Event & Sports Tech Startup Scores Touchdown in US


Event Workforce Group lands in San Francisco to take on some of the world’s leading sports events.

Australian startup Event Workforce Group (EWG) used its workforce management technology to help mobilise 30,000 volunteers at the Super Bowl in 2017, the largest volunteer workforce in the event’s 50-year history.

Founded in Melbourne in 2011 by university students Bennett Merriman and Shannon Gove, EWG began life as a placement agency to help motivated tertiary students and graduates find casual work experience. Major sporting events received quality staff and students were more employable upon graduating.

It was a simple concept that quickly gained traction. In 2012, the pair expanded interstate and hired their first employee. The following year, they brought in friend, software developer and now co-founder Chris Grant to build their website and their first scheduling platform. 

Called Rosterfy, the workforce management platform was initially only used internally but gained interest from clients looking to manage their own event workforce.

The first big win for EWG’s technology came in late 2013 when the company signed endurance event series Tough Mudder as a client, managing its 30,000 volunteers across three countries. 

EWG’s offerings evolved into three areas: Technology, Talent and Academy. Within Technology, the company delivers three core products: Rosterfy, Accreditation and Training. Through Academy, EWG partners with tertiary institutions to provide event industry training, certificates and casual work.

Things were starting to take off and the EWG team cast their gaze overseas. 

Fast-tracking the US launch

In 2016, EWG was selected to join the Landing Pads program in San Francisco. Landing Pads provide market-ready Australian startups with access to some of the world’s most renowned innovation and startup ecosystems. 

As part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, Austrade has established five Landing Pads in Berlin, San Francisco, Shanghai, Singapore and Tel Aviv.

Participants are given an operational base at a Landing Pad for up to 90 days, where they benefit from Austrade’s extensive global network of contacts and tailored business development assistance. 

‘We applied for the Landing Pad because we knew there was demand for the technology solution outside of Australia,’ says Merriman. ‘We were really wanting to get on the ground to dig a bit deeper and validate it.

‘Instead of having to head overseas without having any contacts, we’d have a soft landing into a new market.’

Merriman hit the ground in early 2016. He was based for 90 days in RocketSpace, a startup accelerator hub whose alumni include Spotify and Uber.

‘I went in with my eyes wide open and tried to learn as much as I could in the first month or so,’ he says. ‘Being in a co-working space, it was good to meet other companies in the same position.’

The San Francisco Landing Pad Manager, Margaret Donoghue, provided one-on-one business development support. 

‘For the first month she sat down with me every week to look at what sort of market I was trying to target and who I wanted to make contact with,’ says Merriman. ‘Then she made introductions and used her own network to really give us a good start.’

Scoring goals in a new market

Since launching in the US, EWG has signed major new clients, including the five-day Aspen Ski World Cup. While it secured the Houston Super Bowl contract before arriving in San Francisco, the Group was able to re-sign the Super Bowl in 2018 in Minneapolis, in part due to its new US base and connections made through the Landing Pad.

‘Moving to a new country and validating a new market can be a big step, but it’s not as intimidating as it first seems by doing it through the Landing Pad,’ says Merriman. 

‘Having the Landing Pad base and that network in place is a powerful thing.’

To cement its place in the market, EWG has now set up a US company, hired a California-based business development director and is looking at employing a US-based support team. 

‘For us, the next six months are about growing a motivated workforce behind our technology,’ says Merriman. ‘We also want to set up the operation behind it so that in 2018 we can really grow and push our product into not just the sporting event market but also into the entertainment industry and live events.’

Towards the end of 2018, the company will look at expanding into the UK.

Back in Melbourne, the EWG team has grown by two. ‘Winning more business in the US has allowed us to invest more in our Australian-based technology team and employ locally,’ says Merriman.

Harnessing every opportunity

Merriman believes a key reason for their success at the San Francisco Landing Pad was having a plan and setting clear goals. To other startups considering or participating in the program, he recommends having a set plan of attack and reaching out to previous Landing Pad participants for tips. 

For startups heading to San Francisco, he also suggests attending relevant industry conferences.

‘In the US, industry conferences are really powerful,’ he says. 

It was through one of these conferences that EWG discovered a whole new market that presented huge opportunity: US city sports commissions. As a result, the Group signed the country’s two biggest sports commissions, Sports Minneapolis and Houston Sports Authority.

‘With a country like the US, the opportunity is too big to turn your back on and it’s really worth exploring what opportunities are out there,’ says Merriman.