Business idea: Steel darts platform
Year of foundation: 2021
The WeDart system allows automatic scorekeeping, online play, detailed game statistics and personalized training sequences in stone darts
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WeDart: Input medium dart board digitised and networked
The start-up WeDart develops new ways to improve the game of darts. The system displays the exact hit point of the dart, creates statistics, guides training games and makes it possible to play online with other users. WeDart was founded at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW Hamburg) with the support of the “GründungsService” and “beyourpilot” (Editor’s note: “beyourpilot” has been called “Startup Port” since July 2023).
Darts has been enjoying increasing popularity for some years now. The event halls are filled, the ratings are rising and darts is also becoming more and more well-known in the media. For years darts was a fringe sport in the shadow of the big events like football, handball or basketball. However, this has slowly but steadily changed in recent years: Millions of people now play the sport and the TV broadcasts have solid viewing figures.
Darts has become a trend sport and this has several reasons. One of the most important is that darts is probably more of a popular sport and can be played by everyone. Nevertheless, so far there are few products for classic stone darts that offer players support in the form of an automatic evaluation tool. There is no analysis tool to recognise potential for improvement in everyday training and to derive training possibilities. Especially at the beginning, scoring is a challenge, so that many beginners switch from classic steeldart to electronic softdart and for steeldart in children’s and youth sports electronic score counters with manual input are used. These problems have motivated the start-up WeDart to develop a system for the market that meets the needs.
The WeDart system enables automatic scorekeeping, online play, detailed game statistics as well as personalised training sequences in stone darts. The product developed consists of a camera-based device on the dartboard and an app that connects to the WeDart online platform. The system is aimed on the one hand at beginners for whom manual scorekeeping is a burden, but above all at ambitious players who are looking for a way to improve their skills.
Alisa Möhrke is responsible for management and marketing at WeDart: “Our purpose in stone darts has been researched since the sixties and nobody has found a satisfactory solution so far. In the meantime, some have automatic counting – as it is also available in e-darts – but only we have managed to develop a product for this at a good price and with the desired user-friendliness. And some additional functions on top of that. We offer a simple low-cost hardware paired with a complex, powerful software. We give players the opportunity to improve their game in a targeted way. Right from the first throw. This allows the user to concentrate fully on the game, or rather the throwing technique. In addition, we have the most detailed data collection currently available on the market. In other words, you know exactly where the mistakes are in the game and where you can improve,” Alisa is convinced of her product. Moreover, you can play together without being in the same room: The integrated online platform will support an active community with numerous possibilities. In the long term, the system will, for example, make it possible to arrange live training sessions, to play against virtual opponents in the form of an AI, and to evaluate and broadcast professional matches in the app.
“We have only one competitor in our field so far, Scolia, who has similar basic functions to WeDart, but a different product concept, especially with regard to the camera arrangement, which brings them other advantages and disadvantages. For example, their cameras often move out of place. The recognition is quite reliable as long as the cameras do not move, but their product is much more expensive: the target group here is more professionals, less hobby players and clubs. And: with the competitor, you always have to have a cable connection to the internet – with us, that’s not necessary,” Lennart Zorn compares the competition. The mechatronics engineer first had the idea of automatic scorekeeping a few years ago.
The origin of the foundation
Lennart Zorn and Florian Bautsch are long-time friends with a keen interest in darts. “We always thought stone darts was cooler. Then we started thinking together about how we could automate it. In the end, Lennart came up with the brilliant idea,” says Florian, a trained medical technician. That was in 2016. For years, they pursued the idea as a hobby and honed it. Alisa Möhrke joined them: she lived in the same student dormitory as Lennart, was on the same bar team and shared their enthusiasm for sports. Alisa wrote her Bachelor’s thesis about how routines develop in start-ups before they are founded. At first, she resisted taking over the management and marketing of the start-up out of loyalty to her employer and supported the team part-time. In the end, however, she decided to do so and considers this decision to have been the right one.
The start-up support
In order to be optimally prepared for the start-up, the trio turned to the HAW’s GründungsService, or beyourpilot (Editor’s note: “beyourpilot” has been called “Startup Port” since July 2023). First they were advised by the start-up advisor Angela Borchert, now by start-up advisor Lars Kalusky. He also supported the start-up in its successful application for EXIST: WeDart received the start-up grant from June 2021 to May 2022 and it enabled much of the development. In the meantime, the team has also secured InnoFounder funding from IFB Hamburg. “In September 2022, we want to hire our first working student. Then mainly developers and a marketing support person, so that we grow to about nine to ten employees in the next two years,” Lennart is ambitious. “Completing the team was a challenge: we didn’t have a business management side for a long time – until Alisa agreed to take over the management. If I had the chance again, I would have contacted the GründungsService, or beyourpilot, directly in this regard so as not to lose so much time,” the founder continues.
Product development and the sales market
In order not to develop the product past the market, the three regularly travel to darts tournaments to present their idea to the players there and to get to know the community. The start-up carried out exploratory surveys in Germany and Great Britain which showed that the clear majority of dart players are willing to buy the developed system. Overall, assuming a total number of 1,000,000 privately used dartboards in the countries mentioned, WeDart estimates that sales of a total of 150,000 units are realistic, of which 8,000 units will be sold in the first twelve months. In order to achieve these sales, the start-up has been in talks with BULL’S, an international brand of Embassy Sporthandel GmbH Germany, for one and a half years. The company has a very extensive programme for soft-dart and steeldart sports and sponsors the BULL’S German Open as well as many international and national darts athletes. “They are interested, gave us a lot of feedback and wrote us a letter of intent for our EXIST application”, Florian reports about the cooperation with the European market leader in darts wholesale. They are also in talks with the German wholesaler WinSport. In addition, they are supported by the Landesdartverband Hamburg: “Networking is very important in darts because the industry is more or less like a village – people know each other. We are glad that we have convinced many people of our product in the meantime”, Alisa reports.
The WeDart system is to be sold internationally in the UK, Ireland, Belgium, France, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands indirectly through specialised wholesalers and retailers as well as through direct sales online. In addition to the revenue generated by the WeDart app in the freemium model, revenue will also be generated through the paid connection of dart apps, league systems and other third-party providers to the device’s API.
The future outlook, lessons learned and concluding advice.
“Our goal is to develop the coolest darts community ever. Our extensions have enormous potential here. The bottom line is that we are digitising the dartboard input medium. And you can also play more than just darts on it. We see ourselves in every hobby darts room, at darts tournaments as a counting device and in bars for entertainment,” Florian explains with conviction.
There is still a long way to go, but the trio is confident that they will be able to realise their own dream. A start-up like this is always marked by doubts; people often question their own actions, which can hamper development. Alisa advises those interested in setting up a business: “Just get started and seek advice. Start-up support units such as the GründungsService and beyourpilot will support you for free. The start-up community is super nice and helpful. Just approach people in general and ask – it doesn’t hurt.” Lennart says: “Take it one step at a time. Have courage: Failure is not as problematic as you think and you learn a lot from it. My parents would have preferred to see me in a permanent job too – but I really wanted to try it.” “My mother as a civil servant also threw her hands up in horror at first, even though I can always count on the support of my family,” Alisa adds with a laugh, “It just feels right.” “I can only confirm that,” concludes Lennart.