Shikhar Dhawan turns investor, scouts for sports tech firms

Investments by the Abu Dhabi-based Da One Global Ventures would range from $500,000 to $5 million.
Investments by the Abu Dhabi-based Da One Global Ventures would range from $500,000 to $5 million.


Dhawan’s new venture capital fund Da One Global Ventures is scouting for sports tech companies worldwide to make early-stage investments.

Cricketer Shikhar Dhawan’s new venture capital fund Da One Global Ventures is scouting for sports tech companies worldwide to make early-stage investments and will start deploying funds from the first quarter of the next fiscal.

In an interview, the 37-year-old left-handed batsman said the Abu Dhabi-based fund’s investments would range from $500,000 to $5 million. The global fund, which plans to raise $50 million from investors with the option to keep additional commitments of up to $25 million, was announced this month during the Abu Dhabi Finance Week.

“We will invest in both— early stage as well as series A rounds. We may lead in one or two rounds but, essentially, 80% of the startups we will invest in will be in the form of syndication. We will only go solo in 20% of the deals, which we feel are really ideal from our perspective," he said.

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According to Dhawan, who captains the Punjab Kings franchise of the Indian Premier League, it was important for him to diversify since a sportsperson has limited time on the field.

“I know I am a versatile person with a lot of potential, but I also realize the importance of diversifying, as even though cricket is my bread and butter, and I have been playing for the country, the time on the field is limited. The natural progression is you start doing commentary or become a coach or an expert, but I wanted to think beyond, challenge myself and turn those challenges into opportunities. This is why we launched Da One Group, which looks after my investments and businesses. I have also understood that when you have an amazing team, you don’t have to worry at all. I have a great team, which does all the hard work," Dhawan said.

“It’s a fund focusing on the business of sports, so sports tech, e-sports, gaming, web3.0, and sports infrastructure companies will be our target companies. We will also look at investing in some of the teams across global leagues," he said.

On selecting sports tech as a domain, he said that sports is almost a $500 billion annual business across the world and is at a very interesting intersection where it is now ripe for disruption.

“There’ll be a lot of technology integration in the domain of sports. It is sizeable and has started to get organized. So, I guess, it’s an ideal opportunity and timing for us. Many sectors within sports are evolving, like web 3.0, which is why it’s very good timing for us. It is always important to get in early and get maximum growth," he said.

The Da One team has worked for almost a year to bring the fund to life.

“Almost one year of research, homework, hundreds of meetings and interactions have gone into this," Dhawan added.

While the fund is headquartered in Abu Dhabi and will look at startups across the world, India will be a big target market because of the number of consumers, he said.

“We launched the global fund because it will connect to various startups around the world. We will also get more sportspeople as partners. The fund will be managed by someone with experience in managing massive—$800 million-$1 billion funds," Dhawan added.

While sports tech hasn’t seen big investments in India, with overall investments in the sector pegged at under $150 million in the last five years, the country is the third-largest startup ecosystem in the world.

“What we will bring to the table is not just money but also an extensive global network of the sporting ecosystem, which will essentially extend to the startups we invest in," Dhawan said. “In terms of fund cycle, we are looking at six-plus-one-plus-one— almost eight-year fund cycle, but the idea is to do a very good execution of the fund in the first two to two-and-a-half years, and then we’ll also start building the fund II."

Incidentally, investing is not new to Dhawan.

He has invested in yoga startup Sarva; and has six-seven companies under Da One Group—from foundation to sports academy to hospitality and, now, this global fund. He is also planning to enter the hospitality sector with the launch of a sports cafe next month in Dubai.

On the fund’s investment philosophy, Dhawan said, “When we invest in companies, there are four or five key parameters which we are looking at. First is obviously the team: how balanced the team is. Then, the product-market fit. Ideally, we are looking at companies that already have some initial traction. And from our perspective, we are also looking at a relevant strategic fit because we want to invest in companies wherein we also add value to them," he said.

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