Friday May 24, 2019

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NY Convergence ORIGINAL

Winito Athletics Finds Web Niche in High School Sports

by Al Barbarino

A Silicon Alley startup’s potentially game-changing web platform is scoring points with high schools around the country – and now the company’s founder hopes it will help tackle larger markets. Winito Athletics, a three-man operation based in Manhattan, hosts websites that provide teams with a centralized interface to manage team statistics, rosters, schedules, and marketing tools. Since launching in January, Winito signed contracts with big name athletic programs in California, Texas, Connecticut, Florida and New Jersey.

“We’ve just been blown away,” said Rick Charls, an athletic director at Granada Hills High School in Los Angeles – John Elway’s alma mater and one of the largest sports programs in the nation.  “This is unreal that the parents are just so supportive.  You can just see it in their eyes when we bust this thing open.  They love it.”

Automated, number-crunching tools offer the teams a professional, “ESPN-like” web experience, but with minimal time commitment, said Pritesh Damani, the company’s founder.

“All the athletic director really does is on Friday comes back from a game and will go into our tool and enter the basic game stats,” Damani said.  “We do all the mumbo-jumbo magic for them.”

Damani, 30, was working as a software programmer for a NY-based company called Emeta when he first conceived of the idea.  It all started in the company’s foosball room, he said “We were all geeks playing foosball in the lunch room and wanted to figure out who is the best,” he said.  “I ended up making a quick little tool to do some stat magic to determine the answer.”

Winito used a $35,000 seed money prize they won at Baruch College/Merrill Lynch’s 2006-2007 Invitational Entrepreneurship Competition – plus $65,000 of their own funds – to get the company off the ground, Damani said.

High schools pay $2000 annually for a Winito-powered site.  But the visibility from signing high profile high schools is helping Winito crack larger deals. The company recently closed a deal with Texas Alliance Volleyball, a competitive high school volleyball league based in Houston.  Damani also just signed the golf teams in the North Jersey Interscholastic and Big North conferences in Bergen County, New Jersey.  Each of 53 participating teams will pay a $50 annual fee to access the site, but he hopes it will open more doors.

“Financially we might lose money on it in the first of year,” he said.  “But if it all goes well, all of New Jersey will use us next year.  That’s a big deal.”

Damani ultimately wants to zero in on city and statewide opportunities – like taking over the NY’s website for public school athletics – and catering to fitness communities like the YMCA and Chelsea Piers, Damani said. Winito is also currently in talks with Long Island’s St. Anthony’s High School, which was voted no. 1 athletic program in NY State by Sports Illustrated in 2007, he added.

“It would be great to get someone local over here,” Damani said.  “If we get that school that means that every other school will look at it and say, ‘wow, this is like the new thing.’”

While competitors exist in the space – like eteamz.com, hometeamsonline.com and bigteams.com – the sites don’t foster the same community vibe, Damani said.  For example, users can become fans on Winito’s sites and upload their own pictures and videos from games.  The company is also small enough to work closely with teams to find appropriate solutions.  For the Jersey golf deal, Winito worked with coaches for months to develop an interface that will track player and team scores, while also taking handicap differential into account.

“We never know how team ‘a,’ ‘b,’ or ‘c’ is doing unless it’s word of mouth,” said Dom Mingione, a golf coach at Pascack Valley High, one of the participating Jersey high schools.  “Now when coaches enter their player’s scores and their team’s scores they’ll be able to see how they rank versus everyone else in the county.  I think it’s very important.”

But not everyone is happy.  A coach at Granada Hills didn’t like the leader board feature on their site, because it allowed other teams to identify their best players.

“We kind of disagreed with that,” Charls, the school’s athletic director, said.  “We let him go.”