Sports constantly evolve.
Just think for a moment: At one point American football was played without passing, basketball existed purely in a world of two-pointers, and American racing was souped-up cars bootlegging the backroads of North Carolina.
Creative thinking by athletes and coaches has been the primary way that sports have adapted and evolved over time. But, technology and innovation is a huge driver of how sports will change in the future.
Someday soon the MLB may abandon umps behind the plate and the NBA could be forced to push back the three-point line as athletes influence the pace, force, and speed of the game. As battery technology advances, the way we race cars will likely reduce pit stops and make racing safer.
That’s the case for Karlos Walkes, CEO, and Co-founder of XiQ, a Georgia-based startup that recently completed the Comcast SportsTech accelerator program. XiQ is changing the way alternative vehicles like golf carts and recreational vehicles are managed. Every non-automotive vehicle has the same or similar key ignition meaning they’re easy targets for thefts. XiQ built a digital key that allows people to use a code to easily turn them on and off. XiQ worked with our partners at NASCAR so they no longer have to worry about managing hundreds of golf carts across hundreds of acres of racetracks.
Recently, we had a wide-ranging conversation with Karlos about how he joined our accelerator program, the changes he’s noticing in technology beyond sports, and what’s in store for the future of XiQ.
What is XiQ building and working on at the moment?
We’re creating technology that is comparable to what the auto market has, but this market is being underserved. It all starts with us simply saying, let’s get rid of the key and go from there. The cart market, the UTV market, the LSV market, utility vehicles, heavy equipment, you name it, boats. They all use these keys and they’re getting lost, or it’s a rudimentary key system, they have similar keys, theft is an issue. Let’s start with that core problem and then offer customers the opportunity to evolve, to have their vehicles evolve along with their lifestyles, with our technology.
How have things been since you finished our accelerator program?
Great. Gosh, where do I begin? It was great to be able to access those big partners. But we spent the summer basically building the next generation technology off of what we learned from them, what they wanted, what they saw our product doing for them. So that’s an approach that we’ve always taken; listen to the customer, let them tell us what they want rather than thinking our idea is the best idea. We’re going to text our next-gen hardware over the fall and winter. But, I still engage. It’s almost like the accelerator never really stopped as far as I was concerned.
When you joined the accelerator during a pandemic, what did the challenges teach you about your startup and yourself?
The main thing it taught us is that our attitude is what’s going to determine our fate, not the situation. It’s how we handle the situation that’s going to determine if we fail or succeed. Basically, we saw the crisis as an opportunity, and we wanted to prove that not only could we survive the opportunity, but we could survive the crisis—we could thrive regardless of the crisis and we kept moving forward. And what value could we add to the market, with our product, with our technology to deal with the situation? In our case, it was about really showing people that, ‘Hey, touchless technology is important because our device enables people to engage their vehicles wirelessly.’ Being touchless is important now more than ever. That’s one of the value-adds of our product.
Plus we knew that the pandemic essentially brought a lot of progress to a halt because companies big and small had to evaluate how to handle this situation. We were able to adapt. We showed that we were able to look at the situation and figure out a way around it. It wasn’t going to stop us. It was a challenge, but I think we met it. Now from an efficiency standpoint, again the world changed, so everything is about virtual meetings now.
Can you tell us about the traction that you’ve seen as a company since finishing our program?
So from a media standpoint, we did a story with the Business Journal and we did an awesome docu-series with Lift Labs and Founder Series focusing on founders of color and challenges they may face building a business and how they overcome it. That was a really great opportunity. And as a result of the accelerator, not only were we able to embed with NASCAR and Golf Channel, but we were able to secure relationships with their partners to move forward with our technology. We’ve solidified a deal with ClubBuy; the procurement arm of Golf Channel. We’re moving forward now on piloting with our next-gen technology, with National Carts, which is a partner of NASCAR. We’re going to pilot with Golf Channel. We’re also moving forward with the PGA Tour. We’re working on some stuff with other corporations with their fleets and testing.
What advice do you have for the next class of our accelerator program?
Number one, know what you want, be very clear on what you want, understand what you want because if you go into an accelerator at this level, this is a global accelerator. You’re dealing with really big organizations that can literally like it says; accelerate you. But you need to know what you really want out of the accelerator so that you can go in and be focused on identifying what you need to work on, who you need to talk to, what is it that’s going to accelerate your company? Where do you want to go? If you don’t really understand that, it may not work for you because the accelerator works on such a high level—maybe it’s too early for you. That’s something to think about, really understand what you want. For us, we were laser-focused on what we wanted and that was access.
What trends in sports are you watching right now and that interest you outside of your work at XiQ?
I think what more and more people are going to see is technology that is bringing more efficiencies to what’s unseen. And what I mean is, the foundation of our argument was this operations environment is very important to making everything work so that everyone can enjoy the actual event. Without those operations, nothing happens. But it’s not very attractive, right? It’s not very visible. All of the visible stuff has a lot of technology. So where we see a lot of opportunity and where we see a lot of development is the backend of sports. There’s a lot of technology that people are going to realize for the backend that’s going to change and support the frontend and make things even more exciting.
Unlocking Future Starts With Innovation
XiQ is showing that innovation and technology from some less-visible or least expected places still have the opportunity to change the way sports are played. Next time you go to a sporting event like a golf tournament or a NASCAR race, just take a peek at what’s happening off the field, under the stadium, or out in the parking lot. Who are the people and equipment that is needed to ensure that the event continues to roll? Looking for solutions to the challenges that are off-the-radar is often where the best business ideas come from.
You can continue to follow XiQ’s journey on their website and tune in all this week to see Karlos share his personal story on our social media channels. We’re interested in following his adventures in the world of sports, but this is one of those products that has a lot of utility in our everyday lives, helping us transition to alternative vehicles that can power the way we move around the cities of the future. We cannot wait to see what happens next!