at all. It's free and simple for fans to use to focus on our target audience: passive fans, non-sports fans, and younger kids. So many people say, "I don't know enough about sports to play fantasy." Or, "I hate sports." Great, that's who this app was designed for. But, it's still challenging enough for sports experts to have fun. Kids have some of the best scores in our games so far because they don't overthink it. Finally, something is available to bring the whole family together while watching the game whether it's the Tribe, the Cavs, or the Browns.
What's the biggest news right now with Micro Fantasy?
The biggest step we're preparing for is our launch on April 4th to offer Micro Fantasy during every Cleveland Indians game this season. Fans can play in stadium or while watching at home. Another rollout underway is building Micro Fantasy into the in-stadium experience of the entire Texas Collegiate Summer League, led by the owner of the Brazos Valley Bombers. We are integrating Micro Fantasy into their app and testing now. The Louisville Bats, a minor league baseball team with over 8,000 fans per game, are piloting our game in-stadium this season. And we are talking with a company called SuperFanU to possibly make Micro Fantasy available in college and high school stadiums nationwide by partnering with their fan engagement platform. Plus, we're working with the provider of the Minor League Baseball Inside the Park app to integrate Micro Fantasy once they accept third parties. That would let fans play the game in all 160 minor league stadiums in the country. A lot's going on and all of it is very exciting and we hope these efforts will lead to viral growth once it gets into public audiences on a larger scale.
There's a lot of talk about software companies moving out of Cleveland to be successful. What do you think about that?
I measure the success of my business purely in terms of revenue, expenses, and profit. Fundraising, organizational affiliation, press, and location can help a business in those terms but not always. The Cleveland area is my home and full of opportunity. I have no reason to leave because I've got access to every resource I need including funds, connections, mentoring, you name it. Plus, my product is entirely web-based. I can demonstrate it and distribute it to anyone in the world with simple online tools. A baseball operation in Australia could run my game right now. And, after a couple of emails they are considering it. So, where I’m based doesn't affect how I service my customers. That's what matters most. I'm committed to Ohio because it's where I've lived all my life and where I plan to stay. As far as other entrepreneurs are concerned, it's their responsibility to follow whatever path they think gives them the best opportunity for success. A location change may or may not make a difference in long-term viability. Only time will tell.
We're glad you agree that Northeast Ohio is full of opportunity. What support have you received so far?
I am new to the startup community and have been overwhelmed by the resources available. Already, I have been given a $25,000 grant, assigned an EIR who helps me every day, invited to join a mentorship program with the smartest people possible, and given access to all the resources and connections necessary to succeed. I am in disbelief that this amount of support is available at no cost to me. GLIDE, the Innovation Fund, Jon Grimm especially, and JumpStart are empowering me with all the appropriate tools to build a business that can thrive. To say it is encouraging would be an understatement, more like gasoline on a match.
Leigh Keeton manages Lorain County Community College's economic development messaging with a particular focus on its startup support programs, including GLIDE, the college's on-campus technology incubator, and Innovation Fund Northeast Ohio.