Joel Crites only has about $2,500 in revenue to show for Micro Fantasy, his predictive-gaming startup of two years.
But the North Canton Hoover High School graduate continues to swing for the fences, and he's drawing a crowd of people who believe he can make it happen.
The company — which has developed software that allows users to predict which plays will occur in a sporting event in real time, thus giving host organizations the chance to run contests and bring in sponsorships — has had a hectic last 12 months, even by startup standards.
Crites, who is working full-time as a controller for a Twinsburg manufacturing company, in March negotiated a three-year contract with Pointstreak Sports Technologies. The deal — just in time for the start of baseball and softball season — allows Micro Fantasy to use Pointstreak's real-time stats feed to run its in-venue contests.
Micro Fantasy's web-based platform (the company also has free apps for Android and Apple users) was on display during the National Pro Fastpitch League draft in April, plus the Florida Collegiate Summer League's All-Star Game earlier this month. The company's technology also is being used by such teams as the Lake Erie Crushers of the independent Frontier League, as well as the Akron Racers and Chicago Bandits of the National Pro Fastpitch League.
"We have taken all the guesswork out. That's what the past year is all about," Crites said. "If you have a minimum amount of labor, it can work."
And that's the key, said Crites, who came up with the idea while trying to keep his then-16-year-old son, Koby, interested at a Cleveland Indians game in 2014.
Teams such as the Bandits, whom Crites said employ a pair of interns to promote the softball team's contests, have shown that the more consistent the promotion, the greater the likelihood that fans will be willing to join a Micro Fantasy contest during a game.
Another National Pro Fastpitch team, the Racers, have sent staffers from their promotions department into the stands at Firestone Stadium in an effort to round up fans for that night's Micro Fantasy contest.
"We'd get 20 people who were interested in playing. Then they'd compete for prizes," Akron owner and general manager Joey Arrietta said. "It's been a fun ingredient."
Like most things right now, that's relatively small potatoes for what Crites anticipates will one day be an all-out feast.
During its first full year with live automation capabilities, Micro Fantasy isn't charging clubs to use its product, though it is asking for a revenue share should an organization sell a sponsorship related to its in-park Micro Fantasy promotion.
With his model producing proven results, Crites believes he can begin to bring in licensing fees of at least $1,000 per team, plus a 50/50 sponsorship share in 2018 — and he thinks there are several hundred clubs who can be signed up for the services.
'Working every angle'
Contest participants choose one of 10 options prior to an at-bat in baseball or softball, with a correct answer generating points based on a scale of somewhat likely (such as a groundout or single) to improbable outcomes (i.e., a triple in baseball).
The 10-option interface allows Micro Fantasy to seamlessly transition to other sports. The company's first football contests went live at several restaurants and bars in November 2015, and Crites has developed versions for basketball, hockey, tennis, soccer, esports and even rodeo.
And just as taking his oldest of four kids to a Tribe game led to his big business idea, time spent with his grandmother, who has dementia, gave Crites another reason to think his product can work on a large scale.
Nursing homes, unlike bars, don't expect a big return on their investments, and they have budgets set aside for events such as a Micro Fantasy night — which Crites said has "been a hit" during Indians games at The Oaks of Brecksville.
"I think that will be more profitable than sports bars," Crites said. "We're still working every angle."
A product with the potential to work in more than one industry, and with so many sports, has impressed Ken Cook, who had been Pointstreak's CEO until the Canadian company was acquired by Blue Star Sports, a Frisco, Texas-based youth sports management giant that is backed by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
"I really like the way he's taken a look at different market segments," said Cook, who's been a mentor to Crites and said he "wouldn't hesitate" to invest in Micro Fantasy "if the timing was different."
Crites has put in $80,000 of his own money since founding the company. He's hoping to raise $300,000 in a current round of investing, which would allow his "core four" group of employees (himself, a chief marketing officer, a chief technology officer and a software engineer) to focus more of their efforts on the startup. (The other three are currently working part-time.)
Micro Fantasy is one of 20 finalists for a $100,000 investment from Stadia Ventures, a St. Louis-based accelerator that chooses to work with 10 up-and-coming startups per year.
Crites is also awaiting approval from Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which he believes could lead to Micro Fantasy working with a large group of minor league clubs.
"I love Joel's commitment and his enthusiasm for it," said National Pro Fastpitch commissioner Cheri Kempf, whose six-team organization held Micro Fantasy contests during its 2016 championship series.
Crites, full-time job and all, continues to meet with potential investors and believes he's one big break — one huge agreement — from his startup being a sports industry staple.
"The goal now that we have that strong foundation laid is to get that investment to devote ourselves to it," Crites said. "That's the only constraint right now."