Soccer startup scores at Paul and Tom Kinnear Business Pitch Competition

Posted on April 29, 2021

Jovan Novakovic, Comm’21 (right) with business partner Aleks Balta.
Jovan Novakovic, Comm’21 (right) with business partner Aleks Balta.

Kingston, Ont. – A Smith School of Business student’s goooaaaal! to help young soccer players improve their skills by training at home is the winner of this year’s Paul and Tom Kinnear Business Pitch Competition.

Jovan Novakovic, Comm’21, is co-founder of FootyFive. The online platform features training modules taught by UEFA-licensed coaches that cover everything from dribbling and ball-control skills to passing, general fitness and more. It’s aimed at competitive players aged eight to 16.

The Paul and Tom Kinnear Business Pitch Competition supports Smith Commerce student entrepreneurs and is held through the Centre for Business Venturing at Smith. As the winner, FootyFive will receive $5,000 to further grow its business.

Novakovic played competitive soccer when he was growing up in Hamilton, Ont., and today he coaches youth teams there. FootyFive grew out of a problem he noticed. Soccer is immensely popular in Canada. About a million people in this country are registered with leagues to play the beautiful game. But young Canadian players don’t get nearly as much training time as youth in other soccer-mad countries.

One reason, of course, is our long winters. “There’s a lack of indoor facilities across Canada,” says Novakovic. Plus, the facilities that do exist can be expensive to rent. Another reason: Competitive youth players in other countries have more access to training and practice time overall. “In Canada, you might only play two to three days a week," he says. 

FootyFive helps address these issues by making it easier to train at home. All a player needs is around 10 square feet of space in, say, their family’s garage, basement or backyard. FootyFive’s coaches offer feedback to players as they progress through each module.

Novakovic started FootyFive in January with Aleks Balta, a fellow Hamilton-area soccer coach. The company’s service is aimed at both individual players and teams. For now, training is available on its website (footyfive.ca). But an app is set to launch this fall that will have more features. A gamification component, for example, will let players see how they are progressing versus teammates. They can also win points and attain various skill levels. “It’s a way to keep players engaged and to keep training,” Novakovic says.

The Paul and Tom Kinnear Business Pitch Competition was established in 2008 by brothers Tom Kinnear, BCom’66, LLD’02, and Paul Kinnear, BCom’63. Each year, undergraduate student entrepreneurs apply to the competition, with shortlisted teams invited to present their ventures in front of a panel of judges. Teams must have at least one founder/co-founder who is a current Smith Commerce student.

This year, three finalists vied for the top prize. Besides FootyFive, they were: Shine Strength & Confidence (Jessica Takimoto, Comm'21); and Brieft (Christian Curelea, Comm'21, Kitchener Peckford and Johan Todi).

Finalists were evaluated by a panel of three Smith alumni: Tom Kinnear, professor emeritus in entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan and an investor; Valerie Mann, BCom'86, partner at Lawson Lundell; and Luan Tolosa, AMBA'19, co-founder of SEWT and senior manager at Spring Activator.