Why Comcast built an accelerator to nurture sports startups

When you think of Comcast, you probably think of the cable or internet service, but it also owns NBCUniversal. With that comes a fair bit of sports coverage, including the Olympics, NASCAR, WWE and PGA, to name a few. As such, Comcast has some motivation to drive innovation in how sports are covered and consumed.

In 2020, the company decided it needed a vehicle to support startups that were trying to bring disruptive technology related to sports. The Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech Accelerator was born with a vision of finding startups that would bring some innovation to their sports league partners, while giving the startups access to Comcast’s media expertise and the leagues themselves.

This year the accelerator welcomed 10 companies to its 2023 cohort, its third class. Unlike a lot of accelerators, this one isn’t looking for absolute beginners. Instead, it wants companies that have already built a product and are working with customers. Comcast works with the companies throughout the six-month period, introducing them to their partners and helping them grow, but the companies continue to operate as normal.

Comcast invests $50,000 into each company in return for stocky equity. Jenna Kurath, VP of startup partnerships and head of Comcast NBCU SportsTech, admits it is a nominal amount of money, designed mostly to cover expenses related to participating in the accelerator. But she says the investment sends an important message to their cohort participants.

“It’s really about us having skin in the game and in their success for one, but I think the other big important piece of that is that’s typically stock you would reserve for bringing on a strategic adviser,” Kurath told TechCrunch+. “But in this case, you’re bringing on multiple strategic advisers from different sports teams and leagues and types of sports.”

The company also has a sister accelerator, called Comcast NBCU Lift Labs, which is a six-week program focused on enterprise AI companies.