Most startup founders learn to embrace pivoting as they search for product-market fit. Since the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the founders of The Sonar Company have expanded their product line with new applications for the sports, education, and nonprofit sectors.
CEO Nick Hayward and CIO Allan Matarrita first founded Sports Sonar in 2018 while in Costa Rica. The duo moved to San Antonio in September 2018 when VelocityTX reached out to the sports-tech startup through its Global Accelerator Program.
Sports Sonar’s technology enables event sponsors to send videos and other content to mobile phones using an ultrasonic sound people can’t hear. Fans can play games on the platform that does not require using internet access. The startup can customize an app for sports clients to engage with fans or integrate their technology with an existing app.
Since the pandemic has shut down spectator-filled crowds for sporting events, Hayward and Matarrita applied their sound-wave technology innovation to education and the nonprofit community.
Matarrita remains in Costa Rica overseeing a development team of eight, while Hayward works with eight more employees in San Antonio. Startups San Antonio caught up with Hayward to learn what’s happened since the San Antonio startup was named one of the world’s startups of the year at SXSW 2020.
Startups San Antonio: How did you get started with sonar technology and launching Sports Sonar? What are your respective backgrounds?
Nick Hayward: We first created Sports Sonar when Allan and I saw the need for a different way to market sponsors using technology that gives fans a way to interact with their favorite sports teams.
I was born in Canada but spent most of my life in Costa Rica, where I met Allan at a startup incubator in Costa Rica called Parquetec.
I am a sports fanatic and gamification expert with 17 years in the interactive sporting world. I had traveled the world looking for the best sporting experience and started my first company when I was 20 years old. Allan is a content marketing expert with 15 years of experience working in branded entertainment, TV, web, radio, and live events.
Once we came to San Antonio, our company gained traction. We closed a seed round worth almost $400,000 in August 2019. Then, we did a live demo at the Alamodome in December. As soon as the pandemic hit, our customers shut down sports events, so we needed to find a new opportunity for our technology.
SSA: How did the pivot to education happen?
NH: We created a new alert system for schools called SafeWave. We’ve been able to prove SafeWave is the fastest alerting tool that’s on the market. About 88% of university campuses use Omni Alert for emergencies like a school shooting. Their system takes anywhere from five to seven minutes to issue an alert.
The SafeWave system takes five seconds to alert every single person on campus.
We ran a demo trial at UTSA and Our Lady of the Lake in February, and our alert reached everyone on the entire campus in just under five seconds — that includes staff, campus security, and students. SafeWave gives schools the ability to respond faster, as well as to customize alerts only for designated people.
Just as some schools were showing interest in our product, they were shutting down due to the pandemic. We needed to pivot again.
SSA: What are you focused on now?
NH: Our patented technology uses high-frequency sound waves that are inaudible to the human ear, sending a silent alert signal via any sound system, all without the need for Wi-Fi or internet. Sound waves offer the fastest transmission for an alert — less than 10 seconds, versus the industry standard options that take anywhere from 7 to 9 minutes.
Because practically any industry can use our patented technology, we created a new platform designed for nonprofit organizations called Sonar Outreach.
We signed a contract six weeks ago with the United Way for a fully integrated volunteer donation management platform. United Way will run the new volunteer donation management platform for Bexar County.
Nonprofits were having significant problems managing donations, especially once the pandemic set in and companies shifted from volunteer-focused events. We integrated gamification into this new platform as a way for nonprofits to tap into a donor company’s marketing budgets. People who donate can play games and win prizes as they give money to the United Way.
The first to sign up for the new Bexar County app is Spurs Gives, the official nonprofit organization of Spurs Sports and Entertainment.
SSA: If your technology is industry-agnostic, are there other sectors you’re thinking of pursuing?
NH: Yes! We can also use our technology to send ultrasonic waves to people via their TVs. SonarCast is our newest offering, we’ve only have had it for a month now.
We’re in meetings with the Nexstar media group, America’s largest local television and media company. We’re also talking to ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney. They’re planning on resuming sports but with no spectators in the stands. Our platform will help fans at home engage with sporting events. We’re also pitching Google for TV‘s streaming service.
SSA: That’s quite a bit since the beginning of 2020. How fast are you scaling up The Sonar Company?
NH: We’ve had lots of interest since the pandemic started. We just sold SafeWave to the Atascosa County Jail to give prison staff a faster, better communication than walkie talkies, which were unreliable.
We also raised $620,000 in a second seed round that lasted a little over three weeks. What helped us was getting voted one of the startups of the year at SXSW. As soon as that happened, we had people knocking on our door. We just hired two people — our team will probably hit 20 employees by July.
More people are understanding what we’re trying to do with this technology. We’re creating a new way of communication that doesn’t rely on TV or phones that can be helpful in so many circumstances.
Featured image is a screenshot of the company’s website. The Sonar Company has developed new applications since the start of 2020.