Three years ago, three friends set out to create a squash court booking service. They ended up with a platform that aggregates data from sports clubs and sports centres that will assist those who want to create squash court booking services.
At a conference on Data and Tech for Good, organised by Analysis Marketing, co-founder Nishal Desai explained that this transformation was the result of a series of obstacles he and his co-founders overcame.
When Desai and his friends found it difficult to book a squash court, they decided to make an app to facilitate the process. They read the entrepreneurship books and started small with a WhatsApp group and 20 users, making the reservations manually.
To scale to their idea, they knew they would have to integrate the squash courts into their system. However, there were lots of other apps trying to do the same thing and the courts couldn’t choose which one to partner with. As Desai said, “they were all building empty marketplaces.”
So the imin guys looked to the travel sector for inspiration, where the Amadeus database is sitting behind almost all the hotel room finders. “Amadeus has a real-time view of all the bookable rooms in the world. Sites like Expedia just plug into that,” said Desai. “That system works really well.”
He and his co-founders decided to place Imin at the centre of the sports data equation. They wanted to provide the squash court owners with a single gateway to the different places online where people might be searching for squash courts. Desai said: “We went back to the leisure centres, saying, ‘we’re not an app anymore. Give us your data’.”
But the leisure centres still wouldn’t engage as Imin hadn’t signed up any apps. They had hit the same problem of building an empty marketplace. The imin guys decided to shift their approach once again and asked the leisure centres to make their data open to everyone, instead of sharing it with Imin alone.
Desai said to the court owners, “just open your data and we can lower the barriers to success for anyone wanting to build a service, whether it is an app, an aggregator, a bot, AI.” As Imin began asking organisations to invest in the concept of sharing data, the public sector began to take note.
Imin’s first partnership was with London Sport. Together in November 2015, with support from the Open Data Institute, they launched OpenActive, an initiative to encourage data sharing and govern the standards of that data. Now, it also has the support of Sport England.
In December 2015, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport released a Government sports strategy that calls for the use of open data in the sport and activity sector. “Now, if you get paid by the government, you have to put your data online so people can access it,” said Desai. The data he is referring to is about times, prices and locations, never any personal details of the users.
Later in February 2016, at a conference with leading figures from the sports and technology sectors, former London Mayor Boris Johnson and London Sport proclaimed their ambition to make London a hub of fitness technology. In the summer of 2016, Get Active London - an activity search platform for the capital - was launched, powered by OpenActive data.
OpenActive has formed a community of 58 sport-related organisations committed to sharing data to enable people to be healthier, including fitness video app Flex, leisure operator Fusion and regional project Run Leeds. Imin is still in the midst of it all, “aggregating the data, cleaning it up and providing it to the folks that need it,” said Desai. “Essex, London, Hampshire, Bury - all these different locations are benefitting from open data.”